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September 2, 2014

Poggio Helped Invent Italics Script



(p. 115) What Poggio accomplished, in collaboration with a few others, remains startling. They took Carolingian minuscule--a scribal innovation of the ninth-century court of Charlemagne--and transformed it into the script they used for copying manuscripts and writing letters. This script in turn served as the basis for the development of italics. They were then in effect the inventors of the script we still think of as at once the clearest, the simplest, and the most elegant written representation of our words. It is difficult to take in the full effect without seeing it for oneself, for example, in the manuscripts preserved in the Laurentian Library in Florence: the smooth bound volumes of vellum, still creamy white after more than five hundred years, (p. 116) contain page after page of perfectly beautiful script, almost magical in its regularity and fineness.


Source:

Greenblatt, Stephen. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.






September 1, 2014

"The Metric System Can Be Our Operating System Without Being Our Interface"



(p. C6) The outcome was perhaps foreshadowed, as Mr. Marciano points out, when President Ford, using a customary unit, noted that American industries were "miles ahead" when it came to adopting the metric system.

Mr. Marciano tells his story more or less without editorializing, until the end. Surveying the centuries of fights over measurement, he finishes on a rather intriguing point: Standardization no longer matters that much.


. . .


. . . , with the computerization of life, we don't have to worry about converting from one measurement to another; our software does this for us. We can still speak in pounds or feet, even if everything in the world of manufacturing and technology is really, at bottom, done in the metric system. In the evocative terminology of Mr. Marciano, "the metric system can be our operating system without being our interface."



For the full review, see:

SAMUEL ARBESMAN. "Liters and Followers; Gerald Ford once proudly declared the country was 'miles ahead' in converting to the metric system." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Aug. 2, 2014): C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 1, 2014, and has the title "Book Review: 'Whatever Happened to the Metric System?' by John Bemelmans Marciano; Gerald Ford once proudly declared the country was 'miles ahead' in converting to the metric system." )


The book being reviewed is:

Marciano, John Bemelmans. Whatever Happened to the Metric System?: How America Kept Its Feet. New York: Bloomsbury USA, 2014.






August 29, 2014

Notaries Were Useful in a Contractual Society



(p. 111) Notaries were not figures of great dignity, but in a contractual and intensely litigious culture, they were legion. The Florentine notary Lapo Mazzei describes six or seven hundred of them crowded into (p. 112) the town hall, carrying under their arms bundles of documents, " each folder thick as half a bible." Their knowledge of the law enabled them to draw up local regulations, arrange village elections, compose letters of complaint. Town officials who were meant to administer justice often had no clue how to proceed; the notaries would whisper in their ears what they were meant to say and would write the necessary documents. They were useful people to have around.


Source:

Greenblatt, Stephen. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.






August 28, 2014

"A Few Really Good Artisanal Cheese Shops Is No Substitute for a Strong School System"



(p. 836) Moretti's writing on the "creative class" takes issue with policies associated with Richard Florida, who has exerted a considerable influence on local policymakers worldwide. Moretti uses the example of Berlin, which is a cool place full of creative types but still isn't much of an economic powerhouse, to make the case against Florida's recommendations.


. . .


A problem exists if city governments start thinking that their main job is to be hip rather than competent. Having a few really good artisanal cheese shops is no substitute for a strong school system. Local leaders would do well to remember that an externality-creating skilled resident is as likely to be a forty-two-year-old mother who works in (p. 837) a lab as a twenty-five-year-old looking for a good time. The forty-two-year-old's tastes in local amenities are likely to be quite different from those of the twenty-five-year-old. If Moretti's caution against creative class policies achieves that end, then it will have done something quite positive.



For the full review, see:

Glaeser, Edward. "A Review of Enrico Moretti's the New Geography of Jobs." Journal of Economic Literature 51, no. 3 (Sept. 2013): 825-37.

(Note: ellipsis added.)


The book under review is:

Moretti, Enrico. The New Geography of Jobs. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co., 2012.






August 25, 2014

Human Freedom and Dignity Lived in Florence



(p. 125) Ancona was, like Florence, an independent commune, and Salutati was urging its citizens to revolt against the papal government that had been imposed upon them: " Will you always stand in the darkness of slavery? Do you not consider, O best of men, how sweet liberty is? Our ancestors, indeed the whole Italian race, fought for five hundred years . . . so that liberty would not be lost ." The revolt he was trying to incite was, of course, in Florence's strategic interest, but in attempting to arouse a spirit of liberty, Salutati was not being merely cynical. He seems genuinely to have believed that Florence was the heir to the republicanism on which ancient Roman greatness had been founded. That greatness, the proud claim of human freedom and dignity, had all but vanished from the broken, dirty streets of Rome, the debased staging ground of sordid clerical intrigues, but it lived, in Salutati's view, in Florence. And he was its principal voice.


Source:

Greenblatt, Stephen. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)






August 24, 2014

U.S. Constitution Reflects Lockean Natural Rights



(p. A13) Over the past three decades, Richard A. Epstein has repeatedly argued--with analytical rigor and astonishing erudition--that governments govern best when they limit their actions to protecting liberty and property. He is perhaps best known for "Takings," his 1995 book on the losses that regulations impose on property owners. Of late, he has exposed the flaws of a government-administered health system.

In "The Classical Liberal Constitution," Mr. Epstein takes up the political logic of our fundamental law. The Constitution, he says, reflects above all John Locke's insistence on protecting natural rights--rights that we possess simply by virtue of our humanity. Their protection takes concrete form in the Constitution by restricting the federal government to specific, freedom-advancing and property-protecting tasks, such as establishing a procedurally fair justice system, minting money as a stable repository of value, preserving a national trade zone among the states, and, not least, guarding the rights listed in the Bill of Rights.



For the full review, see:

JOHN O. MCGINNIS. "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'The Classical Liberal Constitution,' by Richard A. Epstein; Our understanding of the Constitution lost its way when we embraced the idea that rights are created by a benevolent state." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., March 23, 2014): A13.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 23, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'The Classical Liberal Constitution,' by Richard A. Epstein; Our understanding of the Constitution lost its way when we embraced the idea that rights are created by a benevolent state.")


The book under review is:

Epstein, Richard A. The Classical Liberal Constitution: The Uncertain Quest for Limited Government. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013.






August 21, 2014

Salutati Defended the Independence of Florence



(p. 124) The independence of Florence--the fact that it was not a client of another state, that it was not dependent on the papacy, and that it was not ruled by a king, a tyrant, or a prelate but governed by a body of its own citizens--was for Salutati what most mattered in the world. His letters, dispatches, protocols, and manifestos, written on behalf of the ruling priors of Florence, are stirring documents, and they were read and copied throughout Italy.


Source:

Greenblatt, Stephen. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.






August 20, 2014

The Process Innovation Called "Fracking"



(p. B1) I have come to North Dakota to observe the fracking of the Irene Kovaloff 11-18H, a well on the southern edge of the Bakken Shale. It is one of one hundred wells that will be fracked in the U.S. on this particular day in October 2012, 10 in North Dakota alone.


. . .


(p. B2) The hydraulic heart of fracking is the liquid pumped into the well. Almost all of it is water: snowmelt from the upper Rockies. In the Bakken and elsewhere, companies transform the water into a viscous liquid designed to carry sand deep into the new fractures. As it heats up underground, the gel reverts to a watery state. This change allows the sand to drop out and remain in the fractures, holding them open like pillars in a coal mine. The water flows back out.


. . .


Water and guar make up about 99.1% of the liquid; the chemicals are the rest.


. . .


The next night, the 30th frack of the Irene Kovaloff is completed. It takes three hours longer than expected, but otherwise the well is a success. Soon came light, sweet Bakken crude mixed with the water. On its first full day, it produced 800 barrels of crude--a good, but not great, result. By early 2013, Marathon had pulled 20,000 barrels of crude from the well. Considering that the oil had been locked away until the frack, it was good enough.



For the full article, see:

RUSSELL GOLD. "Book Excerpt: A Look Inside America's Fracking Boom." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., April 8, 2014): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date April 7, 2014, and has the title "Book Excerpt: A Look Inside America's Fracking Boom.")


Gold's article was excerpted from his book:

Gold, Russell. The Boom: How Fracking Ignited the American Energy Revolution and Changed the World. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014.






August 19, 2014

Political Entrepreneurs Can Find Ways to Overcome Vested Interests



[p. 202] In their recent book, Leighton and López (2013) place special emphasis on political entrepreneurship in making policy reform possible. For new ideas to overcome vested interests, they write (p. 134), it must be the case that "entrepreneurs notice and exploit those loose spots in the structure of ideas, institutions, and incentives." They provide four case studies of this process: spectrum license auctions, airline deregulation, welfare reform, and housing finance. In their words (p. 178): "[T]he public face of political change may be that of a madman, an intellectual, or an academic scribbler. But whatever form these leaders may take, they are political entrepreneurs--people whose ideas and actions are focused on producing change." As these authors stress, political entrepreneurship can be socially harmful, as when the pursuit of individual rents comes at the expense of overall inefficiency. But the returns from shifting the political transformation frontier out can be very large as well.


. . .


(p. 206) I owe a special debt to the recent book by Edward López and Wayne Leighton (2012 sic) for stimulating me to put down on paper a number of ideas I had been mulling over for some time.



Source:

Rodrik, Dani. "When Ideas Trump Interests: Preferences, Worldviews, and Policy Innovations." Journal of Economic Perspectives 28, no. 1 (Winter 2014): 189-208.

(Note: the bracketed page number refers to the Rodrik article; the page number in parentheses refers to the Leighton and López book; ellipsis added; italics, and the bracketed letter, in the original.)


The book Rodrik discusses is:

Leighton, Wayne A., and Edward J. López. Madmen, Intellectuals, and Academic Scribblers: The Economic Engine of Political Change. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2013.






August 17, 2014

Salutati Imitated Antiquity "in Order to Produce Something New"



(p. 124) " I have always believed," Salutati wrote . . . , that "I must imitate antiquity not simply to reproduce it, but in order to produce something new. . . ."


Source:

Greenblatt, Stephen. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.

(Note: first ellipsis added, second ellipsis in original.)






August 16, 2014

Process Innovations, Allowed by Deregulation, Creatively Destroyed Railroads



(p. A11) In "American Railroads: Decline and Renaissance in the Twentieth Century," transportation economists Robert E. Gallamore and John R. Meyer provide a comprehensive account of both the decline and the revival.   . . .    They point to excessive government regulation of railroad rates and services as the catalyst for the industry's decay.


. . .


. . . deregulation, Mr. Gallamore and Meyer demonstrate, was a process of creative destruction. Conrail was created by the government in 1976 in a risky, last-ditch attempt to rescue Penn Central and other bankrupt Eastern railroads. It was quickly losing $1 million a day, and its plight helped make the case for the major revamp of railroad regulation that came in 1980. A wave of mergers followed, and the new companies slashed routes and employees on the way to profitability. The shrinking of the national rail system helped, too, as freight companies consolidated traffic on a smaller (and therefore cheaper) network. Freight-train crews were cut to two or three people from four or five. Cabooses were replaced by electronic gear at the end of freight trains.



For the full review, see:

DANIEL MACHALABA. "BOOKSHELF; Long Train Runnin'; Track conditions got so bad in the 1970s that stationary freight cars were falling off the rails thanks to rotting crossties." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., July 9, 2014): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 8, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'American Railroads' by Robert E. Gallamore and John R. Meyer; Track conditions got so bad in the 1970s that stationary freight cars were falling off the rails thanks to rotting crossties.")


The book under review is:

Gallamore, Robert E., and John R. Meyer. American Railroads: Decline and Renaissance in the Twentieth Century. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014.






August 13, 2014

"In the Name of God and of Profit"




Writing of the period of the mid to late 1300s in the area of Florence:


(p. 114) The surviving archive of a single great merchant of this period, Francesco di Marco Datini of nearby Prato--not, by any means, the greatest of these early capitalists--contains some 150,000 letters, along with 500 account books or ledgers, 300 deeds of partnership, 400 insurance policies, several thousand bills of lading, letters of advice, bills of exchange, and checks. On the first pages of Datini's ledgers were inscribed the words: "In the name of God and of profit."


Source:

Greenblatt, Stephen. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.






August 12, 2014

The "Miasmic Smog" of Europe's Nostalgia "Stifled the Imaginations of Those Who Stayed"



(p. D12) Most people remember Mr. Drucker, a longtime contributor to the Journal who died in 2005, as the most influential management consultant of the 20th century. What they may not know is that, like Mr. Zweig, he was born in Austria and fled from the Nazis when Hitler came to power. What's more, Mr. Drucker's memories of prewar Vienna, which he compared in "Adventures of a Bystander" to Atlantis, Plato's imaginary island paradise that fell from favor with the gods and disappeared into the Atlantic Ocean, are no less richly evocative than those in "The World of Yesterday."


. . .


Born in 1909, three decades after Mr. Zweig, [Drucker] concluded as a young man that Europe's nostalgia for its prewar past was a "miasmic smog" that stifled the imaginations of those who stayed there. So he emigrated to the U.S., where he found an open society that was bumptiously naive but also vital and forward-looking: "Unlike Europe, where it was felt that 'the center cannot hold,' the 'center' held in America. Society and community were sound, hale, indeed triumphant." And whereas Mr. Zweig succumbed at last to despair, Mr. Drucker unhesitatingly embraced America's democratic culture and flourished, building a new career for himself.



For the full essay/review, see:

TERRY TEACHOUT. "SIGHTINGS; One War, Two Fates." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., June 6, 2014): D12.

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

(Note: the online version of the essay/review has the date June 5, 2014.)


The Drucker book discussed by Teachout is:

Drucker, Peter F. Adventures of a Bystander. New York: Harper & Row, 1979.






August 10, 2014

McCloskey's "Great Fact" of "the Ice-Hockey Stick"




HockeyStick2011-08-23.jpg

Source of image: http://www.bombayharbor.com/productImage/Ice_Hockey_Stick/Ice_Hockey_Stick.jpg



(p. 2) Economic history has looked like an ice-hockey stick lying on the ground. It had a long, long horizontal handle at $3 a day extending through the two-hundred-thousand-year history of Homo sapiens to 1800, with little bumps upward on the handle in ancient Rome and the early medieval Arab world and high medieval Europe, with regressions to $3 afterward--then a wholly unexpected blade, leaping up in the last two out of the two thousand centuries, to $30 a day and in many places well beyond.


. . .


(p. 48) The heart of the matter is sixteen. Real income per head nowadays exceeds that around 1700 or 1800 in, say, Britain and in other countries that have experienced modern economic growth by such a large factor as sixteen, at least. You, oh average participant in the British economy, go through at least sixteen times more food and clothing and housing and education in a day than an ancestor of yours did two or three centuries ago. Not sixteen percent more, but sixteen multiplied by the old standard of living. You in the American or the South Korean economy, compared to the wretchedness of former Smiths in 1653 or Kims in 1953, have done even better. And if such novelties as jet travel and vitamin pills and instant messaging are accounted at their proper value, the factor of material improvement climbs even higher than sixteen--to eighteen, or thirty, or far beyond. No previous episode of enrichment for the average person approaches it, not the China of the Song Dynasty or the Egypt of the New Kingdom, not the glory of Greece or the grandeur of Rome.

No competent economist, regardless of her politics, denies the Great Fact.



Source:

McCloskey, Deirdre N. Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can't Explain the Modern World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






August 9, 2014

20 Years Before Fall of Rome, Ammianus Described "a World Exhausted by Crushing Taxes"



(p. 48) . . . ghosts surged up from the Roman past. An ancient literary critic who had flourished during Nero's reign and had written notes and glosses on classical authors; another critic who quoted extensively from lost epics written in imitation of (p. 49) Homer; a grammarian who wrote a treatise on spelling that Poggio knew his Latin-obsessed friends in Florence would find thrilling. Yet another manuscript was a discovery whose thrill might have been tinged for him with melancholy: a large fragment of a hitherto unknown history of the Roman Empire written by a high-ranking officer in the imperial army, Ammianus Marcellinus. The melancholy would have arisen not only from the fact that the first thirteen of the original thirty-one books were missing from the manuscript Poggio copied by hand--and these lost books have never been found--but also from the fact that the work was written on the eve of the empire's collapse. A clearheaded, thoughtful, and unusually impartial historian, Ammianus seems to have sensed the impending end. His description of a world exhausted by crushing taxes, the financial ruin of large segments of the population, and the dangerous decline in the army's morale vividly conjured up the conditions that made it possible, some twenty years after his death, for the Goths to sack Rome.


Source:

Greenblatt, Stephen. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






August 8, 2014

Lack of Innovation, Not Globalization, Killed U.S. Furniture Industry




The following is from a review by Marc Levinson, one of our leading experts on process innovation. I'm guessing that there is more wisdom in the review than in the book being reviewed:


(p. C6) . . . it was not by chance that the U.S. furniture industry provided easy pickings for foreign manufacturers.

In the 1990s, U.S. furniture making was a backward industry. Its productivity--the efficiency with which capital and labor are put to use--grew only one-third as fast as in manufacturing overall. While firms in other industries were investing in laser cutters and five-axis milling machines, furniture makers were devoting only 2.6% of their revenue to capital investment. Instead, they relied heavily on cheap labor, paying their average worker 29% less than the average in all manufacturing.

Nor was there much innovation. When Ikea's flat-pack furniture, designed to minimize shipping costs and leave assembly to the purchaser, arrived in the United States in 1985, American manufacturers had nothing like it. Ms. Macy reports that Universal Furniture cut costs by designing for efficient production at high volume; U.S. manufacturers did not. Similarly, when JBIII countered the distant Chinese by guaranteeing that Vaughan-Bassett would deliver orders within a week, his own company's credit and delivery departments couldn't cope.

Globalization takes the blame for many ills these days. But the implosion that Ms. Macy chronicles owes less to import competition than to executives in a sheltered industry who failed to keep up with a changing world.



For the full, largely negative, review, see:

MARC LEVINSON. "Made in America; It's not easy to copyright a furniture design--and somebody will always come along and make it for less." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., July 19, 2014): C5-C6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 18, 2014, and has the title "Book Review: 'Factory Man' by Beth Macy; It's not easy to copyright a furniture design--and somebody will always come along and make it for less.")


The book being mainly panned is:

Macy, Beth. Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local - and Helped Save an American Town. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2014.






August 7, 2014

Nobel-Prize-Winner Views Success as Rigged (Except for Nobel Prizes)



(p. 245) . . . , Solow interprets the evidence on intergenerational mobility as showing that the economy is not very meritocratic. (Oddly, he exempts the economics profession. He seems to believe that lack of success is often the result of bad luck or a rigged system, unless you are an economist, in which case it's your own fault.) Although I noted in my article that those born into extreme poverty face particularly difficult obstacles, I view the rest of the economy as more meritocratic than Solow does. In addition to the Kaplan and Rauh study, I recommend a popular book called The Millionaire Next Door (Stanley and Danko 1996). Written by two marketing professors who extensively surveyed high net worth individuals, the book reports that the typical millionaire is not someone who was born into wealth but rather is someone who has worked hard and lived frugally.


Source:

Mankiw, N. Gregory. "Correspondence: Response from N. Gregory Mankiw." Journal of Economic Perspectives 28, no. 1 (Winter 2014): 244-45.

(Note: ellipsis added; italics in original.)


The Stanley and Danko book that Mankiw praises (and I use in my Economics of Entrepreneurship seminar) is:

Stanley, Thomas J., and William D. Danko. The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America's Wealthy. First ed. Atlanta: Longstreet Press, 1996.






August 5, 2014

"A Unique Moment in History . . . When Man Stood Alone"



(p. 71) . . . , something noted in one of his letters by the French novelist Gustave Flaubert: "Just when the gods had ceased to be, and the Christ had not yet come, there was a unique moment in history, between Cicero and Marcus Aurelius, when man stood alone." No doubt one could quibble with this claim. For many Romans at least, the gods had not actually ceased to be--even the Epicureans, sometimes reputed to be atheists, thought that gods existed, though at a far remove from the affairs of mortals--and the "unique moment" to which Flaubert gestures, from Cicero (106-43 BCE) to Marcus Aurelius (121-180 CE), may have been longer or shorter than the time frame he suggests. But the core perception is eloquently borne out by Cicero's dialogues and by the works found in the library of Herculaneum. Many of the early readers of those works evidently lacked a fixed repertory of beliefs and practices reinforced by what was said to be the divine will. They were men and women whose lives were unusually free of the dictates of the gods (or their priests). Standing alone, as Flaubert puts it, they found themselves in the peculiar position of choosing among sharply divergent visions of the nature of things and competing strategies for living.


Source:

Greenblatt, Stephen. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






August 4, 2014

Did Intel Succeed in Spite of, or Because of, Tension Between Noyce and Grove?



(p. C5) . . . , much more so than in earlier books on Intel and its principals, the embedded thread of "The Intel Trinity" is the dirty little secret few people outside of Intel knew: Andy Grove really didn't like Bob Noyce.


. . .


(p. C6) . . . there's the argument that one thing a startup needs is an inspiring, swashbuckling boss who lights up a room when he enters it and has the confidence to make anything he's selling seem much bigger and more important than it actually is. And Mr. Malone makes a compelling case that Noyce was the right man for the job in this phase of the company. "Bob Noyce's greatest gift, even more than his talent as a technical visionary," Mr. Malone writes, "was his ability to inspire people to believe in his dreams, in their own abilities, and to follow him on the greatest adventure of their professional lives."


. . .


Noyce hid from Mr. Grove, who was in charge of operations, the fact that Intel had a secret skunk works developing a microprocessor, a single general-purpose chip that would perform multiple functions--logic, calculation, memory and power control. Noyce had the man who was running it report directly to him rather than to Mr. Grove, even though Mr. Grove was his boss on the organizational chart. When Mr. Grove learned what was going on, he became furious, but like the good soldier he was, he snapped to attention and helped recruit a young engineer from Fairchild to be in charge of the project, which ultimately redefined the company.


. . .


Remarkably, none of this discord seemed to have much effect on the company's day-to-day operations. Mr. Malone even suggests that the dysfunction empowered Intel's take-no-prisoners warrior culture.


. . .


So while the humble, self-effacing Mr. Moore, who had his own time in the CEO's chair from 1975 to 1987, played out his role as Intel's big thinker, the brilliant visionary "who could see into the technological future better than anyone alive," Mr. Grove was the kick-ass enforcer. No excuses. For anything.



For the full review, see:

STEWART PINKERTON. "Made in America; A Born Leader, a Frustrated Martinet Built One of Silicon Valley's Giants." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., July 19, 2014): C5-C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 18, 2014, and has the title "Book Review: 'The Intel Trinity' by Michael S. Malone; A born leader, an ethereal genius and a tough taskmaster built the most important company on the planet.")


The book under review is:

Malone, Michael S. The Intel Trinity: How Robert Noyce, Gordon Moore, and Andy Grove Built the World's Most Important Company. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2014.






August 1, 2014

The Unintended Consequences of Requiring Monks to Read



(p. 28) The high walls that hedged about the mental life of the monks--the imposition of silence, the prohibition of questioning, the punishing of debate with slaps or blows of the whip--were all meant to affirm unambiguously that these pious communities were the opposite of the philosophical academies of Greece or Rome, places that had thrived upon the spirit of contradiction and cultivated a restless, wide-ranging curiosity.

All the same, monastic rules did require reading, and that was enough to set in motion an extraordinary chain of consequences. Reading was not optional or desirable or recommended; in a community that took its obligations with deadly seriousness, reading was obligatory. And reading required books. Books that were opened again and again eventually fell apart, however carefully they were handled. Therefore, almost inadvertently , monastic rules necessitated that monks repeatedly purchase or acquire books. In the course of the vicious Gothic Wars of the mid-sixth century and their still more miserable aftermath, the last commercial workshops of book production folded, and the vestiges of the book market fell apart. Therefore, again almost inadvertently, monastic rules necessitated that monks carefully preserve and copy those books that they already possessed.



Source:

Greenblatt, Stephen. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.






July 31, 2014

Early Cars Were Playthings of the Idle Rich



The-Life-of-the-AutomobileBK2014-06-05.jpg













Source of book image: http://www.2luxury2.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Steven-Parissien-The-Life-of-the-Automobile-678x1024.jpg




(p. C14) Mr. Parissien writes that Frenchman Nicolas Cugnot may well have built the first mechanical vehicle in 1769, a two-ton, steam-driven colossus that reportedly went out of control and crashed into a wall. It wasn't until 1885 that Karl Benz, the acknowledged father of the automobile, debuted the first gasoline-powered motorcar, in Mannheim, Germany. It carried passengers just slightly quicker than they could walk.

With the arrival of that breakthrough, however, the race was on for who could come up with a sturdier, faster, more reliable motor car. Many of the innovators' names are still familiar: Renault, Bentley and Daimler among them. Even piano makers Steinway & Sons tried their hand at building cars. Other companies appeared for a time and then vanished--Durant, Lanchester, Panhard and De Dion-Bouton--victims of bad guesses or bad timing. Much of Mr. Parissien's story is devoted to the personalities, and eccentricities, of the men who created what for many years amounted to a plaything of the idle rich. Italian luxury builder Ettore Bugatti refused to sell one of his cars to King Zog of Albania because "the man's table manners are beyond belief."

It is the despotic Henry Ford who looms large in automotive history, not only for the introduction of his Model T but for his revolutionary system of shoveling raw materials in one end of his half-mile long Rouge River, Mich., factory complex and sending "Tin Lizzies" out the other end.



For the full review, see:

Patrick Cooke. "Book Review: 'The Life of the Automobile' by Steven Parissien; The history of cars, from playthings of the idle rich to emblems of the working man." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 24, 2014): C14.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 23, 2014, an has the title "Book Review: 'The Life of the Automobile' by Steven Parissien; The history of cars, from playthings of the idle rich to emblems of the working man.")


The book under review is:

Parissien, Steven. The Life of the Automobile: The Complete History of the Motor Car. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2014.






July 28, 2014

Entrepreneur Gutenberg's Press Creatively Destroyed the Jobs of Scribes



(p. 32) Poggio possessed . . . [a] gift that set him apart from virtually all the other book-hunting humanists. He was a superbly well-trained scribe, with exceptionally fine handwriting, great powers of concentration, and a high degree of accuracy. It is difficult for us, at this distance, to take in the significance of such qualities: our technologies for producing transcriptions, facsimiles, and copies have almost entirely erased what was once an important personal achievement. That importance began to decline, though not at all precipitously, even in Poggio's own lifetime, for by the 1430s a German entrepreneur, Johann Gutenberg, began experimenting with a new invention, movable type, which would revolutionize the reproduction and transmission of texts. By the century's end printers, especially the great Aldus in Venice, would print Latin texts in a typeface whose clarity and elegance remain unrivalled after five centuries. That typeface was based on the beautiful handwriting of Poggio and his humanist friends. What Poggio did by hand to produce a single copy would soon be done mechanically to produce hundreds.


Source:

Greenblatt, Stephen. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.

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






July 27, 2014

New Details on Babylonian Version of Noah's Ark



the-ark-before-noah_BK2014-06-05.jpg

















Source of book image: http://britishmuseumblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/the-ark-before-noah_544.jpg



(p. C8) Mr. Finkel, a curator of cuneiform inscriptions at the British Museum, details his own long-standing fascination with the ark and that of his British Museum predecessors. First among these was George Smith, who in 1872, at age 32, deciphered a clay tablet that demonstrated that 1,000 years before the likely composition of the Book of Genesis, ancient Babylonians had been brooding over the same story of divine retribution that we find in the biblical account of Noah. So great was Smith's shock that, on confirmation, he began to run about the room tearing off his clothes.


. . .


The tablets containing what we now know as the Epic of Gilgamesh were unearthed in the ruins of Nineveh, capital of the last great Assyrian king, Ashurbanipal, who was an avid collector of texts. His famous library was torched in 612 B.C., but, as Mr. Finkel points out, "fire to a clay librarian" is not the disaster it is to one who studies works on paper. Fired clay tablets endure, and nothing, Mr. Finkel assures us, can equal the thrill of digging one out from the earth like a potato.

But the most important tablet of Mr. Finkel's career didn't come from the ground. It was delivered to him in 1985 by a man named Douglas Simmonds, who brought in a number of cuneiform tablets collected by his father, a member of the Royal Air Force in the Middle East at the end of World War II. One of these--an iPhone-shaped tablet--had what was recognizably the first lines of a Babylonian flood narrative, but the rest was illegible at a superficial glance, and Simmonds was reluctant to leave the tablet at the museum for analysis. It wasn't until 2009 that Mr. Finkel was able to borrow this treasure and undertake a meticulous study, which revealed an "instruction manual for building an ark" in the tablet's 60 lines.


. . .


So then what was the Ark Tablet for? It is puzzling that it contains no narrative, listing rather shape, size, materials and their quantities. Attractive though it may be to think it was a hand-held guide for the boat builder, Mr. Finkel suggests instead that it served as an aide-mémoire for an itinerant storyteller. The detail is explained by audience demand: No one wants to be put on the spot with difficult "how" questions when facing an audience who knew all about building coracles. Ancient audiences, it seems, were as intrigued--and as skeptical--about the ark as we are.



For the full review, see:

JANET SOSKICE. "Make Yourself an Ark; A newly deciphered tablet suggests the best shape for an ark: not a wooden box but a circular coracle made of reeds." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 17, 2014): C8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 16, 2014, an has the title "Book Review: 'The Ark Before Noah' by Irving Finkel; A newly deciphered tablet suggests the best shape for an ark: not a wooden box but a circular coracle made of reeds.")


The book under review is:

Finkel, Irving. The Ark before Noah: Decoding the Story of the Flood. London, UK: Hodder & Stoughton, Ltd., 2014.






July 23, 2014

How Sega Came Out of Nowhere to Leapfrog Near-Monopolist Nintendo



ConsoleWarsBk2014-06-05.jpg

















Source of book image: http://images.eurogamer.net/2014/usgamer/original.jpg/EG11/resize/958x-1/format/jpg



(p. C10) "Console Wars" tells how Sega, an unremarkable Japanese manufacturer of games played in arcades, came out of nowhere to challenge Nintendo for dominance of the videogame world in the first half of the 1990s. Nintendo, which had revived the stagnant home videogame category a few years earlier, had something close to a monopoly in 1990 and behaved accordingly, dictating terms to game developers and treating retailers as peons. Sega, in Mr. Harris's telling, was a disruptive force in a highly concentrated market, introducing more advanced gaming technology, toppling Nintendo from its perch and becoming the largest seller of home videogame hardware in the U.S. by late 1993.

Mr. Harris's hero is a former Mattel executive named Tom Kalinske, who became president of Sega of America, then a small subsidiary, in 1990. Mr. Kalinske assembled a team of crack marketers who would not have gone near Sega but for his reputation and persuasiveness. Within a year and a half, according to Mr. Harris, Mr. Kalinske's leadership, along with a new gaming system called Genesis and a marketing assist from a mascot named Sonic the Hedgehog, made Sega the U.S. market leader in videogames.

And then, after only three years at the top, Sega fell from its pedestal. Sega's management in Japan, suffering mightily from not-invented-here syndrome, rejected Mr. Kalinske's proposals to collaborate with Sony and Silicon Graphics on new gaming systems. Instead, over his objections, Sega pushed out its ill-conceived Saturn game console in 1995. While Saturn flopped, Sony struck gold with its PlayStation; Silicon Graphics sold its chip with amazing graphics capabilities to Nintendo; and the game, so to speak, was over.


. . .


The author admits he has taken liberties: "I have re-created the scenes in this book using the information uncovered from my interviews, facts gathered from supporting documents, and my best judgment as to what version most closely fits the historical record," he writes. The result is more a 558-page screenplay than a credible work of nonfiction.



For the full review, see:

MARC LEVINSON. "Sonic Boom; How a no-name company took on Nintendo, tied its fate to a hyperactive hedgehog, and--briefly--won." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 24, 2014): C10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 23, 2014, an has the title "Book Review: 'Console Wars' by Blake J. Harris; How a no-name company took on Nintendo, tied its fate to a hyperactive hedgehog, and--briefly--won.")


The book under review is:

J., Harris Blake. Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle That Defined a Generation. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2014.






July 21, 2014

How De Rerum Natura Aided the Early Italian Renaissance



I am interested in how the dominant ideas in a culture change. Greenblatt's The Swerve discusses how some early Renaissance Italians sought lost and forgotten works from antiquity to broaden their ideas. In particular it emphasizes the rediscovery of Lucretius's De Rerum Natura.

I am not as unreservedly enthusiastic about Lucretius as Greenblatt is, but The Swerve includes much that is thought-provoking about a place and time that I need to better understand.

In the next few weeks I will quote a few of the passages that were especially memorable, important or amusing.

Book discussed:

Greenblatt, Stephen. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.






July 20, 2014

Changes in artdiamondblog.com



During my sabbatical for the 2014-2015 school year, and including this summer and next summer, I plan to throw myself into completion of my book Openness to Creative Destruction. To make more time for that overarching project, I intend to streamline my blogging. I still plan to have an entry posted every day, but will no longer routinely post photos and images, saving the time spent finding, formatting and filing photos and images.

The main goal of my blog is to make evidence and examples widely available, that are related to my core interests of innovation and entrepreneurship. Fewer photos and images may make the blog less visually appealing, but should not interfere with this main goal.

I also plan to increase the percentage of entries that are directly or indirectly relevant to my current and future book projects,

I hope my blog will continue to be of use to the "remnant" of those who share my core interests.







July 19, 2014

"Long, Lonely Odyssey "from Heresy to Orthodoxy""



MadnessAndMemoryBK2014-06-05.jpg












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








(p. D5) As the Nobel committee put it in the 1997 citation for Dr. Prusiner's prize in physiology or medicine, he had established "a novel principle of infection" -- one so controversial that a few experts in the field still continue to search for that elusive virus. But as far as Dr. Prusiner is concerned, the Nobel confirmed that his long, lonely odyssey "from heresy to orthodoxy" was over.

The journey he details was full of hurdles. Some were of the kind likely to befall any researcher: insufficient laboratory space, poor correlation between needs and resources. (At one point, Dr. Prusiner calculated that for a single year's worth of experiments he would have to house and feed 72,000 mice, an impossible multimillion-dollar proposition.) He submitted a grant application that was not just rejected for funding but actually "disapproved," often the kiss of death for a train of scientific thought.

Some of his problems were a little darker but still universal -- graduate students captured by competing labs, data appropriated and misrepresented by erstwhile colleagues, bitter authorship battles.

Some of Dr. Prusiner's shoals, however, seem more particular to his personal operating style. As a teenager he was blessed with what he describes as indefatigable self-confidence, and this trait apparently endures, to the considerable irritation of others.



For the full review, see:

ABIGAIL ZUGER, M.D. "Books; A Victory Lap for a Heretical Neurologist." The New York Times (Sat., May 20, 2014): D5.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 19, 2014.)


The book under review is:

Prusiner, Stanley B. Madness and Memory: The Discovery of Prions--a New Biological Principle of Disease. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014.






July 17, 2014

Open Source Guru Admits to "Mismatched Incentives" and "Serious Trouble Down the Road"



RaymondEricOpenSourceElder2014-06-02.jpg "Eric S. Raymond said that the code-checking system had failed in the case of Heartbleed." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. B1) SAN FRANCISCO -- The Heartbleed bug that made news last week drew attention to one of the least understood elements of the Internet: Much of the invisible backbone of websites from Google to Amazon to the Federal Bureau of Investigation was built by volunteer programmers in what is known as the open-source community.

Heartbleed originated in this community, in which these volunteers, connected over the Internet, work together to build free software, to maintain and improve it and to look for bugs. Ideally, they check one another's work in a peer review system similar to that found in science, or at least on the nonprofit Wikipedia, where motivated volunteers regularly add new information and fix others' mistakes.

This process, advocates say, ensures trustworthy computer code.

But since the Heartbleed flaw got through, causing fears -- as yet unproved -- of widespread damage, members of that world are questioning whether the system is working the way it should.

"This bug was introduced two years ago, and yet nobody took the time to notice it," said Steven M. Bellovin, a computer science professor at Columbia University. "Everybody's job is not anybody's job."


. . .


(p. B2) Unlike proprietary software, which is built and maintained by only a few employees, open-source code like OpenSSL can be vetted by programmers the world over, advocates say.

"Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow" is how Eric S. Raymond, one of the elders of the open-source movement, put it in his 1997 book, "The Cathedral & the Bazaar," a kind of manifesto for open-source philosophy.

In the case of Heartbleed, though, "there weren't any eyeballs," Mr. Raymond said in an interview this week.


. . .


The problem, Mr. Raymond and other open-source advocates say, boils down to mismatched incentives. Mr. Raymond said firms don't maintain OpenSSL code because they don't profit directly from it, even though it is integrated into their products, and governments don't feel political pain when the code has problems.

With OpenSSL, by contrast, "for those that do work on this, there's no financial support, no salaries, no health insurance," Mr. Raymond said. "They either have to live like monks or work nights and weekends. That is a recipe for serious trouble down the road."



For the full story, see:

Perlroth, Nicole. "A Contradiction at the Heart of the Web." The New York Times (Sat., April 19, 2014): B1 & B2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated APRIL 18, 2014, and has the title "Heartbleed Highlights a Contradiction in the Web.")



Raymond's open source manifesto is:

Raymond, Eric S. The Cathedral & the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary. Sebastopol, CA: O'Reilly Media, Inc., 1999.






July 16, 2014

"The World's Greatest Inventor, World's Greatest Damn Fool"



(p. 290) One of his employees recalled walking past him one day as the inventor stepped briskly between buildings at the lab. He cheerfully greeted his employer: "Morning, Mr. Edison." Edison gave him a glance, raised his finger to show a major pronouncement would follow, and said, "The world's greatest inventor, world's greatest damn fool," then hurried on.


Source:

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






July 15, 2014

Reigning Intellectual Orthodoxy on Race Is Wrong



ATroublesomeInheritanceBK2014-06-05.jpg















Source of book image: http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41BYpEQumNL._.jpg





(p. C5) The reigning intellectual orthodoxy is that race is a "social construct," a cultural artifact without biological merit.

The orthodoxy's equivalent of the Nicene Creed has two scientific tenets. The first, promulgated by geneticist Richard Lewontin in "The Apportionment of Human Diversity" (1972), is that the races are so close to genetically identical that "racial classification is now seen to be of virtually no genetic or taxonomic significance." The second, popularized by the late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, is that human evolution in everything but cosmetic differences stopped before humans left Africa, meaning that "human equality is a contingent fact of history," as he put it in an essay of that title in 1984.

Since the sequencing of the human genome in 2003, what is known by geneticists has increasingly diverged from this orthodoxy, even as social scientists and the mainstream press have steadfastly ignored the new research. Nicholas Wade, for more than 20 years a highly regarded science writer at the New York Times, has written a book that pulls back the curtain.

It is hard to convey how rich this book is. It could be the textbook for a semester's college course on human evolution, systematically surveying as it does the basics of genetics, evolutionary psychology, Homo sapiens's diaspora and the recent discoveries about the evolutionary adaptations that have occurred since then. The book is a delight to read--conversational and lucid. And it will trigger an intellectual explosion the likes of which we haven't seen for a few decades.

The title gives fair warning: "A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History." At the heart of the book, stated quietly but with command of the technical literature, is a bombshell. It is now known with a high level of scientific confidence that both tenets of the orthodoxy are wrong.



For the full review, see:

CHARLES MURRAY. "The Diversity of Life; A scientific revolution is under way--upending one of our reigning orthodoxies." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 3, 2014): C5 & C7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 2, 2014, and has the title "Book Review: 'A Troublesome Inheritance' by Nicholas Wade; A scientific revolution is under way--upending one of our reigning orthodoxies.")


The book under review is:

Wade, Nicholas. A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History. New York: The Penguin Press, 2014.






July 12, 2014

They Begged for a Chance to Help Edison Create the Future



(p. 289) He, and anyone working for him, were perceived as standing at the very outer edge of the present, where it abuts the future. When a young John Lawson sought a position at Edison's lab and wrote in 1879 that he was "willing to do anything, dirty work--become anything, almost a slave, only give me a chance," he spoke with a fervency familiar to applicants knocking today on the door of the hot tech company du jour. In the age of the computer, different companies at different times--for example, Apple in the early 1980s, Microsoft in the early 1990s, Google in the first decade of the twenty-first century--inherited the temporary aura that once hovered over Edison's Menlo Park laboratory, attracting young talents who applied in impossibly large numbers, all seeking a role in the creation of the zeitgeist (and, like John Ott, at the same time open to a chance to become wealthy). The lucky ones got inside (Lawson got a position and worked on electric light).


Source:

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






July 11, 2014

Catholic Church Banned Infinitesimals from European Classrooms Taught by Jesuits



InfinitesimalBK2014-06-05.jpg















Source of book image: http://static01.nyt.com/images/2014/04/08/science/08SCIB/08SCIB-superJumbo.jpg



(p. C9) Mr. Alexander's narrative opens in the early 17th century, when Catholic Church administrators in Rome, following a campaign by Euclidean stalwart Christopher Clavius, banned the infinitesimal from the classrooms of Jesuit schools throughout Europe. Instructors' teachings and writings were monitored to enforce strict adherence to the classical Euclidean geometrical tradition. Mr. Alexander portrays the church's reactionary stance not as a huff over mathematical philosophy but as a desperate counterattack against existential threats: Euclid's rules-based structure offered the church a model with which it hoped to rein in a restive flock, roiled by economic and political currents and by an ascendant Protestantism. Martial metaphors abound in the author's telling: "war against disorder," "enemies of the infinitely small," "forces of hierarchy and order." This was no friendly debate.


For the full review, see:

ALAN HIRSHFELD. "The Limit of Reason; In the 1700s, the idea of an infinitely tiny quantity was so unsettling that the Church banned it from classrooms." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 3, 2014): C9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 2, 2014, and has the title "Book Review: 'Infinitesimal' by Amir Alexander; The idea of an infinitely tiny quantity--the foundation of calculus--was so unsettling that in the 17th century the Church banned it from classrooms.")


The book under review is:

Alexander, Amir. Infinitesimal: How a Dangerous Mathematical Theory Shaped the Modern World. New York: Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014.






July 8, 2014

We Were Right to Honor Edison



It is said that the long inventor is dead, and some go so far as to say that the lone inventor never was. They downplay Edison's role in bringing us the light. After all, we now use Tesla and Westinghouse's AC current, rather than Edison's DC.

But George Gilder is right when he emphasizes the importance of showing for the first time that something can be done--'proof of concept' matters, and clears the path for others to do the same, often in better ways.

In his Pearl Street plant, Edison proved that affordable, reliable, safe electric light was possible. The country was right to honor him before and after his death.


(p. 285) Making New Jersey's plan to turn off all lights a national one, President Hoover asked the country's citizens to mark their sorrow at Edison's death by turning off all electric lights simultaneously across the country on the evening of Edison's funeral, at ten o'clock eastern time. He had considered shutting down generators to effect a perfectly synchronized tribute but realized that it might lead to deaths; even this thought was put in service of a tribute to Edison, for the country's life-and-death dependence upon electricity, he said, "is in itself a monument to Mr. Edison's genius."

Edison really had been privileged to hear his own eulogy in advance: (p. 286) The one read at the Light's Golden Jubilee two years before was used again at his service. That night, the two radio networks, the National Broadcasting Company and the Columbia Broadcasting Company, jointly broadcast an eight-minute tribute that ended on the hour, when listeners were asked to turn out the lights. The White House did so and much of the nation followed, more or less together, some a minute before the hour, others on the hour. On Broadway, about 75 percent of the electrified signs were turned off briefly. Movie theaters went dark for a moment. Traffic lights blinked out. Everything seemed connected to Edison: the indoor lights, the traffic lights, the electric advertising, everyone connected via radio, which Edison now received credit for helping "to perfect." In the simple narrative that provided inspiration for posterity, one man had done it all.



Source:

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






July 7, 2014

Proof-of-Concept: Life Can Be Very Long



Eucalyptus13000YearsOld2014-06-04.jpg "Rare Eucalyptus (species redacted for protection) (13,000 years old; New South Wales, Australia). This critically endangered eucalyptus is around 13,000 years old, and one of fewer than five individuals of its kind left on the planet. The species name might hint too heavily at its location, so it has been redacted." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. C12) Photographer Rachel Sussman has spent the past decade looking for the oldest things alive.   . . .    She documents 30 of those organisms in her new book, "The Oldest Living Things in the World" (University of Chicago Press, $45).


For the full, brief, review, see:

Alexandra Wolfe. "EXHIBIT; The 2,000-Year-Old Plant." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., April 26, 2014): C12.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date April 25, 2014, and has the title "EXHIBIT; The 2,000-Year-Old Plant.")


The book under review is:

Sussman, Rachel. The Oldest Living Things in the World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014.



BristleconePineOldestUnitaryOrganismInWorld2014-06-04.jpg
"Bristlecone Pine (White Mountains, California). Bristlecone pines are the oldest unitary organisms in the world, known to surpass 5,000 years in age. In the 1960s, a then-grad student cut down what would have been the oldest known tree in the world while retrieving a lost coring bit. A cross section of that tree was placed in a Nevada casino." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited above.






July 6, 2014

Summers's Unbreakable Washington Power Elite Rule: Insiders Don't Criticize Other Insiders



(p. 5) A telling anecdote involves a dinner that Ms. Warren had with Lawrence H. Summers, then the director of the National Economic Council and a top economic adviser to President Obama. The dinner took place in the spring of 2009, after the oversight panel had produced its third report, concluding that American taxpayers were at far greater risk to losses in TARP than the Treasury had let on.

After dinner, "Larry leaned back in his chair and offered me some advice," Ms. Warren writes. "I had a choice. I could be an insider or I could be an outsider. Outsiders can say whatever they want. But people on the inside don't listen to them. Insiders, however, get lots of access and a chance to push their ideas. People -- powerful people -- listen to what they have to say. But insiders also understand one unbreakable rule: They don't criticize other insiders."

"I had been warned," Ms. Warren concluded.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Summers did not respond to a request for comment.



For the full commentary, see:

GRETCHEN MORGENSON. "Fair Game; From Outside or Inside, the Deck Looks Stacked." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., APRIL 27, 2014): 1 & 5.

(Note: italics in original commentary, and in Warren book. I added a missing quotation mark.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date APRIL 26, 2014.)


The Warren passages quoted above are from p. 106 of her book:

Warren, Elizabeth. A Fighting Chance. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2014.









July 4, 2014

Insull the Innovator



(p. 262) Willing to take risks, he picked up for a bargain price a state-of-the-art engine and pair of generators from General Electric that had been on display at the 1893 world's fair. In only his second year on the job, he arranged to acquire his larger competitor, the Chicago Arc Light and Power Company. Branching farther out, he acquired coal mines and a steam railroad that provided vertical integration. Most innovative of all, he introduced new pricing schemes to encourage high-volume residential use spread over the entire day so that he could optimize the greatest volume of business for the least possible capital investment. With the acquisition of neighboring utilities, he created a six-thousand-square-mile regional network of power.


Source:

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






July 3, 2014

Rickenbacker Wasn't the Best Pilot or the Best Shot "but He Could Put More Holes in a Target that Was Shooting Back"



EnduringCourageBK2014-06-03.jpg

















Source of book image: http://jacketupload.macmillanusa.com/jackets/high_res/jpgs/9781250033772.jpg



(p. C6) With his unpolished manners, Rickenbacker encountered a good deal of arrogance from the privileged sons of Harvard and Yale, but after he had downed his first five enemies, criticism ceased. About Rickenbacker's killer instinct his colleague Reed McKinley Chambers had this to say: "Eddie wasn't the best pilot in the world. He could not put as many holes in a target that was being towed as I could, but he could put more holes in a target that was shooting back at him than I could."


For the full review, see:

HENRIK BERING. "Daring Done Deliberately." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 31, 2014): C6.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 30, 2014, and has the title "Book Review: 'Enduring Courage' by John F. Ross.")


The book under review is:

Ross, John F. Enduring Courage: Ace Pilot Eddie Rickenbacker and the Dawn of the Age of Speed. New York: St Martin's Press, 2014.






June 30, 2014

Insull Took 50% Pay Cut to Get Chief Executive Position



(p. 262) Insull's story is characterized by boldness of action that exceeded anything Edison had tried. When he had left Edison's side, he had been determined to find a chief executive position. In 1892, he passed up an offer to be a vice president in Henry Villard's North American Company in order to become president of Edison Chicago, a small electrical power utility that could pay him only half of what he had made in New York. He also had to move to Chicago, a place that seemed to a New Yorker like a "frontier town."


Source:

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






June 26, 2014

Edison Thought His Money Did More Good by Funding Inventions than by Funding Philanthropy



(p. 263) When asked in 1911 to donate to a building drive for a YMCA in Port Huron, a boyhood home, Edison responded with a small pledge and provided an explanation of why he would not provide more: "I can use surplus money to greater advantage for all the people in conducting experiments."


Source:

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






June 25, 2014

Occupational Licensing Hurts Poor and Restricts Innovation and Worker Mobility



StagesOfOccupationalRegulationBK2014-06-01.JPG
















Source of book image: http://www.upjohn.org/sites/default/files/bookcovers/soor_0.JPG



(p. A31) In the 1970s, about 10 percent of individuals who worked had to have licenses, but by 2008, almost 30 percent of the work force needed them.

With this explosion of licensing laws has come a national patchwork of stealth regulation that has, among other things, restricted labor markets, innovation and worker mobility.


. . .


Occupational licensing, moreover, does nothing to close the inequality gap in the United States. For consumers, there is likely to be a redistribution effect in the "wrong" direction, as higher income consumers have more choice among higher quality purveyors of a service and lower income individuals are left with fewer affordable service options.

. . . , government-issued licenses largely protect occupations from competition. Conservatives often see members of the regulated occupation supporting licensing laws under claims of "public health and safety." However, these laws do much more to stop competition and less to enhance the quality of the service.

Also, all consumers do not demand the same level of quality. If licensure "improves quality" by restricting entry into the profession, then some consumers will be forced to pay for more "quality" than they want or need. Not everyone wants a board-licensed hairdresser.



For the full commentary, see:

MORRIS M. KLEINER. "Why License a Florist?" The New York Times (Thurs., MAY 29, 2014): A31.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date MAY 28, 2014.)


Kleiner's most recent book on occupational licensing is:

Kleiner, Morris M. Stages of Occupational Regulation: Analysis of Case Studies. Kalamazoo, Michigan: W.E. Upjohn Institute, 2013.






June 22, 2014

Edison "Put His Winnings from the Electric Light Business into the Mining Business"



(p. 265) In his business and research projects, Edison became more timid as he became older. While in his thirties, he had had the energy to tackle a problem that had seemed to many to be insoluble: the "subdivision" of the electric light that would make indoor use technically and economically feasible. In his forties, he had continued to dream big and put his winnings from the electric light business into the mining business. It had ended disappointingly, but he cannot be criticized for timidity. In his fifties, he did make another sizable bet. However, for this venture, pursuing the improvement of the battery for an electric car, he had financing from Ford that insulated him from personal risk. He continued to steer clear of risk in his sixties and seventies.


Source:

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






June 21, 2014

In China "Overwhelming Evidence of the Leaders' "Moral Vulnerability""



ThePeoplesRepublicOfAmnesiaBK2014-05-28.jpg

















Source of book image: http://media.npr.org/assets/bakertaylor/covers/t/the-peoples-republic-of-amnesia/9780199347704_custom-d21f4e2d0281b692c74781102e750ff1e27b7cc9-s6-c30.jpg



(p. 21) During the night of June 3-4, 1989, when the Chinese Army was slaughtering demonstrators in Tiananmen Square, Wang Nan, a young student, was shot in the head. As he lay dying at the side of the road, soldiers threatened to kill anyone, even some young doctors, who tried to help him. In the morning, finally dead, he was buried in a shallow grave nearby. A few days later, the smell of Wang Nan's body was so great that it was dug up and moved to a hospital.

After 10 days, his mother, Zhang Xianling, was called to the hospital to identify her son's body. It took eight months, in the face of official obstruction, for Zhang to uncover what had happened to her son. In 1998 she held a modest remembrance service on the spot where he had died. The next year, on that day, she was barred from leaving her apartment. When she met Louisa Lim, Zhang said she longed to go to the fatal place again to pour a libation on the ground and sprinkle flower petals. "However," Lim observes, ­"someone will always be watching her. A closed-circuit camera has been installed" and "trained on the exact spot where her son's body was exhumed. . . . It is a camera dedicated to her alone, waiting for her in case she should ever try again to mourn her dead son."

Until I read about that camera in "The People's Republic of Amnesia," I imagined, after decades of reporting from and about China, that nothing there could still shock me. As Lim contends, Zhang's "simple act of memory is deemed a threat to stability." Lim's overwhelming evidence of the leaders' "moral vulnerability," together with her accounts of the amnesia of many Chinese, make hers one of the best analyses of the impact of Tiananmen throughout China in the years since 1989.



For the full review, see:

JONATHAN MIRSKY. "An Inconvenient Past." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., MAY 25, 2014): 21.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date MAY 23, 2014.)


The book under review is:

Lim, Louisa. The People's Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.



TanksBeijingTwoDaysAfterTiananmenSquareMassacre2014-05-28.jpg "Tanks at the ready in Beijing on June 6, 1989, two days after the Tiananmen Square massacre." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT review quoted and cited above.






June 18, 2014

If Inventors Were Allowed to Educate



(p. 228) Along with the home projector, the company introduced a central clearinghouse for used films, which offered customers a way of replenishing the family's entertainment supply by using the postal service to swap titles with others for a nominal processing fee. Edison, however, wanted to use his projector not for entertainment but for education. For preschoolers, his idea was nothing less than brilliant. For teaching the alphabet, Edison explained in an interview, "suppose, instead of the dull, solemn letters on a board or a card you have a little play going on that the littlest youngster can understand," with actors carrying in letters, hopping, skipping, turning somersaults. "Nothing like action--drama--a play that fascinates the eye to keep the attention keyed up." (A prospectus for Sesame Street could not have made a better case.)


Source:

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

(Note: italics in original)






June 17, 2014

Schulman Grants that Kochs "Have Sincere Political Views that Go Beyond Being Just a Cover for Their Companies' Interest"



KochBrothersWilliamCharlesDavidFrederick2014-05-28.jpg "The Koch brothers, from left: William, Charles, David and Frederick." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT review quoted and cited below.


(p. 12) "Sons of Wichita" may strike some readers as surprisingly pro-Koch.  . . . [Schulman] grants Charles and David two key concessions: They have sincere political views that go beyond being just a cover for their companies' interest in lower taxes and fewer regulations, and many of their political activities have been right out in the open, rather than lurking in the shadows. He seems to be almost in awe of Charles, the most mysterious of the brothers, who runs Koch Industries by a system he devised called Market-Based Management. Summarizing, but not dissenting from, the views of Charles's employees, Schulman calls him "a near-mythic figure, a man of preternatural intellect and economic prowess," adding: "He is unquestionably powerful, but unfailingly humble; elusive, but uncomplicated; cosmopolitan, yet thoroughly Kansan." It's noteworthy, Schulman argues, that for decades the Koch family was definitely not welcome in the Republican Party. That they came to stand for Republicanism, at least in the minds of liberals, in 2010 and 2012 is testament to their persistence, to the weakening of the traditional party structures and to their success in making libertarianism a mainstream rather than a fringe ideology. "It's a brilliant, extraordinary accomplishment," Schulman quotes Rob Stein of the liberal Democracy Alliance as saying about the Kochs' rise to influence.


. . .


Even the Tea Party movement is not entirely dependent on intravenous feeding from the Kochs or that other favorite liberal villain, Fox News. And elements of Koch-style libertarianism, connected to the interests of major donors, now live within the Democratic Party too -- not just on social issues like same-sex marriage, but on economic and regulatory ones too. "Sons of Wichita" reminds us that political outcomes depend far more on ideas and organization, and the energy and persistence devoted to them, than they do on the balance of power between good guys and bad guys.



For the full review, see:

NICHOLAS LEMANN. "Billionaire Boys Club." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., MAY 25, 2014): 12.

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

(Note: the online version of the review has the date MAY 23, 2014.)


The book under review is:

Schulman, Daniel. Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America's Most Powerful and Private Dynasty. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2014.



SonsOfWichitaBK2014-05-28.jpg
















Source of book image: http://media.npr.org/assets/bakertaylor/covers/s/sons-of-wichita/9781455518739_custom-bd178f0c1a2667e448cf13ff7df2850774d77dd8-s6-c30.jpg






June 14, 2014

How Edison Brought Tears to the Eyes of Maria Montessori



(p. 221) Edison's partial loss of hearing prevented him from listening to music in the same way as those with unimpaired hearing. A little item that appeared in a Schenectady, New York, newspaper in 1913 related the story that Edison supposedly told a friend about how he usually listened to recordings by placing one ear directly against the phonograph's cabinet. But if he detected a sound too faint to hear in this fashion, Edison said, "I bite my teeth in the wood good and hard and then I get it good and strong." The story would be confirmed decades later in (p. 222) Madeleine's recollections of growing up. One day she came into the sitting room in which someone was playing the piano and a guest, Maria Montessori, was in tears, watching Edison listen the only way that he could, teeth biting the piano. "She thought it was pathetic," Madeleine said, "I guess it was."


Source:

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






June 13, 2014

Federal Tax Reduction Fueled Craft Beer Revolution



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




(p. 6) The story of craft beer's rise begins in 1965, when Fritz Maytag, an heir to the Maytag appliance fortune, bought and revived the Anchor Steam brewery in San Francisco, thus inspiring a generation of so-called home brewers to begin considering commercial ventures.


. . .


A 1976 federal tax reduction for small brewers fueled the industry's growth.


. . .


For years, the greatest challenge for craft brewers was distribution -- simply getting restaurants and grocery stores to sell their product. Most wholesale beer distributors, Mr. Hindy writes, were heavily reliant on the three megabreweries -- Anheuser-Busch, Miller and Coors -- and couldn't be bothered to spend time pushing obscure brands whose makers rarely had enough money to advertise. In 1996, Augustus Busch III demanded that its distributors devote a "100 percent share of mind" to Busch products. That left most microbrewers to beg and wheedle the Miller and Coors distributors, a situation so frustrating that, in time, Mr. Hindy's Brooklyn Brewery began distributing its own products.



For the full review, see:

BRYAN BURROUGH. "OFF THE SHELF; Craft Brewers, Finding a Better Seat at the Bar." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., MAY 11, 2014): 6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date MAY 10, 2014.)


The book under review is:

Hindy, Steve. The Craft Beer Revolution: How a Band of Microbrewers Is Transforming the World's Favorite Drink. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.






June 10, 2014

Phonograph Allowed Middle Class to Bring the Show to Their "Castle," Like Kings Already Could



(p. 218) Once Edison's marketers squarely addressed the urban middle class, they devised advertising that made prospective customers feel as entitled to enjoy the pleasures of recorded music as anyone. "When the (p. 219) King of England wants to see a show, they bring the show to the castle and he hears it alone in his private theater." So said an advertisement in 1906 for the Edison phonograph. It continued: "If you are a king, why don't you exercise your kingly privilege and have a show of your own in your own house."


Source:

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






June 9, 2014

Government Regulations Favor Health Care Incumbents



WhereDoesItHurtBK2014-05-28.jpg





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





(p. A11) The rise in U.S. health-care costs, to nearly 18% of GDP today from around 6% of GDP in 1965, has alarmed journalists, inspired policy wonks and left patients struggling to find empathy in a system that tends to view them as "a vessel for billing codes," as the technologist Dave Chase has put it.

Enter Jonathan Bush, dyslexic entrepreneur, . . .


. . .


. . . , Mr. Bush touts technology as a driver of change. It has revolutionized the way we shop for books and select hotels, but health-care delivery has been stubbornly resistant. Mr. Bush notes that the number of people supporting each doctor has climbed to 16 today from 10 in 1990--half of whom, currently, are administrators handling the mounting paperwork. Astonishingly, as Mr. Bush observes, the government had to pay doctors billions of dollars, via the 2009 HITECH Act, to incentivize them to upgrade from paper to computers. Meanwhile, fast-food chains discovered computers on their own, because the market demanded it.


. . .


Let entrepreneurs loose on these challenges, Mr. Bush believes, and they will come up with solutions.

Mr. Bush identifies three major obstacles to the kinds of change he has in mind. First, large hospital systems leverage their market position to charge hefty premiums for basic services, then use the proceeds to buy more regional hospitals and local practices. "As big ones take over the small," Mr. Bush laments, "prices shoot up. Choices vanish." Second, government regulations, especially state laws, favor powerful incumbents, shielding "imaging centers and hospitals from competition." Third, heath care suffers from a risk-avoidant culture. The maxim "do no harm," Mr. Bush says, should not be an excuse for clinging to a flawed status quo.



For the full review, see:

David A. Shaywitz. "BOOKSHELF; A System Still in Need of Repair; Routine medical services can be done for less cost--one of many obvious realities that current health-care practices studiously ignore." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., May 19, 2014): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 18, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Where Does It Hurt?' by Jonathan Bush; Routine medical services can be done for less cost--one of many obvious realities that current health-care practices studiously ignore.")


The book under review is:

Bush, Jonathan, and Stephen Baker. Where Does It Hurt?: An Entrepreneur's Guide to Fixing Health Care. New York: Portfolio, 2014.






June 6, 2014

Edison Sold General Electric Shares to Keep His Lab and Mine Open



(p. 193) In 1902, at a time when General Electric shares were trading at a historic high and well after Edison had sold his, Mallory happened to be traveling with him and saw in the newspaper the eye-popping closing price. Edison asked what his stake would have been worth had he held on to it. Mallory quickly worked out the number: over $4 million. Hearing this, Edison remained silent, keeping a serious expression for about fifteen seconds. Then his face lit up and he said, "Well, it's all gone, but we had a good time spending it."

(p. 194) The story would be retold by Edison's hagiographers many times. The evidence suggests that Edison did have a jolly time, which, to him, was well worth the $4 million.



Source:

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






June 5, 2014

"Man Is Born Free, But He Is Everywhere in Cubicles"



CubedBK2014-05-28.jpg











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





(p. C21) I've spent about half my working life sitting in, and loathing, cubicles. You've probably spent years in one, too. About 60 percent of us work in cubicles, and 93 percent of us dislike them.


. . .


(p. C31) Mr. Saval describes the image we have of the cubicle today: "the flimsy, fabric-wrapped, half-exposed stall where the white-collar worker waited out his days until, at long last, he was laid off."


. . .


When he discovers that half of Americans report that their bathrooms are larger than their cubicles, for example, he writes: "One wonders to what extent the extravagant growth of the American bathroom, and of the suburban home in general, is partly a reaction against the shrinking of cubicles, where the owners of those bathrooms spend so much of their time."


. . .


Putting a spin on Rousseau, he says,


. . .


By the end of "Cubed," the author is dropping in on Silicon Valley offices, where companies like Google cater to their employees' every need, almost eliminating the distinction between work and leisure. Mr. Saval savors the fact that so many well-known Silicon Valley figures dropped out of college yet want their offices to resemble college campuses.



For the full review, see:

DWIGHT GARNER. "Books of The Times; The Office Space We Love to Hate." The New York Times (Fri., APRIL 25, 2014): C21 & C31.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date APRIL 24, 2014.)


The book under review is:

Saval, Nikil. Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace. New York: Doubleday, 2014.






June 2, 2014

Edison Failed to Stop Film Projectors from Disrupting His Kinetoscope




Edison tried to kill film projection because he thought the whole country would only need 10 projectors, while they could sell a great many of the single-view kinetoscopes. But the wonderful twist to the story is that it DID NOT WORK because Edison could not stop the Lathams and others from coming forward and disrupting the kinetoscope.


(p. 205) The Lathams were not the only exhibitors frustrated with Edison's kinetoscope, and the others urged Edison to introduce a projection machine. Edison was adamant: no. He reasoned that the peephole machines (p. 206) were selling well and at a good profit. The problem with projection was that it would work all too well--if he replaced the inefficient kinetoscope with projection systems that could serve up the show to everyone, "there will be a use for maybe about ten of them in the whole United States." He concluded, "Let's not kill the goose that lays the golden egg."

At Edison's lab in Orange, without his boss's approval, W. K. L. Dickson carried out research on film projection on his own and shared his findings with a friend who was a keen listener: Otway Latham. And when Dickson accepted an invitation to try a projection experiment in a physics laboratory at Columbia, who should show up but Otway's father, Professor Latham. The Lathams made an offer to Dickson--come join us and we'll give you a quarter-share interest in the business--but Dickson was unwilling to make the leap. When Edison got word of his fraternizing with the Lathams, however, and failed to reassure Dickson that he believed Dickson's dealings had been perfectly honorable, Dickson felt he had no choice but to resign. The exact chronology of what he did and what he knew at various points preceding his resignation would be the subject of much litigation that followed. But regardless of intellectual-property issues, Edison lost the one person on his staff who would have been most valuable to him in developing a projection system.

The Lathams and Dickson had discovered that sending a bright light through a moving strip of film did not project satisfactorily because any given image did not absorb enough light before it sped on. The Lathams came up with a partial solution, which was to make the film wider, providing more area for the light to catch as each image went by. The projected images were about the size of a window and good enough to unveil publicly. Professor Latham gave a demonstration of his newly christened Pantoptikon to reporters in April 1895.



Source:

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






June 1, 2014

Galeano Repudiates His Chávez-Endorsed Latin Leftist Classic



HillaryObamaChavezAndOpenVeinsBook2014-05-25.jpg "Hugo Chávez, president of Venezuela, handing President Obama a copy of Eduardo Galeano's "The Open Veins of Latin America" in 2009." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. C1) For more than 40 years, Eduardo Galeano's "The Open Veins of Latin America" has been the canonical anti-colonialist, anti-capitalist and anti-American text in that region. Hugo Chávez, Venezuela's populist president, even put a copy of the book, which he had called "a monument in our Latin American history," in President Obama's hands the first time they met. But now Mr. Galeano, a 73-year-old Uruguayan writer, has disavowed the book, saying that he was not qualified to tackle the subject and that it was badly written. . . .

" 'Open Veins' tried to be a book of political economy, but I didn't yet have the necessary training or preparation," Mr. Galeano said last month while answering questions at a book fair in Brazil, where he was being honored on the 43rd anniversary of the book's publication. He added: "I wouldn't be capable of reading this book again; I'd keel over. For me, this prose of the traditional left is extremely leaden, and my physique can't tolerate it."


. . .


(p. C6) In the United States, "Open Veins" has been widely taught on university campuses since the 1970s, in courses ranging from history and anthropology to economics and geography. But Mr. Galeano's unexpected takedown of his own work has left scholars wondering how to deal with the book in class.


. . .


In the mid-1990s, three advocates of free-market policies -- the Colombian writer and diplomat Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza, the exiled Cuban author Carlos Alberto Montaner and the Peruvian journalist and author Álvaro Vargas Llosa -- reacted to Mr. Galeano with a polemic of their own, "Guide to the Perfect Latin American Idiot." They dismissed "Open Veins" as "the idiot's bible," and reduced its thesis to a single sentence: "We're poor; it's their fault."

Mr. Montaner responded to Mr. Galeano's recent remarks with a blog post titled "Galeano Corrects Himself and the Idiots Lose Their Bible." In Brazil, Rodrigo Constantino, the author of "The Caviar Left," took an even harsher tone, blaming Mr. Galeano's analysis and prescription for many of Latin America's ills. "He should feel really guilty for the damage he caused," he wrote on his blog.



For the full story, see:

LARRY ROHTER. "Author Changes His Mind on '70s Manifesto." The New York Times (Sat., MAY 24, 2014): C1 & C6..

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 23, 2014.)


The Vargas Llosa book mentioned above is:

Mendoza, Plinio Apuleyo, Carlos Alberto Montaner, and Alvaro Vargas Llosa. Guide to the Perfect Latin American Idiot. Lanham, Maryland: Madison Books, 2000.



GuideToThePerfectLatinAmericanIdiotBK2014-05-26.JPG

















Source of book image:
http://img2.imagesbn.com/p/9781568332369_p0_v1_s260x420.JPG






May 31, 2014

When Labor Markets Are Flexible, Workers Need Not Fear New Technology



(p. 6) Driverless vehicles and drone aircraft are no longer science fiction, and over time, they may eliminate millions of transportation jobs. Many other examples of automatable jobs are discussed in "The Second Machine Age," a book by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, and in my own book, "Average Is Over." The upshot is that machines are often filling in for our smarts, not just for our brawn -- and this trend is likely to grow.

How afraid should workers be of these new technologies? There is reason to be skeptical of the assumption that machines will leave humanity without jobs. After all, history has seen many waves of innovation and automation, and yet as recently as 2000, the rate of unemployment was a mere 4 percent. There are unlimited human wants, so there is always more work to be done. The economic theory of comparative advantage suggests that even unskilled workers can gain from selling their services, thereby liberating the more skilled workers for more productive tasks.


. . .


Labor markets just aren't as flexible these days for workers, especially for men at the bottom end of the skills distribution.


. . .


Across the economy, a college degree is often demanded where a high school degree used to suffice.


. . .


The law is yet another source of labor market inflexibility: The number of jobs covered by occupational licensing continues to rise and is almost one-third of the work force. We don't need such laws for, say, barbers or interior designers, although they are commonly on the books.


. . .


Many . . . labor market problems were brought on by the financial crisis and the collapse of market demand. But it would be a mistake to place all the blame on the business cycle. Before the crisis, for example, business executives and owners didn't always know who their worst workers were, or didn't want to engage in the disruptive act of rooting out and firing them. So long as sales were brisk, it was easier to let matters lie. But when money ran out, many businesses had to make the tough decisions -- and the axes fell. The financial crisis thus accelerated what would have been a much slower process.

Subsequently, some would-be employers seem to have discriminated against workers who were laid off in the crash. These judgments weren't always fair, but that stigma isn't easily overcome, because a lot of employers in fact had reason to identify and fire their less productive workers.



For the full commentary, see:

TYLER COWEN. "Economic View; Automation Alone Isn't Killing Jobs." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., APRIL 6, 2014): 6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date APRIL 5, 2014.)



The Brynjolfsson and McAfee book mentioned is:

Brynjolfsson, Erik, and Andrew McAfee. The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2014.


The Cowen book that Cowen mentions is:

Cowen, Tyler. Average Is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation. New York: Dutton Adult, 2013.






May 30, 2014

Young Inca Woman Was Probably Murdered



MurderedIncanYoungWoman2014-04-28.jpg "The Incan mummy." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


Hobbes famously wrote that for most of human existence, life has been "poor, nasty, brutish, and short." Further evidence:


(p. D4) Scientists who have examined the mummy of a young Inca say that her death was most likely a homicide and that it was not because of Chagas disease, the tropical parasitic infection that she had.


For the full story, see:

"Observatory; A Verdict of Murder." The New York Times (Tues., MARCH 4, 2014): D4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 3, 2014.)




The famous Hobbes quote can be found on p. 70 of:

Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan, Dover Philosophical Classics. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 2006 [first published 1651].






May 29, 2014

In Bringing Us Electricity, Westinghouse Rejected the Precautionary Principle



(p. 180) The defensive position that Westinghouse found himself in is illustrated by the way he contradicted himself as he tried to defend overhead wires. The wires that were supposedly safe were also the same wires that he had to admit, yes, posed dangers, yes, but dangers of various kinds had to be accepted throughout the modern city. Westinghouse said, "If all things involving the use of power were to be prohibited because of the danger to life, then the cable cars, which have already killed and maimed a number of people, would have to be abolished." Say good-bye to trains, too, he added, because of accidents at road crossings.


Source:

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






May 28, 2014

Psychological Theorizing Based on False Facts



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Source of book image:
http://media.npr.org/assets/bakertaylor/covers/k/kitty-genovese/9780393239287_custom-113f9b45a7b76ac664f82c62c6604fd07d7ad5f9-s6-c30.jpg



(p. C7) The Kitty Genovese myth has turned out to be as enduring an urban legend as the tale of alligators prowling the New York sewers. In March 1964 the young Queens bar manager was stabbed to death at three in the morning outside her Kew Gardens apartment while 38 neighbors watched from their windows and did nothing to save her--or so the tale has gone for the past half-century.

In fact, hardly anything about the Genovese story is what it first appeared to be, although it has calcified into a metaphor of urban alienation and prompted research into a psychological phenomenon that has come to be known as the "Genovese syndrome." As Kevin Cook writes in his heavily padded but provocative new book, "Kitty Genovese: The Murder, the Bystanders, the Crime That Changed America," the tale is as much about the alchemy of journalism as urban pathology.


. . .


. . . , as it turns out, only a few neighbors understood the attack for what it was and failed to respond.


. . .


Journalism is a blunt instrument, and allowances must be made. Even so, it's plain that the original story was more hype than first draft of history.



For the full review, see:

EDWARD KOSNER. "BOOKS; What the Neighbors Didn't See; A woman was stabbed and raped steps from her door. Did no one call the police?" The Wall Street Journal (Sat., March 1, 2014): C7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 28, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Kitty Genovese' by Kevin Cook; A woman was stabbed and raped steps from her door. Did no one call the police?")


The book under review is:

Cook, Kevin. Kitty Genovese: The Murder, the Bystanders, the Crime That Changed America. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2014.






May 25, 2014

Entrepreneurial Consumer J.P. Morgan "Handled Setbacks with Equanimity"




Schumpeter wrote that the entrepreneur is the one who overcomes obstacles to get the job done (1950, p. 132). Obstacles come in many forms. One of them is consumer resistance to change. So one key contributor to the technological progress is the "entrepreneurial consumer" who is willing to invest in new, buggy, possibly dangerous technologies at an early stage. (Paul Nodskov, a student in my spring 2014 Economics of Technology seminar suggested using the phrase "entrepreneurial consumer.")

Alexis de Tocqueville observed that in contrast to Europeans, Americans were "restless in the midst of their prosperity" (2000 [first published 1835], Ch. 13). Perhaps even that early, America had more entrepreneurial consumers?


(p. 131) Morgan prized being ahead of everyone else, and the next year was concerned that his plant was already less than state of the art, a suspicion that was confirmed when he persuaded Edison to send Edward Johnson to the house for an evaluation. Johnson was instructed to upgrade the equipment and also to devise a way to provide an electric light that would sit on Morgan's desk in his library. At a time when the very concept of an electrical outlet and detachable electrical appliances had yet to appear, this posed a significant challenge. Johnson's solution was to run wires beneath the floor to metal plates that were installed in different places beneath the rugs. One of the legs of the desk was equipped with sharp metal prongs, designed to make contact with one of the plates when moved about the room.

In conception, it was clever; in implementation, it fell short of ideal. On the first evening when the light was turned on, there was a flash, followed by a fire that quickly engulfed the desk and spread across the rug before being put out. When Johnson was summoned to the house the next morning, he was shown into the library, where charred debris was piled in a heap. He expected that when Morgan appeared, he would angrily announce that the services of Edison Electric were no longer needed.

(p. 132) "Well?" Morgan stood in the doorway, with Mrs. Morgan standing behind him, signaling Johnson with a finger across her lips not to launch into elaborate explanations. Johnson cast a doleful eye at the disaster in the room and remained silent.

"Well, what are you going to do about it?" Morgan asked. Johnson said the fault was his own and that he would personally reinstall everything, ensuring that it would be done properly.

"All right. See that you do." Morgan turned and left. The eager purchaser of first-generation technology handled setbacks with equanimity. "I hope that the Edison Company appreciates the value of my house as an experimental station," he would later say. A new installation with second-generation equipment worked well, and Morgan held a reception for four hundred guests to show off his electric lights. The event led some guests to place their own orders for similar installations. Morgan also donated entire systems to St. George's Church and to a private school, dispatching Johnson to oversee the installation as a surprise to the headmistress. The family biographer compared Morgan's gifts of electrical power plants to his sending friends baskets of choice fruit.



Source:

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



Schumpeter's book is:

Schumpeter, Joseph A. Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. 3rd ed. New York: Harper and Row, 1950.

The other book I mention, is:

de Tocqueville, Alexis. Democracy in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 [first published in two volumes in 1835 and 1840].






May 21, 2014

Edison Genuinely Believed that AC Was More Dangerous than DC



(p. 174) In Edison's view, . . . , Westinghouse did not pose a serious threat in the power-and-light business because he used the relatively more dangerous alternating current, certain to kill one of his own customers within six months.

Edison's conviction that direct current was less dangerous than alternating current was based on hunch, however, not empirical scientific research. He, like others at the time, focused solely on voltage (the force that pushes electricity through a wire) without paying attention to amperage (the rate of flow of electricity), and thought it would be best to stay at 1,200 volts or less. Even he was not certain that his own system was completely safe--after all, he had elected to place wires in underground conduits, which was more expensive than stringing wires overhead but reduced the likelihood of electrical current touching a passerby. Burying the wires could not give him complete peace of mind, however. Privately, he told Edward Johnson that "we must look out for crosses [i.e., short-circuited wires] for if we ever kill a customer it would be a bad blow to the business."



Source:

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

(Note: ellipsis added, bracketed words in original.)






May 20, 2014

G.D.P. Is a Useful, But Biased Downward, Measure of Growth



GDPBK2014-04-28.jpg















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






(p. 6) Dr. Coyle concludes that while imperfect, the G.D.P. is good enough as a measure of how fast the economy is growing and better than any alternative. It is closely correlated with things that do contribute to happiness. (Nobody is happy in a recession.)

"We should not be in a rush to ditch G.D.P.," Dr. Coyle writes. "Yet it is a measure of the economy best suited to an earlier era."

For one thing, it fails to count the value of the staggering growth in consumer choice. Where once we had three television networks, we now have 1,000 channels; greater choice equals greater freedom, she declares. It does poorly in measuring the Internet economy, in which so many benefits -- like Google searches -- are offered free. It badly lags behind the headlong pace of innovation and creativity. It struggles with the true value of a host of products or services that didn't exist before. To the degree that it misses those new benefits to consumers, it understates the pace of economic growth.



For the full review, see:

FRED ANDREWS. "Off the Shelf; An Economic Gauge, Imperfect but Vital." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., APRIL 6, 2014): 6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date APRIL 5, 2014.)


The book under review is:

Coyle, Diane. GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2014.






May 17, 2014

Edison's Magnetic Low-Grade Iron Ore Processing Inventions Might Have Succeeded



(p. 193) Edison took great pleasure in the novelty of the technical challenges and in the opportunity to redeem his reputation as a savvy businessperson, even though redemption never came. The low-grade iron ore in New Jersey did not have a competitive chance once huge reserves of high-grade ore were discovered in the Mesabi Range of northeastern Minnesota; the Mesabi ore was easily mined near the surface and close to economical shipping on Lake Superior. Well after the first Mesabi mine opened in 1890, Edison remained pitiably hopeful about his Ogden mine, even when objective facts made the future of its business appear bleak to anyone else. In 1897, when failure was inevitable, he refused to acknowledge the facts. Edison wrote a colleague, "My Wall Street friends think I cannot make another success, and that I am a back number, hence I cannot raise even $10,000 from them, but I am going to show them that they are very much mistaken. I am full of vinegar yet."


Source:

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






May 16, 2014

"The Experts Keep Getting It Wrong and the Oddballs Keep Getting It Right"



HydraulicFracturingOperationInColorado2014-04-25.jpg "A worker at a hydraulic fracturing and extraction operation in western Colorado on March 29[, 2014]." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. C3) The experts keep getting it wrong. And the oddballs keep getting it right.

Over the past five years of business history, two events have shocked and transformed the nation. In 2007 and 2008, the housing market crumbled and the financial system collapsed, causing trillions of dollars of losses. Around the same time, a few little-known wildcatters began pumping meaningful amounts of oil and gas from U.S. shale formations. A country that once was running out of energy now is on track to become the world's leading producer.

What's most surprising about both events is how few experts saw them coming--and that a group of unlikely outsiders somehow did.


. . .


Less well known, but no less dramatic, is the story of America's energy transformation, which took the industry's giants almost completely by surprise. In the early 1990s, an ambitious Chevron executive named Ray Galvin started a group to drill compressed, challenging formations of shale in the U.S. His team was mocked and undermined by dubious colleagues. Eventually, Chevron pulled the plug on the effort and shifted its resources abroad.

Exxon Mobil also failed to focus on this rock--even though its corporate headquarters in Irving, Texas, were directly above a huge shale formation that eventually would flow with gas. Later, it would pay $31 billion to buy a smaller shale pioneer.

"I would be less than honest if I were to say to you [that] we saw it all coming, because we did not, quite frankly," Rex Tillerson, Exxon Mobil's chairman and CEO said last year in an interview at the Council on Foreign Relations.


. . .


The resurgence in U.S. energy came from a group of brash wildcatters who discovered techniques to hydraulically fracture--or frack--and horizontally drill shale and other rock. Many of these men operated on the fringes of the oil industry, some without college degrees or much background in drilling, geology or engineering.



For the full commentary, see:

GREGORY ZUCKERMAN. "ESSAY; The Little Guys Who Saw Our Economic Future; Corporate Caution and Complacency Come at a Cost." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Nov. 2, 2013): C3.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated Nov. 3, 2013, and has the title "ESSAY; The Outsiders Who Saw Our Economic Future; In both America's energy transformation and the financial crisis, it took a group of amateurs to see what was coming." )


Zuckerman's commentary, quoted above, is partly based on his book:

Zuckerman, Gregory. The Frackers: The Outrageous inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters. New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2013.






May 15, 2014

Koch Industries Was Only Major Ethanol Producer to Oppose Ethanol Tax Credits



(p. A17) I have devoted most of my life to understanding the principles that enable people to improve their lives. It is those principles--the principles of a free society--that have shaped my life, my family, our company and America itself.

Unfortunately, the fundamental concepts of dignity, respect, equality before the law and personal freedom are under attack by the nation's own government. That's why, if we want to restore a free society and create greater well-being and opportunity for all Americans, we have no choice but to fight for those principles.


. . .


Far from trying to rig the system, I have spent decades opposing cronyism and all political favors, including mandates, subsidies and protective tariffs--even when we benefit from them. I believe that cronyism is nothing more than welfare for the rich and powerful, and should be abolished.

Koch Industries was the only major producer in the ethanol industry to argue for the demise of the ethanol tax credit in 2011. That government handout (which cost taxpayers billions) needlessly drove up food and fuel prices as well as other costs for consumers--many of whom were poor or otherwise disadvantaged. Now the mandate needs to go, so that consumers and the marketplace are the ones who decide the future of ethanol.



For the full commentary, see:

CHARLES G. KOCH. "OPINION; I'm Fighting to Restore a Free Society; Instead of welcoming free debate, collectivists engage in character assassination." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., April 3, 2014): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated April 2, 2014, and has the title "OPINION; Charles Koch: I'm Fighting to Restore a Free Society; Instead of welcoming free debate, collectivists engage in character assassination." )


Koch's philosophy of the free market is more fully elaborated in:

Koch, Charles G. The Science of Success: How Market-Based Management Built the World's Largest Private Company. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2007.






May 13, 2014

In the End Edison Said "I Am Not Business Man Enough to Spend Time" in the Electricity Business



(p. 186) In early 1892, the deal was done: Edison General Electric and Thomson-Houston merged as nominal equals. The organization chart, however, reflected a different understanding among the principals. Thomson-Houston's chief executive, Charles Coffin, became the new head and other Thomson-Houston executives filled out the other positions. Insull was the only manager from the Edison side invited to stay, which he did only briefly. From the outside, it appeared that Thomas (p. 187) Edison and his coterie had arranged the combination from a position of abject surrender. Edison did not want this to be the impression left in the public mind, however. When the press asked him about the announcement, he said he had been one of the first to urge the merger. This was not close to the truth, and is especially amusing when placed in juxtaposition to Alfred Tate's account of the moment when Tate, hearing news of the merger first, had been the one to convey the news to Edison.

I always have regretted the abruptness with which I broke the news to Edison but I am not sure that a milder manner and less precipitate delivery would have cushioned the shock. I never before had seen him change color. His complexion naturally was pale, a clear healthy paleness, but following my announcement it turned as white as his collar.

"Send for Insull," was all he said as he left me standing in his library.

Having collected himself before meeting with the reporters, Edison could say with sincerity that he was too busy to "waste my time" on the electric light. For the past three years, since he first realized that his direct-current system would ultimately be driven to the margins by alternating current, he had been carting his affections elsewhere. The occasion of the merger did shake him into a rare disclosure of personal shortcoming: He allowed that "I am not business man enough to spend time" in the power-and-light business.



Source:

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






May 12, 2014

Heart Pioneer Bailey Kept Moving from Hospital to Hospital Due to His Failures



ExtemeMedicineBK2014-04-25.jpg

















Source of book image:
http://media.npr.org/assets/bakertaylor/covers/e/extreme-medicine/9781594204708_custom-14713d8588e54f066a6abf7b5a13e4c9de832ea1-s6-c30.jpg



(p. C8) In "Extreme Medicine," physician Kevin Fong reminds us that virtually everything we take for granted in lifesaving medical intervention was once unthinkable. Over the past century, as technology has allowed man to conquer hostile environments and modernize warfare, medical pioneers have been on a parallel journey, confronting what had once been fatal in man's boldest pursuits and making it survivable.


. . .


As Dr. Fong notes, many of today's commonplace treatments were once dangerously experimental. One pioneer in the early postwar years, a Philadelphia surgeon named Charles Bailey, killed several patients while trying to repair problems of the mitral valve, which if damaged can cause blood to flow backward into the hear chamber, decreasing flow to the rest of the body. Bailey moved from hospital to hospital to avoid scrutiny of his successive failures.



For the full review, see:

LAURA LANDRO. "BOOKS; They Died So We Might Live; Hypothermia, which killed explorers like Scott, is now induced in heart patients to allow time for surgery." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Feb. 15, 2014): C8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 14, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Extreme Medicine' by Kevin Fong; Explorers, astronauts and soldiers all pushed the limits of doctors' abilities to heal and repair.")


The book under review is:

Swidey, Neil. Trapped under the Sea: One Engineering Marvel, Five Men, and a Disaster Ten Miles into the Darkness. New York: Crown Publishers, 2014.






May 7, 2014

A&P Case Shows that Size Can Bring Economies of Scope and Scale



(p. A9) The claim that large, profit-driven firms are harmful to society has a venerable history in the United States. Perhaps no company was ever more vilified for its bigness than the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Co., which from 1920 to the 1960s was the largest retailer in the world. From the 1910s to the 1950s, as it cut out wholesalers and demanded volume discounts from food manufacturers, A&P was criticized for destroying the local merchants that formed the backbone of small-town America and the satisfying jobs they provided. Federal and state governments tried to cripple its business by prohibiting discounting; the Justice Department even won an antitrust case claiming that the company was selling food too cheaply. The fact that A&P's economies of scope and scale saved shoppers 15% or 20% on groceries didn't get much respect, just as Ms. Heffernan doesn't much value the role that big businesses play in lowering costs today.

Yes, competition drives many companies to act in socially harmful ways, and competition within firms can get in the way of collaboration. But the fact that competition can be dysfunctional does not mean that scope and scale are economists' fictions. Size does matter, and competition, while no panacea, does force people to find better ways of doing business.



For the full commentary, see:

MARC LEVINSON. "BOOKSHELF; When Size Does Matter; We glorify the local, but smallness didn't stop the country's savings and loans from needing a federal bailout in the 1980s." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., April 18, 2014): A9.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 17, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'A Bigger Prize' by Margaret Heffernan; We glorify the local, but smallness didn't stop the country's savings and loans from needing a federal bailout in the 1980s.")


Levinson's own book (not the one he is reviewing in the passages quoted above), is:

Levinson, Marc. The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America. New York: Hill and Wang, 2011.






May 5, 2014

Edison Was "the World's Greatest Inventor and World's Worst Businessman"



(p. 165) BY THE EARLY twentieth century, Edison had earned a reputation as "the world's greatest inventor and world's worst businessman." The phrasing, attributed to Henry Ford, is memorable, even if both characterizations as greatest and worst are too extreme to be accepted literally.


Source:

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






May 4, 2014

Gilder's Information Theory of Capitalism Will Boost Morale of Innovative Entrepreneurs



KnowledgeAndPowerBK2014-04-24.jpg











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







(p. A13) Individuals like Ford and Jobs are key figures in the economic paradigm that George Gilder lays out in "Knowledge and Power." He calls for an "information theory of capitalism" in which the economy is driven by a dynamic marketplace, with information widely (and freely) distributed. The most important feature of such an economy, Mr. Gilder writes, is the overthrow of "equilibrium," and the most important actors are inventors and entrepreneurs whose breakthrough ideas are responsible for "everything useful or interesting" in commercial life.


. . .


Aspiring owners shouldn't look to "Knowledge and Power" for practical advice on starting a company, but Mr. Gilder's case for the central role of entrepreneurship might boost their morale. Certainly his argument could not be more timely. Census Bureau data show that startups were responsible for nearly all new job creation from 1996 to 2009. Yet entrepreneurship itself (as measured by new business formation) has been stagnant for about two decades. Thus the important question for America's future may well be, as Mr. Gilder says, "how we treat our entrepreneurs." He persuasively shows that creating a more supportive climate for entrepreneurs--by clearing away burdensome regulations and freeing information from its current imprisonment--will result in a more prosperous and vigorous society, creating not only more jobs but more Jobs.



For the full review, see:

MATTHEW REES. "BOOKSHELF; The Real Market-Maters; Economists as far back as Adam Smith have undervalued entrepreneurs--the restless, inventive, job-creating engines of the economy." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., March 18, 2014): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 17, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Knowledge and Power' by George Gilder
Economists as far back as Adam Smith have undervalued entrepreneurs--the restless, inventive, job-creating engines of the economy.")


The book under review is:

Gilder, George. Knowledge and Power: The Information Theory of Capitalism and How It Is Revolutionizing Our World. Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2013.






May 1, 2014

Edison's Goal Was Not Philanthropy, But to Make Useful Inventions that Sold



(p. 163) . . . , Edison had declared publicly that his inventions should be judged only on the basis of commercial success. This had come about when a reporter for the New York World had asked him a battery of questions that threw him off balance: "What is your object in life? What are you living for? (p. 164) What do you want?" Edison reacted as if he'd been punched in the stomach, or so the writer described the effect with exaggerated drama. First, Edison scanned the ceiling of the room for answers, then looked out the window through the rain. Finally, he said he had never thought of these questions "just that way." He paused again, then said he could not give an exact answer other than this: "I guess all I want now is to have a big laboratory" for making useful inventions. "There isn't a bit of philanthropy in it," he explained. "Anything that won't sell I don't want to invent, because anything that won't sell hasn't reached the acme of success. Its sale is proof of its utility, and utility is success."

He had been put on the spot by the reporter, and had reflexively given the marketplace the power to define the meaning of his own life.



Source:

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

(Note: ellipsis added; italics in original.)






April 30, 2014

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



MomentsOfImpactBK2014-04-24.jpg












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






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


. . .


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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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


The book under review is:

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






April 26, 2014

One Way to Appreciate All We Take for Granted



TheKnowledgeBK2014-04-24.jpg














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



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

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


. . .


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


. . .


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



For the full commentary, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


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

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






April 23, 2014

Edison Was Too Frugal to Buy a Yacht



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


Source:

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

(Note: ellipsis added.)






April 18, 2014

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



HarrimanVSHillBK2014-04-09.jpg












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






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


. . .


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

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


. . .


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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The book under review is:

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






April 15, 2014

Arc Lights Leapfrogged Gas Lights Before Incandescents Leapfrogged Them Both



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


Source:

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






April 14, 2014

Detailed Government Rules Impede Progress



TheRuleOfNobodyBK2014-04-08.jpg












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






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

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



For the full review, see:

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

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


The book under review is:

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






April 11, 2014

Edison, Not Antitrust, Reduced Power of Hated Gas Monopolies




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


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

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



Source:

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

(Note: ellipsis in original.)






April 10, 2014

Deconstruction Theory as an "Elaborate Cover for Past Sins"



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



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


. . .


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

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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipsis added; bold in original.)

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


Hand's book is:

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






April 7, 2014

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



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

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



Source:

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

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






April 3, 2014

As a Young Inventor, Edison Patented Fast



Edison filed patent applications as fast as the ideas arrived.


Source:

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






April 2, 2014

In Hard Times Entrepreneurs Need Advice on How to Fire



TheHardThingAboutHardThingsBK2014-03-30.jpg












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






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

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


. . .


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

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


. . .


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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The book under review is:

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






March 29, 2014

If Lack of Focus and Poverty Go Together, Which Is the Cause and Which the Effect?



ScarcityBK2014-03-06.jpg











Source of book image: http://www.scientificamerican.com/sciam/cache/file/BF860CC7-371A-46BB-8ACCECD4289565A8.jpg




Are the poor poor partly because they concentrate less, or do they concentrate less partly because they are poor? Samantha Power discusses one of her favorite books of 2013:



(p. C11) In "Scarcity," Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir offer groundbreaking insights into, among other themes, the effects of poverty on (p. C12) cognition and our ability to make choices about our lives. The authors persuasively show that the mental space--or "bandwidth"--of the poor is so consumed with making ends meet that they may be more likely to lose concentration while on a job or less likely to take medication on time.


For the full article, see:

"12 Months of Reading; We asked 50 of our friends--from April Bloomfield to Mike Tyson--to name their favorite books of 2013." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Dec. 14, 2013): C6 & C9-C12.

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Dec. 13, 2013.)


The book that Power praises is:

Mullainathan, Sendhil, and Eldar Shafir. Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much. New York: Times Books, 2013.






March 27, 2014

Edison Helped Us See the Light



WizardOfMenloParkBK2014-03-24.jpg









Source of book image: http://www.strategy-business.com/article/07408i?pg=all









Several biographies of Thomas Edison have appeared in recent decades. One of the strengths of Randall Stross' The Wizard of Menlo Park is that it emphasizes how Edison's story is relevant to current issues in the economics of invention, entrepreneurship and technology.

In the next several weeks, I will quote some of the more thought-provoking stories and observations in the Stross book.


The Stross book is:

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






March 25, 2014

"Babies Are Smarter than You Think"



JustBabiesBK2014-03-06.jpg
















Source of book image: http://www.washingtonpost.com/rf/image_296w/2010-2019/WashingtonPost/2013/12/19/Outlook/Images/booksonbooks0031387485124.jpg



Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker discusses a favorite book of 2013:



(p. C11) . . . , babies are smarter than you think, and their cognitive and moral lives, revealed by ingenious experimental techniques, show that fairness, empathy and punitive sentiments have deep roots in human development. Paul Bloom's "Just Babies" illuminates this research with intellectual rigor and a graceful, easygoing style.


For the full article, see:

"12 Months of Reading; We asked 50 of our friends--from April Bloomfield to Mike Tyson--to name their favorite books of 2013." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Dec. 14, 2013): C6 & C9-C12.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Dec. 13, 2013.)


The book that Pinker praises is:

Bloom, Paul. Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil. New York: Crown Publishers, 2013.






March 22, 2014

Carnegie Wanted Institution to Fund "Exceptional" Scientists "Whenever and Where Found"




So was Carnegie suggesting that we should be open to the exceptional appearing in unexpected locations?


(p. 614) In his deed of trust, Carnegie declared that his research institution in Washington should "discover the exceptional man in every department of study whenever and where found... and enable him to make the work for which he seems specially designed his life work." That notion would remain the driving philosophy behind the institution over the next century. Some of those "exceptional" scientists, supported by Carnegie money were the astronomer Edwin Hubble, who "revolutionized astronomy with his discovery that the universe is expanding," and Barbara McClintock, whose work on patterns of genetic inheritance in corn won her a Nobel Prize.


Source:

Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)






March 21, 2014

Hope for "a Morality that Maximizes Human Flourishing"



MoralTribesBK2014-03-06.png

















Source of book image: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-6zEBTa23QDo/UtsQ6rZTkoI/AAAAAAAACdI/lAdUEZDMyaQ/s1600/Moral+Tribes.png



Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker discusses a favorite book of 2013:



(p. C11) "Moral Tribes," by Joshua Greene, explains the fascinating new field of moral neuroscience: what happens in our brains when we make moral judgments and how ancient impulses can warp our ethical intuitions. With the help of the parts of the brain that can engage in careful reasoning, the world's peoples can find common ethical ground in a morality that maximizes human flourishing and minimizes suffering.


For the full article, see:

"12 Months of Reading; We asked 50 of our friends--from April Bloomfield to Mike Tyson--to name their favorite books of 2013." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Dec. 14, 2013): C6 & C9-C12.

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Dec. 13, 2013.)


The book that Pinker praises is:

Greene, Joshua. Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap between Us and Them. New York: The Penguin Press, 2013.






March 17, 2014

Margaret Thatcher Left Britain "Prosperous, Confident and Free"



MargaretThatcherBK2014-03-06.jpg
















Source of book image: http://media.npr.org/assets/bakertaylor/covers/manually-added/thatchercover_custom-e43e3b7aec14140f5606737ab274110160f0c94a-s2-c85.jpg



Daniel Hannan, a European Parliament representative from Britain, discusses a favorite book of 2013:



(p. C9) We've waited a long time for the authorized biography of Margaret Thatcher, and it has been worth the wait. Through Charles Moore's vivid prose, we relive the extraordinary story of Britain's greatest peacetime leader--how she found her country bankrupt, demoralized and dishonored and left it prosperous, confident and free. Mr. Moore weaves numerous new revelations into the narrative of the single-minded, humorless, workaholic, patriotic force of nature that was Margaret Thatcher.


For the full article, see:

"12 Months of Reading; We asked 50 of our friends--from April Bloomfield to Mike Tyson--to name their favorite books of 2013." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Dec. 14, 2013): C6 & C9-C12.

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Dec. 13, 2013.)


The book that Hannan praises is:

Moore, Charles. Margaret Thatcher: From Grantham to the Falklands. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013.






March 14, 2014

Carnegie Was Depressed by Initial Inactivity of Retirement



(p. 592) IT IS DIFFICULT to picture Andrew Carnegie depressed, but there is no other way to describe his state of being in the months following his retirement. Carnegie confessed as much in an early draft of his Autobiography, but the editor John Van Dyke, chosen by Mrs. Carnegie after her husband's death, perhaps thinking his melancholic ruminations would displease her, edited them out of the manuscript.


. . .


(p. 593) The vast difference between life in retirement and as chief stockholder of the Carnegie Company was brought home to him as he prepared to leave for Britain in the early spring of 1901. For close to thirty years, he had scurried about for weeks prior to sailing tying up loose ends. There were documents to be signed, instructions to be left with his partners in Pittsburgh and his private secretary in New York. Retirement brought an end to this round of activities and a strange, inescapable melancholy.



Source:

Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: ellipsis added, italics in original.)

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)






March 13, 2014

How the Brain May Be Able to Control Robots

KakuMichio2014-03-02.jpg











Michio Kaku. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.






(p. 2) Michio Kaku is a theoretical physicist and professor at City College of New York. When not trying to complete Einstein's theory of everything, he writes books that explain physics and how developments in the field will shape the future.


. . .


One of the most intriguing things I've read lately was by Miguel Nicolelis, called "Beyond Boundaries: The New Neuroscience of Connecting Brains With Machines," in which he describes hooking up the brain directly to a computer, which allows you to mentally control a robot or exoskeleton on the other side of the earth.



For the full interview, see:

KATE MURPHY, interviewer. "Download; Michio Kaku." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., FEB. 9, 2014): 2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the first paragraph is an introduction by Kate Murphy; the next paragraph is part of a response by Michio Kaku.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date FEB. 8, 2014.)


The book mentioned above is:

Nicolelis, Miguel. Beyond Boundaries: The New Neuroscience of Connecting Brains with Machines---and How It Will Change Our Lives. New York: Times Books, 2011.







March 10, 2014

Dinosaurs Show that Size Does Not Assure Success, or Even Survival



(p. 504) If the Museum of Natural History was going to be, as Carnegie intended, a world-class institution, it needed more than mummies, ana-(p. 505)tomical models, and Appalachian minerals. It had to have a dinosaur or two. The dinosaur was more than simply a crowd-pleaser. For Carnegie and other devotees of evolutionary science, it was an apt symbol of the unpredictability of a universe in which species and races fell into extinction when they failed to adapt to new environments. For men of slight stature, such as Carnegie, there must have been something quite enthralling about this most vivid demonstration that size and power did not guarantee survival.


Source:

Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)






March 9, 2014

In Traditional Societies People Try to Kill Strangers



DiamondJared2014-03-02.jpg







Jared Diamond. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.












(p. 12) Your latest book, "The World Until Yesterday," is about traditional societies and your research in New Guinea. Why is the acronym Weird central to the book? In Weird -- Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic -- societies we take these things for granted that just didn't exist anywhere in the world until a few thousand years ago. We encounter strangers, and it's normal, and we don't freak out and try to kill them. We eat food that somebody else grew for us. We have a government with police and lawyers to settle disputes.


. . .


. . . , the book has been criticized for saying traditional societies are very violent. Some people take a view of traditional society as being peaceful and gentle. But the proportional rate of violent death is much higher in traditional societies than in state-level societies, where governments assert a monopoly on force. During World War II, until Aug. 14, 1945, American soldiers who killed Japanese got medals. On Aug. 16, American soldiers who killed Japanese were guilty of murder. A state can end war, but a traditional society cannot.

People have called the book racist, saying it suggests third-world poverty is caused by environmental factors instead of imperialism and conquests. It's clearly nonsense. It's not as if people in certain parts of the world were rich until Europeans came along and they suddenly became poor. Before that, there were big differences in technology, military power and the development of centralized government around the world. That's a fact.



For the full interview, see:

AMY CHOZICK, interviewer. "Talk; 'New Guinean Kids Are Not Brats'; Jared Diamond on What We Can Learn from Traditional Societies." The New York Times Magazine (Sun., JAN. 12, 2014): A12.

(Note: bold in original; ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date JAN. 10, 2014, and has the title "Jared Diamond: 'New Guinean Kids Are Not Brats'.")


The book under discussion above is:

Diamond, Jared. The World until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? New York: Viking Penguin, 2012.






March 6, 2014

Carnegie Liked Partnership More than Incorporation



(p. 480) "Don't want anything to do with a corporation as long as I am in business--Partnership is the only thing--no one man can manage well--every one needs the companionships of equals in business to contradict and differ from him--one advises the other... I who write you thus have grown gray in the service and speak the words of soberness and wisdom."


Source:

Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)






March 5, 2014

Angus Maddison Saw that Life Improved During the "Capitalist Epoch"



HockeyStickGraph2014-03-02.jpgSource of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. A13) Angus Maddison, the late and eminent economist for the OECD, produced a famous chart in 1995, depicted nearby. For the longest time--basically from after the Garden of Eden until the 19th century--economic benefit for the average person in the West or Japan was flat as toast. The Mona Lisa aside, there was a reason someone back then said life was nasty, brutish and short. Then suddenly, new wealth spread broadly.

Maddison describes 1820 till 1950 as the "capitalist epoch." He means that admiringly. The tools of capitalism unlocked the knowledge created until then. What came to be called "economic growth" gave more people jobs that lifted them and their families from the muck of joblessness and poverty. Maddison also noted that much of the world did not participate in the capitalist epoch. No wonder they revolt now.

This history is worth restating because the importance of strong economic growth, and the unavoidable necessity of a U.S. that leads that growth, may be disappearing down the memory hole of public policy, on the left and even among some on the right. Both share the grim view that the U.S. economy is flatlining, and the grim fight is over how to divide what's left.



For the full commentary, see:

Henninger, DANIEL. "WONDER LAND; The Growth Revolutions Erupt; Ukrainians want what we've got: The benefits of real economic growth." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Feb. 27, 2014): A13.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 26, 2014.)


One of Maddison's last important books was:

Maddison, Angus. Contours of the World Economy, 1-2030 AD: Essays in Macro-Economic History. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.






March 2, 2014

Incentives Limit Collusion



(p. 476) Carnegie's business strategy was the one he had followed twenty years earlier: keep production steady by accepting orders at any price. In early (p. 477) October, he notified Frick that the time had come to leave the rail pool. "I confess I can see nothing so good for us as a 'free hand'" in setting prices. He was willing to lower his prices and profit margin on rails if that was the only way to get the orders he needed to keep his works running. "By this policy we shall keep our men at work." Carnegie had never been entirely happy as a member of the rail pool, especially after Illinois Steel was allocated a greater share than Carnegie Steel. "For my part," he now declared, "I do not wish to play second fiddle in the rail business any longer. I get no sweet dividend out of second fiddle business, and I do know that the way to make more money dividends is to lead.... I am sure that The Carnegie Steel Co. can make more dollars, even next year, and certainly in future years, by managing its own business in its own way, free from all understandings with competitors, than by continuing in any combination that possibly can be formed. Now having made my speech, which I trust you will read to all my partners, I take my seat and imagine the loud applause with which my sentiments are greeted."


Source:

Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: underlines and ellipsis in original.)

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)






March 1, 2014

Better to Fail at Solving a Big Problem, than to Succeed at a Minor One?



BrilliantBlundersBK2014-02-23.jpg

















Source of book image: http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/61s10qMqpxL._SL1400_.jpg



Francis Collins, head of the NIH, discusses a favorite book of 2013:



(p. C6) Taking risks is part of genius, and genius is not immune to bloopers. Mario Livio's "Brilliant Blunders" leads us through the circumstances that surrounded famous gaffes.   . . .   Mr. Livio helps us see that such spectacular errors are opportunities rather than setbacks. There's a lesson for young scientists here. Boldly attacking problems of fundamental significance can have more impact than pursuing precise solutions to minor questions--even if there are a few bungles along the way.


For the full article, see:

"12 Months of Reading; We asked 50 of our friends--from April Bloomfield to Mike Tyson--to name their favorite books of 2013." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Dec. 14, 2013): C6 & C9-C12.

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Dec. 13, 2013.)


The book that Collins praises is:

Livio, Mario. Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein - Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists That Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013.






February 26, 2014

Carnegie's Not-Fully-Grown-Infant-Industry Argument for Steel Tariffs



(p. 375) The steel industry was doubly dependent on state and national governments for the generous loans and subsidies that fueled railway expansion and rail purchases and the protective tariffs that enabled the manufacturers to keep their prices--and profits--higher than would have been possible had they been compelled to compete with European steelmakers. If, in the beginning, as Carnegie had argued, the tariff had been needed to nurture an infant steel industry, by the mid-1880s that infant had become a strapping, abrasive youth, who kept on growing. Why then, one might inconveniently ask, was there need for a protective tariff? Because, as Carnegie argued in the North American Review in July 1890, the steel industry was not yet fully grown and would have to be protected until it was.

On the issue of the tariff--as on few others--Pittsburgh's workingmen were in agreement with Carnegie. They voted Republican in large numbers because the Republicans were the guardians of the protective tariff, and the tariff, they believed, protected their wage rates.

The argument linking the tariff and wages in the manufacturing sector was a compelling one in the industrial states, but nowhere else. As the Democrats took great delight in pointing out, high tariffs led to high prices for all consumers.



Source:

Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: italics in original.)

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)






February 25, 2014

Catmull's Pixar Had Technology Serve Story



StorytellingAnimalBK2014-02-23.jpg

















Source of book image: http://rorotoko.com/images/uploads/gottschall_storytelling_animal.jpg



Ed Catmull, one of the creators of Pixar, discusses a favorite book of 2013. Catmull's appreciation of the importance of storytelling may help explain why the early Pixar movies were so wonderful:



(p. C6) I am constantly struck by how many people think of stories solely as entertainment--edifying or time-wasting but still: entertainment. "The Storytelling Animal" by Jonathan Gottschall shows that the storytelling part of our brain is deeper and more complex than that, wired into the way we think and learn. This struck me as a powerful idea, that our brain is structured for and shaped by stories whose value goes beyond entertainment and socialization.


For the full article, see:

"12 Months of Reading; We asked 50 of our friends--from April Bloomfield to Mike Tyson--to name their favorite books of 2013." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Dec. 14, 2013): C6 & C9-C12.

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Dec. 13, 2013.)


The book that Catmull praises is:

Gottschall, Jonathan. The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012.






February 22, 2014

Jay Gould Said Railroad Rates Should Be Set by "the Laws of Supply and Demand"



(p. 344) Jay Gould, asked in 1885 by a Senate investigating committee if he believed a "general national law" was needed to regulate railroad rates, responded that they were already regulated by "the laws of supply and demand, production, and consumption."


Source:

Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)






February 21, 2014

Hero Rebels Against the Bureau of Technology Control



InfluxBK2014-02-19.jpg
















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



(p. D8) In "Influx," . . . , a sinister Bureau of Technology Control kidnaps scientists that have developed breakthrough technologies (the cure to cancer, immortality, true artificial intelligence), and is withholding their discoveries from humanity, out of concern over the massive social disruption they would cause. "We don't have a perfect record--Steve Jobs was a tricky one--but we've managed to catch most of the big disrupters before they've brought about uncontrolled social change," says the head of the bureau, the book's villain. The hero has developed a "gravity mirror" but refuses to cooperate, despite the best efforts of Alexa, who has been genetically engineered by the Bureau to be both impossibly sexy and brilliant.

In the publishing world, there is a growing sense that "Influx," Mr. Suarez's fourth novel, may be his breakout book and propel him into the void left by the deaths of Tom Clancy and Michael Crichton. "Influx' has Mr. Suarez's largest initial print run, 50,000 copies, and Twentieth Century Fox bought the movie rights last month.

An English major at the University of Delaware with a knack for computers, Mr. Suarez started a consulting firm in 1997, working with companies like Nestlé on complex production and logistics-planning issues. "You only want to move 100 million pounds of sugar once," says Mr. Suarez, 49 years old.

He began writing in his free-time. Rejected by 48 literary agents--(a database expert, he kept careful track)--he began self-publishing in 2006 under the name Leinad Zeraus, his named spelled backward. His sophisticated tech knowledge quickly attracted a cult following in Silicon Valley, Redmond, Wash., and Cambridge, Mass. The MIT bookstore was the first bookstore to stock his self-published books in 2007.



For the full review, see:

EBEN SHAPIRO. "Daniel Suarez Sees Into the Future." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Feb. 7, 2014): D8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 5, 2014, and the title "Daniel Suarez Sees Into the Future.")


The book under review, is:

Suarez, Daniel. Influx. New York: Dutton, 2014.



SuarezDanielAuthorInflux2014-02-19.jpg










Author of Influx, Daniel Suarez. Source of photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.








February 18, 2014

Carnegie Donated to Pro-Steel-Tariff Republicans



(p. 331) Through good times and bad, protected tariffs on imported steel rails had kept the domestic steel business strong--and the steelmakers, a major force in Pennsylvania politics, had responded by doing all they could to reelect pro-tariff Republicans. Three weeks before the 1884 elections, Carnegie had written his partners in Pittsburgh that "Bethlehem, Penna. Steel Co., Cambria, and Lackawanna I & C [Iron & Coal] have each given $ 5,000 to the Republican National Committee and we have been asked to give the same amount which I think is only fair."


Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: bracketed words in original.)

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)






February 17, 2014

Would Science Progress Faster If It Were Less Academic and More Entrepreneurial?



BootstrapGeologistBK2014-01-18.jpg














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




(p. D5) There is Big Science, defined as science that gets the big bucks. There is tried and true science, which, from an adventurous dissident's point of view, is boldly going where others have gone before but extending the prevailing knowledge by a couple of decimal places (a safe approach for dissertation writers and grant seekers).

Then there is bootstrap science, personified by Gene Shinn, who retired in 2006 after 31 years with the United States Geological Survey and 15 years with a research arm of the Shell Oil Company.


. . .


Without a Ph.D. and often without much financing, Mr. Shinn published more than 120 peer-reviewed papers that helped change many experts' views on subjects like how coral reefs expand and the underwater formation of limestone. Some of his papers, at odds with established scientific views, were initially rejected, only to be seen later as visionary.

His bootstrap ingredients included boundless curiosity, big ideas -- "gee-whiz science," he calls it -- persistence, a sure hand at underwater demolition (dynamite was comparatively easy to come by in those remarkably innocent days) and versatility at improvising core-sampling equipment on tight budgets. The ability to enlist the talents of other scientists, many with doctorates, who shared his love of hands-on field work and his impatience with official rules and permits added to the mix.



For the full review, see:

MICHAEL POLLAK. "BOOKS; Science on His Own Terms." The New York Times (Tues., November 5, 2013): D5.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 4, 2013.)


Book under review:

Shinn, Eugene A. Bootstrap Geologist: My Life in Science. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2013.






February 14, 2014

Louise Carnegie Expressed Pompous Sanctimony While Leaving the Drudgery to Others





Andrew Carnegie's fiancée Louise:



(p. 294) "I certainly feel more in harmony with all the world after having been in communion with you, my Prince of Peace. I say this reverently, dear, for truly that is what you are to me, and I am so glad the world knows you as the Great Peacemaker." "What ideal lives we shall lead, giving all our best efforts to high and noble ends, while the drudgery of life is attended to by others. Without high ideals, it would be enervating and sinful. With them, it is glorious, and you are my prince among men, my own love."


Source:

Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: underline in original.)

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)






February 10, 2014

Carnegie Said "Socialism Is the Grandest Theory Ever Presented"




More on why Andrew Carnegie is not my favorite innovative entrepreneur:


(p. 257) "But are you a Socialist?" the reporter asked.

Carnegie did not answer directly. "I believe socialism is the grandest theory ever presented, and I am sure some day it will rule the world. Then we will have obtained the millennium.... That is the state we are drifting into. Then men will be content to work for the general welfare and share their riches with their neighbors."

"'Are you prepared now to divide your wealth' [he] was asked, and Mr. Carnegie smiled. 'No, not at present, but I do not spend much on myself. I give away every year seven or eight times as much as I spend for personal comforts and pleasures."



Source:

Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed pronoun, in original.)

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)






February 5, 2014

Evidence Babies Are Born with a Sense of Fairness



JustBabiesBK2014-01-18.jpg














Source of book image: http://news.yale.edu/sites/default/files/imce/main-bloom.jpg




(p. 15) Is morality innate? In his new book, "Just Babies," the psychologist Paul Bloom draws from his research at the Yale Infant Cognition Center to argue that "certain moral foundations are not acquired through learning. . . . They are instead the products of biological evolution." Infants may be notoriously difficult to study (rats and pigeons "can at least run mazes or peck at levers"), but according to Bloom, they are, in fact, "moral creatures."

He describes a study in which 1-year-olds watched a puppet show where a ball is passed to a "nice" puppet (who passes it back) or to a "naughty" puppet (who steals it). Invited to reward or punish the puppets, children took treats away from the "naughty" one. These 1-year-olds seem to be making moral judgments, but is this an inborn ability? They have certainly had opportunities in the last 12 months to learn good from bad. However, Bloom has found that infants as young as 3 months old reach for and prefer looking at a "helper" rather than a "hinderer," which he interprets as evidence of moral sense, that babies are "drawn to the nice guy and repelled by the mean guy." He may be right, but he hasn't proved innateness.

Proving innateness requires much harder evidence -- that the behavior has existed from Day 1, say, or that it has a clear genetic basis. Bloom presents no such evidence. His approach to establishing innateness is to argue from universalism: If a behavior occurs across cultures, then surely it can't be the result of culture.



For the full review, see:

SIMON BARON-COHEN. "Little Angels." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., December 29, 2013): 15.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date December 27, 2013.)


Book under review:

Bloom, Paul. Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil. New York: Crown Publishers, 2013.






February 2, 2014

Carnegie "Spoke Positively of Socialism"



Carnegie is a mixed bag for several reasons. Here is one more:


(p. 256) "A MILLIONAIRE SOCIALIST. MR. ANDREW CARNEGIE PROCLAIMS IN FAVOR OF SOCIALISTIC DOCTRINES." So read the headline of the January 2, 1885 front-page story in the New York Times, occasioned by Carnegie's remarks "in favor of Socialism" at the December meeting of the Nineteenth Century Club. One of the guests at that meeting was John Swinton, the publisher of a rather obscure radical weekly named Swinton's. Swinton invited Carnegie to sit for an interview and again he spoke positively of socialism.


Source:

Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)






February 1, 2014

Twitter Founders Were Outsiders and Unafraid of Risk



HatchingTwitterBK2014-01-18.jpg











Source of the book image: http://s.wsj.net/public/resources/images/BN-AF602_bkrvtw_GV_20131031131314.jpg







(p. 20) . . . "Hatching Twitter," a fast-paced and perceptive new book by Nick Bilton, a columnist and reporter for The New York Times, establishes that uncertainty and dissension about its true purpose has characterized Twitter from its inception.


. . .


The company was financed by Williams, who made a bundle selling Blogger to Google and was intent on proving he wasn't a one-hit wonder. It rose from the ashes of a failed podcasting enterprise, Odeo, which Williams had bankrolled as a favor to his friend Noah Glass. Bilton sketches the founders' backgrounds and personalities in quick, skillful strokes that will serve the eventual screenwriter, director and storyboard artist well; these are characters made for the big screen.

None came from money. Ev Williams was a shy Nebraska farm boy whose parents never really understood their socially awkward, computer-obsessed son.


. . .


Having known hardship, none of the four founders were afraid of risk. To join the ill-fated Odeo, Stone walked away from a job at Google, leaving more than $2 million in unvested stock options on the table.

Twitter began with a conversation. Dorsey and Glass sat talking in a car one night in 2006 when Odeo was on the verge of collapse. Dorsey mentioned his "status concept," which was inspired by AOL's Instant Messenger "away messages" and LiveJournal status updates that people were using to mention where they were and what they were doing. Glass warmed to the idea, seeing it as a "technology that would erase a feeling that an entire generation felt while staring into their computer screens": loneliness.



For the full review, see:

MAUD NEWTON. "Four Characters." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., November 3, 2013): 20.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 1, 2013.)


Book under review:

Bilton, Nick. Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal. New York: Portfolio, 2013.






January 29, 2014

Spencer Justified Carnegie as an Agent of Progress



(p. 229) Whether they read Spencer for themselves, as Carnegie had, or absorbed his teachings secondhand, his evolutionary philosophy provided the Gilded Age multimillionaires with a framework for rationalizing and justifying their outsized material success. In the Spencerian universe, Carnegie and his fellow millionaires were agents of progress who were contributing to the forward march of history into the industrial epoch. Carnegie was not exaggerating when he proclaimed himself a disciple of Spencer and referred to him, in almost idolatrous terms, as his master, his teacher, one of "our greatest benefactors," and the "great thinker of our age."


Source:

Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)






January 28, 2014

Solitude May Allow "Making Novel Connections Between Far-Flung Ideas"



FocusBK2014-01-18.jpg




















Source of book image: http://ffbsccn.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/focus.jpg



(p. 16) What appears to be most at risk is our ability to experience open awareness. Always a rare and elusive form of thinking, it seems to be getting rarer and more elusive. Our modern search-engine culture celebrates information gathering and problem solving -- ways of thinking associated with orienting and selective focus -- but has little patience for the mind's reveries. Letting one's thoughts wander seems frivolous, a waste of practical brainpower. Worse, our infatuation with social media is making it harder to hear the mind's whispers. Solitude has fallen out of fashion. Even when we're by ourselves, we're rarely alone with our thoughts.

In the end, we may come to see the flights and fancies of open awareness as not only dispensable but pathological. Goleman points out that the brain systems associated with creative mind-wandering tend to be "unusually active" in people with attention-deficit disorder. When they appear to be "zoning out," they may actually be making novel connections between far-flung ideas.



For the full review, see:

NICHOLAS CARR. "Attention Must Be Paid." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., November 3, 2013): 16.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 1, 2013.)


Book under review:

Goleman, Daniel. Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2013.






January 25, 2014

William Abbott Thought Tom Carnegie Was a "Better Business Man" than Andrew




The relationship between Andrew and Tom Carnegie sketched in the passage below seems, in some ways, similar to the relationship between Walt and Roy Disney.


(p. 138) William Abbott, who knew both Carnegies from their early days at the Pittsburgh iron mills, thought Andrew a genius, but regarded Tom as the "better business man." Tom, Abbott told Burton Hendrick, "was solid, shrewd, farseeing, absolutely honest and dependable." The two brothers had very different notions about business. Andrew was the ambitious one, (p. 139) filled with new ideas; Tom "was content with a good, prosperous, safe business and cared nothing for expansion. He disapproved of Andrew's skyrocketing tendencies, regarded him as a plunger and a dangerous leader. Tom wanted earnings in the shape of dividends, whereas Andrew insisted on using them for expansion." There were other differences as well. While Andrew sought out publicity, Tom ran away from it. He was silent, retiring, "not a mixer in society, was tongue-tied at dinner parties and social gatherings."


Source:

Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)






January 24, 2014

Artificial Intelligence Is a Complement to Human Intelligence, Not a Substitute for It



Smarter-Than-You-ThinkBK.jpg














Source of book image: http://img2-1.timeinc.net/ew/i/2013/11/05/Smarter-Than-You-Think.jpg




(p. 11) Clive Thompson, a Brooklyn-based technology journalist, uses this tale to open "Smarter Than You Think," his judicious and insightful book on human and machine intelligence. But he takes it to a more interesting level. The year after his defeat by Deep Blue, Kasparov set out to see what would happen if he paired a machine and a human chess player in a collaboration. Like a centaur, the hybrid would have the strength of each of its components: the processing power of a large logic circuit and the intuition of a human brain's wetware. The result: human-machine teams, even when they didn't include the best grandmasters or most powerful computers, consistently beat teams composed solely of human grandmasters or superfast machines.

Thompson's point is that "artificial intelligence" -- defined as machines that can think on their own just like or better than humans -- is not yet (and may never be) as powerful as "intelligence amplification," the symbiotic smarts that occur when human cognition is augmented by a close interaction with computers.



For the full review, see:

WALTER ISAACSON. "Brain Gain." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., November 3, 2013): 11.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 1, 2013.)


Book under review:

Thompson, Clive. Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better. New York: Penguin Press, 2013.






January 21, 2014

Carnegie Created "Plausible Fictions" on the Future Demand for Minor Railroads




Economists and historians continue to debate the importance or unimportance of railroads in the economic growth of the United States. This is a debate that I need to explore more.


(p. 129) It is doubtful that either [Scott or Carnegie] . . . truly believed that the new railroads, when built, would carry enough traffic to earn back their construction costs. A great number of them were along lightly traveled routes, which, like the Gilman, Springfield & Clinton Railroad in Illinois, connected small cities that did little business with one another. The roads were being built because money could be made building them. Carnegie profited from the commissions on the bond sales; Scott from diverting funds earmarked for construction into the hands of the select number of investors, himself included, who were directors of both the railroad and the improvement companies.

To raise money for roads not yet built and probably not really needed, Carnegie and Scott trafficked in what Richard White refers to as "the utilitarian fictions of capitalism." Together, they constructed "plausible fictions" about the railroads, the passengers and freight that would ride them, the tolls that would be collected, the villages that would grow into towns and the towns into cities, creating new populations, products, and commerce.

Carnegie, a consummate optimist, took naturally to the task.



Source:

Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: bracketed words and ellipsis added.)

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)






January 20, 2014

AquaBounty Has Waited More than 17 Years for FDA Approval



EnviropigDevelopedAtGuelph2013-12-31.jpg

"The Enviropig Scientists at the University of Guelph, in Canada, developed these pigs to produce more environmentally friendly waste than conventional pigs. But the pigs were killed because the scientists could not get approval to sell them as food." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.




(p. 4) If patience is a virtue, then AquaBounty, a Massachusetts biotech company, might be the most virtuous entity on the planet.

In 1993, the company approached the Food and Drug Administration about selling a genetically modified salmon that grew faster than normal fish. In 1995, AquaBounty formally applied for approval. Last month, more than 17 years later, the public comment period, one of the last steps in the approval process, was finally supposed to conclude. But the F.D.A. has extended the deadline -- members of the public now have until late April to submit their thoughts on the AquAdvantage salmon. It's just one more delay in a process that's dragged on far too long.

The AquAdvantage fish is an Atlantic salmon that carries two foreign bits of DNA: a growth hormone gene from the Chinook salmon that is under the control of a genetic "switch" from the ocean pout, an eel-like fish that lives in the chilly deep. Normally, Atlantic salmon produce growth hormone only in the warm summer months, but these genetic adjustments let the fish churn it out year round. As a result, the AquAdvantage salmon typically reach their adult size in a year and a half, rather than three years.


. . .


We should all be rooting for the agency to do the right thing and approve the AquAdvantage salmon. It's a healthy and relatively cheap food source that, as global demand for fish increases, can take some pressure off our wild fish stocks. But most important, a rejection will have a chilling effect on biotechnological innovation in this country.


. . .


Then there's the Enviropig, a swine that has been genetically modified to excrete less phosphorus. Phosphorus in animal waste is a major cause of water pollution, and as the world's appetite for meat increases, it's becoming a more urgent problem. The first Enviropig, created by scientists at the University of Guelph, in Canada, was born in 1999, and researchers applied to both the F.D.A. and Health Canada for permission to sell the pigs as food.

But last spring, while the applications were still pending, the scientists lost their funding from Ontario Pork, an association of Canadian hog farmers, and couldn't find another industry partner. (It's hard to blame investors for their reluctance, given the public sentiment in Canada and the United States, as well as the uncertain regulatory landscape.) The pigs were euthanized in May.

The F.D.A. must make sure that other promising genetically modified animals don't come to the same end. Of course every application needs to be painstakingly evaluated, and not every modified animal should be approved. But in cases like AquaBounty's, where all the available evidence indicates that the animals are safe, we shouldn't let political calculations or unfounded fears keep these products off the market. If we do that, we'll be closing the door on innovations that could help us face the public health and environmental threats of the future, saving countless animals -- and perhaps ourselves.



For the full commentary, see:

EMILY ANTHES. "Don't Be Afraid of Genetic Modification." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., March 10, 2013): 4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 9, 2013.)


Emily Anths, who is quoted above, has written a related book:

Anthes, Emily. Frankenstein's Cat: Cuddling up to Biotech's Brave New Beasts. New York: Scientific American / Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013.






January 17, 2014

Carnegie Failed Twice Before Bessemer Success



(p. 101) [Carnegie] . . . organized his own company to secure the rights to the Dodd process for strengthening iron rails by coating them with steel facings. Thomson agreed to appropriate $20,000 of Pennsylvania Railroad funds to test the new technology.

On March 12, 1867, Thomson wrote to tell Carnegie that his Dodd-processed rails had failed their first test: "treatment under the hammer.... You may as well abandon the Patent--It will not do if this Rail is a sample." Three days later, Thomson wrote Carnegie again, this time marking his letter with a handwritten "Private" in the top left-hand corner and "a word to the wise" penned in just below. Carnegie had apparently asked Thomson for more time--and/or money--to continue his experiments. Thomson replied that the experiments his engineers had made had so "impaired my confidence in this process that I don't feel at liberty to increase our order for these Rails."

Instead of giving up, Carnegie pushed forward, hawking his new steel-faced iron rails to other railroad presidents, attempting to get a new contract with Thomson, and reorganizing the Freedom Iron Company in Lewistown, Pennsylvania, in which he was a major investor, into Freedom Iron and Steel. In the spring of 1867, he succeeded, despite Thomson's misgivings, in getting the approval to manufacture and deliver a second 500-ton batch of steel-faced rails. The new rails fared as poorly as the old ones. There would be no further contracts forthcoming from the Pennsylvania Railroad or any other railroad.

Carnegie tried to bluff his way through. When his contacts in England recommended that he purchase the American rights to a better process for facing iron rails with steel, this one invented by a Mr. Webb, Carnegie retooled his mill for the new process. He was fooled a second time. Not only was the Webb process as impractical as the Dodd, but there was, as there (p. 102) had been with the Dodd process, confusion as to who held the American patent rights. Within a year, the company Carnegie had organized to produce the new steel-faced rails was out of business.


. . .


These early failures did not deter him from investing in other start-up companies and technologies, but he would in future be a bit more careful before committing his capital. In March 1869, Tom Scott solicited his advice about investing in the rights to a new "Chrome Steel process." Carnegie replied that his "advice (which don't cost anything if of no value) would be to have nothing to do with this or any other great change in the manufacture of steel or iron.... I know at least six inventors who have the secret all are so anxiously awaiting.... That there is to be a great change in the manufacture of iron and steel some of these years is probable, but exactly what form it is to take no one knows. I would advise you to steer clear of the whole thing. One will win, but many lose and you and I not being practical men would very likely be among the more numerous class. At least we would wager at very long odds. There are many enterprises where we can go in even."



Source:

Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: bracketed name, ellipsis near start, and ellipsis between paragraphs added; ellipsis internal to other paragraphs, in original.)

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)






January 16, 2014

Malcolm Gladwell, on Harvard, Rings True to Debbie Sterling



SterlingDebbieGoldieBlox2013-12-29.jpg









Debbie Sterling, GoldieBlox entrepreneur. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


















(p. 2) Debbie Sterling is the founder and chief executive of GoldieBlox, a toy company dedicated to encouraging girls' interest in engineering and construction.


READING I just started "David and Goliath," by Malcolm Gladwell. He has some really interesting statistics about how at the top-tier universities like Stanford and Harvard, freshmen who go into engineering often fall out versus if those same students had gone to a second-tier school, they would have been in the top of their class and therefore would have stayed in. It really spoke to me because I was definitely one of those engineering students at Stanford who constantly felt like I was surrounded by geniuses. I was intimidated, but I stayed because I am just so stubborn.



For the full interview, see:

KATE MURPHY, interviewer. "DOWNLOAD; Debbie Sterling." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., December 22, 2013): 2.

(Note: bold in original, indicating that what follows are the words of Debbie Sterling.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date December 21, 2013.)


Book that "spoke to" Sterling:

Gladwell, Malcolm. David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2013.






January 13, 2014

"Despising to Bury in the Ground Any of the Talents . . . Which Might Reach His Coffers"



(p. 97) . . . , Carnegie was concerned that he was overextended. From Dresden, in mid-November, he half jokingly apologized to his brother for placing his--and the family's--finances in jeopardy. "Your finances are reputed far from healthy," he had written Tom. "But how can they ever be otherwise? It was never intended. One of the firm, at least, was made to be forever head and ears in debt and to crowd full sail, despising to bury in the ground any of the talents (silver talents, I mean) which might reach his coffers, or to lie long under the suspicion of having at the bank even a moderate balance upon the right side of the ledger." Carnegie had fantasized that "a whole year's absence from opening up new enterprises... while the funds remained in charge of a super man, might possibly afford him, upon his return, a new sensation," that of being solvent. But that was not going to happen.


Source:

Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: ellipsis in title and at start added; ellipsis in Carnegie quote near end, in original.)

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)






January 9, 2014

Early Carnegie Profits "Were Quickly Reinvested in Other Projects"



(p. 78) The tens of thousands of dollars Carnegie earned in the four years he held the Columbia Oil stock were quickly reinvested in other projects.


Source:

Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)






January 8, 2014

Unpedigreed, Self-Educated, Obese Knox Understood Artillery



SonsOfTheFatherBK2013-12-29.jpg












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






(p. A17) In "Sons of the Father: George Washington and His Protégés," we can see how Washington's ideas about character evolved over the course of the war and after. This collection of essays, edited by Robert M.S. McDonald, explores Washington's relationships with a series of younger men.


. . .


Knox came to Washington's attention in 1775 for his work on the defenses around Boston. His resourcefulness and keen interest in military science proved invaluable. When Washington allowed Knox to head for Fort Ticonderoga in hopes of retrieving some 50 British cannon captured by Ethan Allen, Knox succeeded against long odds. Over nine harrowing weeks, Mark Thompson writes, Knox and his men hauled 60 tons of artillery 300 miles "through the New York backcountry, along waterways and gullied roads, across ice and snow." Deployed on Dorchester Heights overlooking Boston, the guns helped persuade the British to abandon the city. But Knox was far more than a herculean teamster. Washington put him in charge of all Continental artillery, and the batteries under his direction loomed large at Trenton, Princeton, Monmouth and Yorktown. After the war, Knox became Washington's secretary of war.

Washington saw merit in the unprepossessing Knox, as he did in others, despite the lack of a "gentlemanly" pedigree. Forced as a child to support his mother when his father abandoned the family, Knox was a mere bookseller before the war, self-educated and obese. But he understood artillery and could see its role in sieges and in the mobile warfare that would characterize the Revolution. More than that, he could discuss its theory and application with Washington. Jefferson and Madison, in their more playful approach to ideas, complicated matters; Knox clarified them.



For the full review, see:

ALAN PELL CRAWFORD. "Bookshelf; A Few Men of Character." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Dec. 10, 2013): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 9, 2013, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'George Washington: Gentleman Warrior,' by Stephen Brumwell and 'Sons of the Father,' edited by Robert M.S. McDonald; By 1775, Washington had strong ideas about how to run an army. Officers, he said, should be men of independent financial means.")


Book under review:

McDonald, Robert M. S., ed. Sons of the Father: George Washington and His Protégés, Jeffersonian America. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2013.






January 5, 2014

The Market Incentive to Conserve



(p. 78) Carnegie, having satisfied himself that there was oil in the ground and a way to ship it to Pittsburgh, agreed to invest in Coleman's oil company. While other prospectors fantasized only about the liquid gold that lay deep in the ground, Coleman and Carnegie believed that in the not too distant future the wells would run dry. To prepare for that day and turn it to their advantage, Coleman proposed--and Carnegie agreed--to construct a man-made lake, pump the oil from their wells into it, and leave it there until the supply dwindled and prices rose. Coleman and Carnegie waited for the region to run out of oil while their lake leaked thousands of barrels daily. Unable to find any efficient way to store the oil, they had to sell it on the open market.


Source:

Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)






January 1, 2014

"Carnegie Watched, Listened, Learned" from Scott's Process Innovations



(p. 65) Later in life, Scott would be better known for his political skills, but he was, like his mentor Thomson, a master of cost accounting. Together, the two men steadily cut unit costs and increased revenues by investing in capital improvements--new and larger locomotives, better braking systems, improved tracks, new bridges. Instead of running several smaller trains along the same route, they ran fewer but longer trains with larger locomotives and freight cars. To minimize delays--a major factor in escalating costs--they erected their own telegraph lines, built a second track and extended sidings alongside the first one, and kept roadways, tunnels, bridges, and crossings in good repair.

Carnegie watched, listened, learned. Nothing was lost on the young man. With an exceptional memory and a head for figures, he made the most of his apprenticeship and within a brief time was acting more as Scott's deputy than his assistant. Tom Scott had proven to be so good at his job that when Pennsylvania Railroad vice president William Foster died unexpectedly of an infected carbuncle, Scott was named his successor.



Source:

Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)






December 31, 2013

"Western Union Bullied the Makers of Public Policy into Serving Private Capital"



WesternUnionAndTheCreationOfTheAmericanCorporateOrderBK2013-12-28.jpg












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







(p. A13) Until now there has been no full-scale, modern company history. Joshua D. Wolff's "Western Union and the Creation of the American Corporate Order, 1845-1893" ably fills the bill, offering an exhaustive and yet fascinating account.


. . .


If people today remember anything about Western Union, it is that its coast-to-coast line put the Pony Express out of business and that its leaders didn't see the telephone coming. Mr. Wolff tells us that neither claim is exactly true. It was Hiram Sibley, Western Union's first president, who went out on his own, when his board balked, to form a separate company and build the transcontinental telegraph in 1861; he made his fortune by eventually selling it to Western Union. And the company was very aware of Alexander Graham Bell's invention, patented in 1876, but history had supposedly shown that it wasn't necessary to control a patent to win the technology war. The company's third president, William Orton, was sure that Bell and his "toy" would not get the better of Western Union: "We would come along and take it away from him." They didn't.


. . .


Mr. Wolff contends that the company's practices set the template for today's "corporate triumphalism," not least in the way Western Union bullied the makers of public policy into serving private capital. Perhaps, but telecom competition today is so ferocious and differently arranged from that of the late 19th century that a "triumphant" company today may be toast tomorrow--think of BlackBerry--and can't purchase help with anything like Western's Union's brazenness and scope. Western Union had friends in Congress, the regulatory bureaucracy and the press. Members of the company's board of directors chaired both the 1872 Republican and Democratic national conventions. It seemed that, whatever the battles in business, politics, technology or the courts, the company's shareholders won.



For the full review, see:

STUART FERGUSON. "Bookshelf; The Octopus of the Wires." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Dec. 23, 2013): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 22, 2013, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Western Union and the Creation of the American Corporate Order, 1845-1893,' by Joshua D. Wolff.")


Book under review:

Wolff, Joshua D. Western Union and the Creation of the American Corporate Order, 1845-1893. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013.






December 28, 2013

Carnegie Objected to $2 a Year Fee to Use Private Library



(p. 44) The story of Andy Carnegie defeating the villainous adults played well in his Autobiography and the biographies that drew from it, but there is another side to the tale which we should not neglect. The Anderson Library was not a free public library, funded by the city, but a subscription library, which relied in great part on the support of its patrons.* Although "working boys" should, as he had argued, have been allowed to borrow books without paying the two-dollar subscription fee, Andy Carnegie, six months from his eighteenth birthday, was hardly a "working boy." He held a man's job and received a man's pay of twenty-five dollars a month. Was it unreasonable for the librarians to ask him to contribute a two-dollar annual subscription fee to keep the library from having to close its doors for the third time in its young history?

Andy thought so. With a talent for cloaking self-interest in larger humanitarian concerns, he made a premature case for free public libraries.



Source:

Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: italics in original.)

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)






December 24, 2013

Carnegie's Uncle Aitkin Expected to Make a Good Profit Starting a Private Lending Library




Shortly after arriving in Allegheny City (near Pittsburgh) Andrew Carnegie's Uncle Aitkin had complained in a letter:


(p. 42) "There is no possibility of getting papers or periodicals to read here for a small sum--most of the people being in the habit of purchasing them for their own use. This has been to me a great deprivation. I really find that books here are as dear as in the old country everything considered."

Uncle Aitkin hoped to remedy this flaw in American cultural life--and make a profit at it--by starting up his own lending library. "I am now convinced that for any one to keep a library and to give works out at a cheaper rate would pay very well & I think I will be engaged in this business in a short time,--after I make a little money by lecturing etc." Regrettably--for Uncle Aitkin and for Allegheny City's starved readers--he never got around to setting up his business.



Source:

Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)






December 20, 2013

After First "Debilitating" Federal Funding, Morse Funded Telegraph Privately



(p. 37) The first telegraph line had been completed . . . , in 1844, when Samuel F. B. Morse, with $30,000 in federal funding, connected Washington to Baltimore. Morse and his partners had expected to get funding to build additional lines from the federal government, but their experience securing their first $30,000 had been so debilitating that they gave up entirely on the public sector and turned to private capital to fund their new telegraph lines. Henry O'Rielly secured the franchise and agreed to raise the capital to string telegraph poles from east to west. His plan was to extend one line from Buffalo to Chicago, the other across the Alleghenies from Philadelphia through Pittsburgh, to St. Louis, and then north to Chicago, and south to New Orleans.

Although customers were scarce and the first telegraph lines were continually breaking (or being broken by bands of boys who took great joy in throwing stones at the glass insulators that glistened in the sunlight), O'Rielly and the handful of entrepreneurs who believed in the future of telegraphy raised sufficient capital to extend their lines mile by mile. By late 1846, they had also connected Boston to Washington, via New York City and Philadelphia; New York City to Buffalo, through Albany; and in late December, Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, via Lancaster and Harrisburg.



Source:

Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)






December 16, 2013

Carnegies Liked Pittsburgh Area's Growing Economy and Flexible Labor Market



(p. 32) For all its Old World charms, Dunfermline too had had its epidemics, its scavenging rodents, muddy streets, and clean water shortages. The reason why the Hogans and the Aitkins and the Carnegies and thousands like them had come to the United States in general, and the Pittsburgh area in particular, had less to do with health, hygiene, or the physical environment than with an abundance of well-paid jobs. In this respect, Pittsburgh and Allegheny City were everything that Dunfermline was not: their markets for manufactured goods were expanding rapidly, their economies were diversified, and there were no craft restrictions on the employment of skilled artisans.


Source:

Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)






December 12, 2013

Carnegie Attended a Private School Where Teacher Was an Entrepreneur



(p. 15) At the age of eight, Andra had begun attending school. Although he implies in his Autobiography that it had been his decision to put off school until then, eight, in fact, was the age at which most Scottish boys entered the classroom. There were numerous schools in Dunfermline in the early 1840s, thirty-three of them to be exact, almost half endowed or supported by the kirk (church) or the municipality. Andra was sent to one of the "adventure" schools, so called because they were started up and supported "entirely on the teachers' own adventure."


Source:

Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: italics in original.)

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)






December 9, 2013

Carnegie Was Important Innovative Entrepreneur



AndrewCarnegieBK2013-12-07.JPG
















Source of book cover image: http://img1.imagesbn.com/p/9781594201042_p0_v2_s260x420.JPG



Andrew Carnegie was a famous, much reviled, and much praised innovative entrepreneur. He is not my favorite innovative entrepreneur. He was happy to have the government protect the steel industry, and he tried to have his sidekick take all the blame for a violent episode at his steel works. But he worked hard (at least in his early decades), was often generous, fought against Teddy Roosevelt's imperialism, and most importantly, he greatly improved the process for making steel, thereby increasing its quality and decreasing its price.

Nasaw's serious and substantial biography is useful at untangling and documenting the good and the bad. In the next several weeks, I will be quoting some of the more important or thought-provoking passages in the book.



Nasaw's biography of Carnegie is:

Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)






December 7, 2013

Innovative Fracking Entrepreneurs Again Show that Energy Is Only Limited by Ingenuity



TheFrackersBK2013-11-03.jpg












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





(p. 7) In "The Frackers," Gregory Zuckerman sets out a 25-year narrative that focuses on the half-dozen or so Texas and Oklahoma energy companies behind the fracking boom, especially Chesapeake Energy, the Oklahoma City giant that is the Exxon Mobil of fracking. Technologies are born. Gushers gush. And fortunes are made and lost.

In the process, Mr. Zuckerman assembles a chorus of little-heard American voices, from George Mitchell, the Greek goatherd's son whose company first perfected fracking, to Chesapeake's two founders, Aubrey K. McClendon and Tom L. Ward.


. . .


Geologists knew that layers of shale spread across North America contained commercial amounts of oil and gas, but not until a young geologist at Mr. Mitchell's company, Mitchell Energy, perfected a new "secret sauce" of water-based fracturing liquids in the early 1990s did layers of shale -- in Mitchell's case, the Barnett Shale of North Texas -- melt away and begin to yield jaw-dropping gushers.

Oryx Energy, a company that was based in Dallas, was among the first to pair fracking with horizontal drilling, producing even more startling results. Still, it took years, Mr. Zuckerman writes, before larger businesses, especially the skeptical major oil companies, fathomed what their smaller rivals had achieved. This allowed what were flyspeck outfits like Chesapeake to lease vast acreage in shale-rich areas, from Montana to eastern Pennsylvania.



For the full review, see:

BRYAN BURROUGH. "OFF THE SHELF; The Birth of an Energy Boom." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., November 2, 2013): 7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 2, 2013, and has the title "OFF THE SHELF; 'The Frackers' and the Birth of an Energy Boom.")


Book being reviewed:

Zuckerman, Gregory. The Frackers: The Outrageous inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters. New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2013.






December 4, 2013

"Israel's Entrepreneurial Character"



(p. 272) Israel's entrepreneurial character led Google to establish a center in Haifa as well as the more expected Tel Aviv. The Haifa office was a move to accommodate Yoelle Maarek, a celebrated computer scientist who had headed IBM's labs in Israel. Google hired another world-class computer scientist, Yossi Matias, to head the Tel Aviv office. (In 2009, during Google's austerity push, the company would merge the engineering centers and Maarek would depart.)


Source:

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.






December 3, 2013

Amazon's Story of the Evolution and Revolution of Disruptive Innovation



EverythingStoreBK2013-10-29.jpg

















Source of book image:
http://i1.wp.com/allthingsd.com/files/2013/10/Stone_EverythingStore1.jpg



(p. C5) Mr. Stone, a senior writer for Bloomberg Businessweek and a former reporter for The New York Times, tells this story of disruptive innovation with authority and verve, and lots of well-informed reporting. Although "The Everything Store" retraces early ground covered by Robert Spector's 2000 book, "Amazon.com: Get Big Fast," Mr. Stone has conducted more than 300 interviews with current and former Amazon executives and employees, including conversations, over the years, with Mr. Bezos, who "in the end was supportive of this project even though he judged that it was 'too early' for a reflective look" at the company.

"The Everything Store" does not examine in detail the fallout that Amazon's rise has had on book publishing and on independent bookstores, but Mr. Stone does a nimble job of situating the company's evolution within the wider retail landscape and within the technological revolution that was remaking the world at the turn of the millennium.



For the full review, see:

MICHIKO KAKUTANI. "BOOKS OF THE TIMES; Selling as Hard as He Can." The New York Times (Tues., October 29, 2013.): C1 & C5.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date October 28, 2013.)


The book under review is:

Stone, Brad. The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2013.


StoneBrad2013-10-29.jpg










"Brad Stone" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT review quoted and cited above.







November 30, 2013

Google Surprised at Success of Chinese Cyberattack



(p. 268) Though the underlying issue of Google's China pullout was censorship, it was ironic that a cyberattack had triggered the retreat. Google had believed that its computer science skills and savvy made it a leader in protecting its corporate information. With its blend of Montessori naiveté and hubris that had served it so well in other areas, the company felt it could do security better. Until the China incursion, it appeared to be succeeding.


Source:

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: italics in original.)






November 26, 2013

Nebraska Teenager Becomes the "George Clooney of YouTube"



(p. 263) Google also became more aggressive in connecting sponsors for popular videos. A paragon of YouTube's business model was "Fred," a video channel created by a Columbus, Nebraska, teenager named Lucas Cruikshank. The teen pretended to be a six-year-old kid named Fred Figglehorn in a series of two-minute videos. "Fred is the George Clooney of YouTube," says Hunter Walk. "He was the first one with a million subscribers. He uploads videos, and we put ads against them. Sometimes he sells product placement ads. Fred makes a million dollars a year. He just signed a movie deal." The Fred videos-- generally manic rants in which Cruikshank portrays a hyperactive, possibly brain-damaged child who speaks like one of Ross Bagdasarian's chipmunks-- often sported commercial messages for sponsors such as Samsung, the Food Channel, and Bratz on an overlay at the bottom of the window. Since he started in 2008, at age fourteen, Fred's (p. 264) YouTube videos have chalked up over half a billion viewings. Though Fred's success was solely a product of YouTube, people in the company never met the phenom. "We sent him a cake once," says Walk.

YouTube helped Fred's youthful creator not just by selling ads but by providing analytics, the same way it did for AdSense publishers. (This was a result of an initiative called the YouTube Insight project, developed by engineers in Google's Zurich center.) Such data helped creators learn what was working and where. "They're like, 'Oh my God, I'm big in the U.K.! I never knew I had a London following!'" says Walk. Superusers such as Cruikshank were so successful in exploiting YouTube's business initiatives that corporations such as Sony were studying their methodology and even paid some of them consultant fees to help them understand the digital world.



Source:

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.






November 25, 2013

Malcolm Gladwell Has High Praise for Michael Lewis



GladwellMalcolmDrawing2013-10-27.jpg











"Malcolm Gladwell" Source of caption and image: online version of the NYT interview quoted and cited below.




I have found the two books that I have read by Michael Lewis to be very useful. But I have found the five books that I have read by Malcolm Gladwell to be full of wonderful and important examples and thought-provoking insights. So I am a bit surprised by the level of Gladwell's praise for Lewis. (Maybe the problem is that I have not yet read Moneyball or The Blind Side.)


(p. 8) What books, to your mind, bring together social science, business principles and narrative nonfiction in an interesting or innovative way?

. . . Bringing together social science and business principles is easy. Doing that and telling a compelling story is next to impossible. I think only Michael Lewis can do it well. His nonbusiness books like "The Blind Side," by the way, are even better. That book is as close to perfect as a work of popular nonfiction can be.



For the full interview, see:

"By the Book; Malcolm Gladwell; The author of "David and Goliath" compares Michael Lewis to Tiger Woods: "I'll never play like that. But it's good to be reminded every now and again what genius looks like." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., October 6, 2013): 8.

(Note: bold in original; ellipsis added.)

(Note: neither the print nor the online version of the interview identify the name of the interviewer.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date October 3, 2013, and has the title "Malcolm Gladwell: By the Book; The author of "David and Goliath" compares Michael Lewis to Tiger Woods: "I'll never play like that. But it's good to be reminded every now and again what genius looks like.")






November 23, 2013

"Engrossing, Brain-Tickling" Refutation of Al Gore's Global Warming Assertions



LomborgBjornCoolItDocumentary2010-10-25.jpg "The Danish economist Bjorn Lomborg in "Cool It," a documentary based on his book." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT review quoted and cited below.



(p. C8) Debunking claims made by "An Inconvenient Truth" and presenting alternative strategies, "Cool It" finally blossoms into an engrossing, brain-tickling picture as many of Al Gore's meticulously graphed assertions are systematically -- and persuasively -- refuted. (I was intrigued to hear Mr. Lomborg say, for instance, that the polar-bear population is more endangered by hunters than melting ice.)


. . .


. . . "Cool It" is all about the pep: playing down the talking heads and playing up the "git 'er done." If algae can suck up carbon dioxide and spit out oil, what on earth are we worrying about?



For the full review, see:

JEANNETTE CATSOULIS. "Global Warming and Common Sense." The New York Times (Fri., November 12, 2010): C8.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 11, 2010.)


The documentary is based on the book:

Lomborg, Bjørn. Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007.






November 22, 2013

Pretentious Studios Were Pushed Aside by Grounded Googlers



(p. 261) Kamangar didn't put a value judgment on the way the labels and studios worked but tried to crack their code, talking to executives, producers, agents, and managers. One day he happened to be in New York and was invited to meet with the CEO of Universal Music Group, Doug Morris. Kamangar was escorted by bodyguards to a private elevator and ushered to a fancy office high above the city. He couldn't help thinking of the contrast with Google, where you stumbled in and went to the microkitchen for coffee. Kamangar didn't dwell on the (p. 262) irony that it was the scruffy kids in shorts, munching energy bars and writing analytics programs, who were pushing aside the old power structure. While he put the pieces of YouTube together, though, he always kept in mind that he was documenting a traditional media system on the verge of collapse. He had to deal with the music world as it was but also plan for the way it would be after disruptions, which Google and YouTube were accelerating.


Source:

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.






November 21, 2013

After Humans, Earth Would Quickly Revert to Its Pre-Human Condition



TheWorldWithoutUsBK2013-10-24.jpg

















Source of book image: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/8/88/The_World_Without_Us_(US_cover).jpg




When I saw the mention of this book, quoted below, I thought it must be closely related to the 2008 History Channel program "Life Without Us" that I liked very much. Apparently the two overlap on the message that a post-human planet Earth would quickly return to its pre-human condition, but they differ in that the program does not share the book's anti-technology leitmotif.

The main take-away from the program, for me, was that environmentalists worry too much about the long-term damage that humans can do to the planet---for the most part, the planet is pretty resilient and can quickly return itself to something close to its pre-human condition.


(p. C10) Mr. Weisman's 2007 book, "The World Without Us," was a surprise best seller that imagined what would happen to the planet were all humans to suddenly disappear. Turns out that nature would in short order erase pretty much everything we've done.


Source:

MICHAEL SHERMER. "Menace to the Planet?" The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 5, 2013): C10.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 4, 2013, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Ten Billion' by Stephen Emmott | 'Countdown' by Alan Weisman; While some worry a booming population doom the planet, in many Western countries there is now a birth dearth.")


The book mentioned is:

Weisman, Alan. The World without Us. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2007.






November 18, 2013

Google Was Lax in Killing Failed Projects



(p. 255) Oddly, whereas Google had built its data infrastructure to reroute around failure, it had no human infrastructure to deal with failed projects. "We didn't know which ones they were, because we never paused to ask ourselves that question," says Pichette. "The people working on that project know it's failing-- as senior management you have to say, 'Let's declare failure-- let's get the champagne out and kill this puppy. Then we can put you on stuff that's really cool and sexy.'" That had always been part of Google's philosophy, but whether from lack of rigor or just distraction, the company had been lax in actually issuing execution orders. One of the first puppies Pichette helped drown was a virtual-reality-style communications program called Lively.


Source:

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.






November 17, 2013

Foreign Aid Frees Despots from Having to Seek the Consent of the Governed



TheGreatEscapeBK2013-10-24.jpg











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






(p. 4) IN his new book, Angus Deaton, an expert's expert on global poverty and foreign aid, puts his considerable reputation on the line and declares that foreign aid does more harm than good. It corrupts governments and rarely reaches the poor, he argues, and it is high time for the paternalistic West to step away and allow the developing world to solve its own problems.

It is a provocative and cogently argued claim. The only odd part is how it is made. It is tacked on as the concluding section of "The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality" (Princeton University Press, 360 pages), an illuminating and inspiring history of how mankind's longevity and prosperity have soared to breathtaking heights in modern times.


. . .


THE author has found no credible evidence that foreign aid promotes economic growth; indeed, he says, signs show that the relationship is negative. Regretfully, he identifies a "central dilemma": When the conditions for development are present, aid is not required. When they do not exist, aid is not useful and probably damaging.

Professor Deaton makes the case that foreign aid is antidemocratic because it frees local leaders from having to obtain the consent of the governed. "Western-led population control, often with the assistance of nondemocratic or well-rewarded recipient governments, is the most egregious example of antidemocratic and oppressive aid," he writes. In its day, it seemed like a no-brainer. Yet the global population grew by four billion in half a century, and the vast majority of the seven billion people now on the planet live longer and more prosperous lives than their parents did.



For the full review, see:

FRED ANDREWS. "OFF THE SHELF; A Surprising Case Against Foreign Aid." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., October 13, 2013): 4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date October 12, 2013.)



The book reviewed is:

Deaton, Angus. The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2013.






November 14, 2013

Google Gave YouTube Entrepreneurial Autonomy



(p. 250) But after the purchase [of YouTube], Google did something very smart. Almost as if acknowledging that overattention from the top had hobbled Google's original video effort, the company made a conscious decision not to integrate YouTube. "They were edgy and small, and we were getting big," says Drummond. "We didn't want to screw them up." (Google was also smarting from its $ 900 million acquisition of dMarc Broadcasting, a company dealing in radio advertising, which had not gone well. "They had tried more of a top-down approach with dMarc and considered that a disaster," says Hurley.) YouTube would keep its brand and even stay in the building it had recently occupied in San Bruno, a former headquarters of the Gap.


Source:

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: bracketed words added.)






November 13, 2013

Greenspan's Epiphany: As Entitlements Rise, Savings Fall



TheMapAndTheTerritoryBK2013-10-24.jpg











Source of book image: http://s.wsj.net/public/resources/images/BN-AB661_bkrvgr_GV_20131021130523.jpg







(p. C11) In his new book "The Map and the Territory," to be released on Tuesday, Mr. Greenspan, 87, goes on a hunt for what has gone wrong in American politics and in the U.S. economy.


. . .


Mr. Greenspan's biggest revelation came one day about a year ago when he was playing with gross domestic savings numbers. What he found, to his surprise and initial skepticism, was that an increase in entitlements has closely corresponded to a decline in the country's savings. "We had this extraordinary increase in benefits, with each party trying to outbid the other," he says. "That practice has been eroding the country's flow of savings that's so critical in financing our capital investment." The decline in savings has been partly offset by borrowing from abroad, which brings us to our current foreign debt: "$5 trillion and counting," he says.


. . .


Studying the minutiae of the events leading to the financial crisis brought to mind some lessons from his famous friendship, from the 1950s on, with the late Objectivist philosopher Ayn Rand.


. . .


Mr. Greenspan then believed in analysis based mainly on hard science and empirical facts. Rand told him that unless he considered human nature and its irrational side, he would "miss a very large part of how human beings behaved." At the time they weren't discussing economics, but today he realizes the full impact of emotions and instincts on markets. He also has come to admire psychologist and Princeton University professor emeritus Daniel Kahneman's work applying psychological insights to economic theory, for which he won a Nobel Prize in 2002.


. . .


With his new book, Mr. Greenspan hopes to provide politicians and the public with a road map to avoid making the same mistakes again. His suggestions include reducing entitlements, embracing "creative destruction" by letting facilities with cutting-edge technology displace those with low productivity, and fixing the political system by encouraging bipartisanship.



For the full interview/review, see:

ALEXANDRA WOLFE, interviewer/reviewer. "WEEKEND CONFIDENTIAL; Alan Greenspan." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 19, 2013): C11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview/review has the date Oct. 18, 2013, and has the title "WEEKEND CONFIDENTIAL; Alan Greenspan: What Went Wrong; The former Fed chairman on where the economy went wrong, where he went wrong--and Ayn Rand.")



The book discussed is:

Greenspan, Alan. The Map and the Territory: Risk, Human Nature, and the Future of Forecasting. New York: Penguin Press, 2013.






November 10, 2013

If Feds Stalled Skype Deal, Google Would Have Been "Stuck with a Piece of Shit"




Even just the plausible possibility of a government veto of an acquisition, can stop the acquisition from happening. The feds thereby kill efficiency and innovation enhancing reconfigurations of assets and business units.


(p. 234) . . . , an opportunity arose that Google's leaders felt compelled to consider: Skype was available. It was a onetime chance to grab hundreds of millions of Internet voice customers, merging them with Google Voice to create an instant powerhouse. Wesley Chan believed that this was a bad move. Skype relied on a technology called peer to peer, which moved information cheaply and quickly through a decentralized network that emerged through the connections of users. But Google didn't need that system because it had its own efficient infrastruc-(p. 235)ture. In addition, there was a question whether eBay, the owner of Skype, had claim to all the patents to the underlying technology, so it was unclear what rights Google would have as it tried to embellish and improve the peer-to-peer protocols. Finally, before Google could take possession, the U.S. government might stall the deal for months, maybe even two years, before approving it. "We would have paid all this money, but the value would go away and then we'd be stuck with a piece of shit," says Chan.


Source:

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






November 9, 2013

Entrepreneurial Spirit Values "Voyaging into the Unknown"



PhelpsEdmundWinner2006NobelPrize2013-10-24.jpg











"Edmund Phelps, winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize for economics." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.



(p. C7) Edmund Phelps's "Mass Flourishing" could easily be retitled "Contra-Corporatism," for at its heart this fine book is an attack on that increasingly common "third way" between capitalism and socialism. Mr. Phelps cogently argues that America's current economic woes reflect a reduction in the innovative dynamism that generates economic success and personal satisfaction. He places little hope in the Democratic Party, which "voices a new corporatism well beyond Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal or Lyndon Johnson's Great Society," or in Republicans in the thrall of "traditional values," who see "the good economy as mercantile capitalism plus social protection and social insurance." He instead yearns for legislative solons who "could usefully ask of every bill and regulatory directive: How would it impact the dynamism of our economy?"


. . .


The book eloquently discusses the culture of innovation, which can refer to both an entrepreneurial mind-set and the cultural achievements during an age of change. He sees modern capitalism as profoundly humanist, imbued with "a spirit that views the prospect of unanticipated consequences that may come with voyaging into the unknown as a valued part of experience and not a drawback."


. . .


In . . . [the] new corporatism, the state protects both organized labor and politically connected companies. and the state has acquired a "panoply of new roles," from regulations "aimed at shielding companies or workforces from competition" to lawsuits that "add to the diversion of income from earners to those receiving compensation or indemnification." It is as if "every person in a society is a signatory to an implicit contract" in which "no person may be harmed by others without receiving compensation." But protection against all conceivable harm also means protection against almost all change--and this is the death knell of dynamism and innovation.


. . .


But what is to be done? The author wants governments that are "aware of the importance of the role played by dynamism in a modern-capitalist economy," and he disparages both current political camps. He has a number of thoughtful ideas about financial-sector reform. He is no libertarian and even proposes a "national bank specializing in extending credit or equity capital to start-up firms"--not my favorite idea.



For the full review, see:

EDWARD GLAESER. "How to Unleash the Economy." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 19, 2013): C7.

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

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 18, 2013, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Mass Flourishing' by Edmund Phelps; Innovative dynamism is the key to economic success and personal satisfaction, a Nobel-winner argues.")



The book under review is:

Phelps, Edmund S. Mass Flourishing: How Grassroots Innovation Created Jobs, Challenge, and Change. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2013.




Mass-FlourishingBK2013-10-24.jpg















Source of book image: http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/files/2013/08/Mass-Flourishing-cover.jpg









November 6, 2013

Steve Jobs Felt Betrayed by Google's Page and Brin



(p. 221) From all accounts, Jobs prided himself as a canny observer not only of business but also of human character, and he did not want to admit-- especially to himself--that he had been betrayed by the two young men he had been attempting to mentor. He felt the trust between the two companies had been violated. After increasingly contentious phone calls, in the summer of 2008, Jobs ventured to Mountain View to see the Android phone and personally judge the extent of the violation. He was reportedly furious. Not only did he believe that Google had performed a bait and switch on him, replacing a noncompeting phone with one that was very much in the iPhone mode, but he also felt that Google had stolen Apple's intellectual property to do so, appropriating features for which Apple had current or pending patents.

While Jobs could not stop Google from developing the Dream version of Android, he apparently was successful, at least in the first version of the Google phone, in halting its implementation of some of the multitouch gestures that Apple had pioneered. Jobs believed that Apple's patents gave it exclusive rights to certain on-screen gestures--the pinch and the swipe, for example. According to one insider, Jobs demanded that Google remove support of those gestures from Android phones. Google complied, even though those gestures, which allowed users to resize images, were tremendously useful for viewing web pages on handheld devices.



Source:

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.






November 5, 2013

Entrepreneur Arik Achmon Stood Down Powerful Union to Keep His Company Alive



LikeDreamersBK2013-10-24.jpg














Source of book image: http://www.seraphicpress.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/like-dreamers.jpg





(p. C2) Mr. Halevi, an American immigrant who has worked as a journalist and analyst in Jerusalem for 30 years, has created a textured, beautifully written narrative by focusing on seven men -- and they are all men -- . . . , who served in the paratroop brigade that conquered the Old City of Jerusalem in the 1967 war.


. . .


. . . , the men Mr. Halevi has chosen are compelling. One is Arik Achmon, a secular liberal from a kibbutz who helped transform Israel's failing statist economy into a thriving capitalist one. Mr. Achmon helped found the first private domestic airline in Israel. The story of how he stood down the once-powerful Histadrut trade union federation to keep his company alive illustrates the enormous changes that Israeli society has undergone in the past three decades.



For the full review, see:

ETHAN BRONNER. "BOOKS OF THE TIMES; 7 Paratroopers and Paths They Took Through an Israel at a Crossroads." The New York Times (Thurs., September 26, 2013): C2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date September 25, 2013.)



The book under review is:

Halevi, Yossi Klein. Like Dreamers: The Story of the Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation. New York: HarperCollins, 2013.



HaleviYossiKlein2013-10-24.jpg













"Yossi Klein Halevi." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT review quoted and cited above.







November 2, 2013

Google Used Auction Model to Allocate Internal Resources



(p. 202) Google's chief economist, Hal Varian, would later explain how it worked when new data centers open: "We'll build a nice new data center and say, 'Hey, Google Docs, would you move your machines over here?' And they say, 'Sure, next month.' Because nobody wants to go through the disruption of shifting. So I suggested we run an auction similar to what airlines do when they oversell a plane-- they keep offering bigger vouchers until enough customers are willing to give up their seats. In our case, we offer more machines in exchange for moving. One group might do it for fifty new ones, another for a hundred, and another won't move unless we give them three hundred. So we give them to the lowest bidder-- they get their extra capacity, and we get computation shifted to the new data center."

Google eventually devised an elaborate auction model for divvying up existing resources. In a paper entitled "Using a Market Economy to Provision Computer Resources Across Planet-wide Clusters," a group of Google engineers, along with a Stanford professor of management science and engineering, reported a project that essentially made Google's
computational resources into a silicon Wall Street. Supply and demand worked here not to fix stock prices but to place a value on resources. The system not only allowed projects at Google to get fair access to storage and computational cycles but identified shortages in computers, storage, and bandwidth. Instead of the Vickery auction used by AdWords, the system used an "ascending clock auction." At the beginning, the current price of each resource would be displayed, and Google engineers in competing projects could claim them at that price. The ideal outcome would ensure sufficient resources for everyone, in which case the auction stopped. Otherwise, the automated auctioneer would raise the prices for the next "time slot," and (p. 203) remaining competitors for those resources had to decide whether to bid higher. And so on, until the engineers not willing to stake their budgets on the most contested resources dropped out. "Hence," write the paper's authors, "the auction allows users to 'discover' prices in which all users pay/ receive payment in proportion to uniform resource prices."



Source:

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.






November 1, 2013

Sound Economic Policies Benefit Africa More than Sachs' Profligate Interventions



TheIdealistBK2013-10-22.jpg
















Source of book image: http://images.huffingtonpost.com/2013-09-02-TheIdealist.jpg





(p. A19) Nina Munk's new book, "The Idealist," is about the well-known economist Jeffrey Sachs and his "quest to end poverty," as the subtitle puts it.


. . .


The quest began in 2005, when Sachs, who directs the Earth Institute at Columbia University, started an ambitious program called the Millennium Villages Project. He and his team chose a handful of sub-Saharan African villages, where they imposed a series of "interventions" in such areas as agriculture, health and education.


. . .


With almost every intervention, she documents the chasm that exists between the villagers and those running the project. At one point, the Millennium Villages Project persuades the farmers in Ruhiira to grow maize instead of their traditional crop, called matoke. "The results were fantastic," she reports, a bumper crop. Except there were no buyers for the maize, so some of it wound up being eaten by rats. In Dertu, Sachs's staff decided it should set up a livestock market. It flopped. Efforts to convince villagers to start small businesses largely failed. The critical problem of getting clean water to the villages was enormously expensive.

Ultimately, reports Munk, Dertu was scaled back by the Millennium Villages Project while Ruhiira is today lauded as one of the project's most successful villages. "There is no question the lives of people in Ruhiira have been improved," Munk told me. "I've seen it." But she is dubious about what that means -- other than the fact that if you pump millions of dollars into an isolated African village, the villagers' lives will be better.


. . .


That things in Africa are getting better is undeniable. Child mortality is down, as is the number of people living in extreme poverty. In his book, "Emerging Africa," Steve Radelet, the former chief economist for the United States Agency for International Development, gives credit to such factors as more democratic governments, a new class of civil servants and businesspeople, and sounder economic policies. Sachs wants us to believe that the Millennium Villages Project has also helped show the way.

"The Idealist" makes it tough to believe it's the latter.



For the full review, see:

JOE NOCERA. "Fighting Poverty, and Critics." The New York Times (Tues., September 3, 2013): A19.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date September 2, 2013.)


The book under review is:

Munk, Nina. The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty. New York: Doubleday, 2013.


The Radelet book mentioned is:

Radelet, Steven. Emerging Africa: How 17 Countries Are Leading the Way. pb ed. Washington, D.C.: Center for Global Development, 2010.







October 31, 2013

After 25 Years of Government Harassment, A&P Was Finally Allowed to Lower Prices for Consumers




The two main types of creative destruction are: 1.) new products and 2.) process innovations. Much has been written about the new product type; much less about the process innovation type. Marc Levinson has written two very useful books on process innovations that are important exceptions. The first is The Box and the second is The Great A&P.


(p. A13) A prosecutor in Franklin Roosevelt's administration called it a "giant blood sucker." A federal judge in Woodrow Wilson's day deemed it a "monopolist," and another, during Harry Truman's presidency, convicted it of violating antitrust law. The federal government investigated it almost continuously for a quarter-century, and more than half the states tried to tax it out of business. For its strategy of selling groceries cheaply, the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company paid a very heavy price.


. . .


A&P was Wal-Mart long before there was Wal-Mart. Founded around the start of the Civil War, it upset the tradition-encrusted tea trade by selling teas at discount prices by mail and developing the first brand-name tea. A few years later, its tea shops began to stock spices, baking powder and canned goods, making A&P one of the first chain grocers.

Then, in 1912, John A. Hartford, one of the two brothers who had taken over the company from their father, had one of those inspirations that change the course of business. He proposed that the company test a bare-bones format at a tiny store in Jersey City, offering short hours, limited selection and no home delivery, and that it use the cost savings to lower prices. The A&P Economy Store was an instant success. The Great A&P was soon opening one and then two and then three stores per day. By 1920, it had become the largest retailer in the world.


. . .


While shoppers flocked to A&P's 16,000 stores, small grocers and grocery wholesalers didn't share their enthusiasm. The anti-chain-store movement dates back at least to 1913, when the American Fair-Trade League pushed for laws against retail price-cutting.


. . .


Thanks in good part to the Hartfords' tenacity, the restraints on discount retailing began to fade away in the 1950s. Chain-store taxes were gradually repealed, and state laws limiting price competition to protect mom and pop were taken off the books. By 1962, when Wal-Mart, Target, Kmart, and other modern discount formats were born, the pendulum had swung in consumers' favor.



For the full commentary, see:

MARC LEVINSON. "When Creative Destruction Visited the Mom-and-Pops; The A&P grocery company may be nearing its sell-by date, but a century ago it was a fresh, revolutionary business." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 12, 2013): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Oct. 11, 2013, and had the title "Marc Levinson: When Creative Destruction Visited the Mom-and-Pops; The A&P grocery company may be nearing its sell-by date, but a century ago it was a fresh, revolutionary business.")


Levinson's book on A&P is:

Levinson, Marc. The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America. New York: Hill and Wang, 2011.






October 29, 2013

Google Had the Most "Massive Parallelized Redundant Computer Network" in the World



(p. 198) . . . by perfecting its software, owning its own fiber, and innovating in conservation techniques, Google was able to run its computers spending only a third of what its competitors paid. "Our true advantage was actually the fact that we had this massive parallelized redundant computer network, probably more than anyone in the world, including governments," says Jim Reese. "And we realized that maybe it's not in our best interests to let our competitors know."


Source:

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






October 28, 2013

Goldman I.P.O. Led to Pressure to Grow



WhatHappenedToGoldmanSachsBK2013-10-22.jpg











Source of book image: http://s.wsj.net/public/resources/images/OB-ZF094_bkrvgo_GV_20131008133334.jpg







(p. B8) Steven G. Mandis, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at Columbia University, takes a measured, academic approach to the question in a new book, "What Happened to Goldman Sachs," an examination of the bank's evolution from an elite private partnership to a vast public corporation -- and the effects of that transformation on its culture.


. . .


Mr. Mandis said that the two popular explanations for what might have caused a shift in Goldman's culture -- its 1999 initial public offering and subsequent focus on proprietary trading -- were only part of the explanation. Instead, Mr. Mandis deploys a sociological theory called "organizational drift" to explain the company's evolution.

The essence of his argument is that Goldman came under a variety of pressures that resulted in slow, incremental changes to the firm's culture and business practices, resulting in the place being much different from what it was in 1979, when the bank's former co-head, John Whitehead, wrote its much-vaunted business principles.

These changes included the shift to a public company structure, a move that limited Goldman executives' personal exposure to risk and shifted it to shareholders. The I.P.O. also put pressure on the bank to grow, causing trading to become a more dominant focus. And Goldman's rapid growth led to more potential for conflicts of interest and not putting clients' interests first, Mr. Mandis says.



For the full review, see:

PETER LATTMAN. "An Ex-Trader, Now a Sociologist, Looks at the Changes in Goldman." The New York Times (Tues., October 1, 2013): B8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date SEPTEMBER 30, 2013.)


The book under review is:

Mandis, Steven G. What Happened to Goldman Sachs: An Insider's Story of Organizational Drift and Its Unintended Consequences. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing, 2013.


MandisStevenAuthorGoldmanBook2013-10-22.jpg












"Steven G. Mandis is the author of "What Happened to Goldman Sachs."" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.







October 25, 2013

Larry Page: "At His Core He Cares about Latency"



(p. 184) Speed had always been an obsession at Google, especially for Larry Page. It was almost instinctual for him. "He's always measuring everything," says early Googler Megan Smith. "At his core he cares about latency." More accurately, he despises latency and is always trying to remove it, like Lady Macbeth washing guilt from her hands. Once Smith was walking down the street with him in Morocco and he suddenly dragged her into a random Internet café with maybe three machines. Immediately, he began timing how long it took web pages to load into a browser there.

Whether due to pathological impatience or a dead-on conviction that speed is chronically underestimated as a factor in successful products, Page had been insisting on faster delivery for everything Google from the beginning. The minimalism of Google's home page, allowing for lightning-quick (p. 185) loading, was the classic example. But early Google also innovated by storing cached versions of web pages on its own servers, for redundancy and speed.

"Speed is a feature," says Urs Hölzle. "Speed can drive usage as much as having bells and whistles on your product. People really underappreciate it. Larry is very much on that line."




Source:

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.






October 24, 2013

Puritan Slavery



ForAdamsSakeBK2013-10-22.jpg












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






We are taught in elementary school that the roots of America lie in the religious Puritans and Pilgrims. But I believe that there is something to Russell Shorto's argument that we under-appreciate the contribution of the secular libertarian Dutch of New Amsterdam. In this continuing debate, it is useful to have an accurate history of all sides.



(p. A11) The great Puritan divine John Winthrop, founder of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, probably wouldn't make it through Allegra di Bonaventura's book without suffering a cardiac episode. Set principally in the seaport town of New London, Conn., "For Adam's Sake" provides an astonishing worm's-eye view of Winthrop's beloved Bible Commonwealth in the throes of its ghastly unraveling, even as it narrates an intimate history of racial slavery in early New England through the entwined lives of five families (the Winthrops among them).

Many readers will be surprised to learn that slavery flourished in colonial New England--albeit on a smaller scale than on the plantations of the antebellum South. And they might be forgiven their incredulity: "New Englanders in the nineteenth century," Ms. di Bonaventura writes, "studiously erased and omitted inconvenient and unsavory aspects of their region's collective past in favor of a more heroic and wholesome narrative of their own history." Such acts of moral cleansing all but obscured the lives of enslaved New Englanders well into our own time.



For the full review, see:

KIRK DAVIS SWINEHART. "BOOKSHELF; Not Your Parents' Puritans; Slavery flourished in colonial New England. Yet the Puritans' erasure of its signs have obscured their crimes well into our own time." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Aug. 5, 2013): A11.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 4, 2013.)


The book under review is:

di Bonaventura, Allegra. For Adam's Sake: A Family Saga in Colonial New England. New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2013.


The relevant book by Russell Shorto is:

Shorto, Russell. The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America. New York: Doubleday, 2004.






October 23, 2013

Push the Flywheel, in Business and Life




Jim Collins makes wonderful use of the flywheel analogy in his Good to Great book. His point is that many achievements in business require long, gradual work to build to a major achievement that finally gets noticed by the business press and the general public. The business press often assumes that the success is overnight, when it is in fact long-building.


(p. C14) Flywheels - weighted wheels used for absorbing, storing and releasing energy - get used in everything from pottery wheels to car engines. Lately, they have showed up in corporate spin.

"Our more than 19,000 store global footprint, our fast-growing CPG presence and our best-in-class digital, card, loyalty and mobile capabilities are creating a 'flywheel' effect elevating the relevancy of all things Starbucks, and driving profitability," CEO Howard Schultz said in a statement accompanying quarterly earnings last month.

"So we have the flywheel spinning in the right direction because it is spinning one way and letting us generate these margins, contribution margins," said Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne last month. "And so now we can give some of that back and that makes it easier to get it spinning faster."

"We are at the one-mile market (sic) in a marathon," commented Symantec CEO Steve Bennett in an earnings call with analysts last week, "and the flywheel is just starting to spin."



For the full story, see:

JUSTIN LAHART. "Overheard." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Aug 6, 2013): C14.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug 6, 2013, and had the title "Ride a Painted Pony, Let the Spinning Wheel Fly." The print version did not identify an author. The versions were slightly different in two or three places--when different, the version quoted above follows the print version.)


The Collins book, mentioned above, is:

Collins, Jim. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... And Others Don't. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2001.






October 21, 2013

Google's Redundant, Fault-Tolerant System Worked with Cheap, Low-Quality, Failure-Prone Equipment



(p. 183) Google was a tough client for Exodus; no company had ever jammed so many servers into so small an area. The typical practice was to put between five and ten servers on a rack; Google managed to get eighty servers on each of its racks. The racks were so closely arranged that it was difficult for a human being to squeeze into the aisle between them. To get an extra rack in, Google had to get Exodus to temporarily remove the side wall of the cage. "The data centers had never worried about how much power and AC went into each cage, because it was never close to being maxed out," says Reese. "Well, we completely maxed out. It was on an order of magnitude of a small suburban neighborhood," Reese says. Exodus had to scramble to install heavier circuitry. Its air-conditioning was also overwhelmed, and the colo bought a portable AC truck. They drove the eighteen-wheeler up to the colo, punched three holes in the wall, and pumped cold air into Google's cage through PVC pipes.


. . .


The key to Google's efficiency was buying low-quality equipment dirt cheap and applying brainpower to work around the inevitably high failure rate. It was an outgrowth of Google's earliest days, when Page and Brin had built a server housed by Lego blocks. "Larry and Sergey proposed that we design and build our own servers as cheaply as we can-- massive numbers of servers connected to a high-speed network," says Reese. The conventional wisdom was that an equipment failure should be regarded as, well, a failure. Generally the server failure rate was between 4 and 10 percent. To keep the failures at the lower end of the range, technology companies paid for high-end equipment from Sun Microsystems or EMC. "Our idea was completely opposite," says Reese. "We're going to build hundreds and thousands of cheap servers knowing from the get-go that a certain percentage, maybe 10 percent, are going to fail," says Reese. Google's first CIO, Douglas Merrill, once noted that the disk drives Google purchased were "poorer quality than you would put into your kid's computer at home."

(p. 184) But Google designed around the flaws. "We built capabilities into the software, the hardware, and the network--network-- the way we hook them up, the load balancing, and so on-- to build in redundancy, to make the system fault-tolerant," says Reese. The Google File System, written by Jeff Dean and Sanjay Ghemawat, was invaluable in this process: it was designed to manage failure by "sharding" data, distributing it to multiple servers. If Google search called for certain information at one server and didn't get a reply after a couple of milliseconds, there were two other Google servers that could fulfill the request.



Source:

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






October 17, 2013

Gates Did Not See that Gmail's 2-Gig Storage Would Beat Hotmail



(p. 179) About six months after Gmail came out, Bill Gates visited me at Newsweek's New York headquarters to talk about spam. (His message was that within a year it would no longer be a problem. Not exactly a Nostradamus moment.) We met in my editor's office. The question came up whether free email accounts should be supported by advertising. Gates felt that users were more negative than positive on the issue, but if people wanted it, Microsoft would offer it.

"Have you played with Gmail?" I asked him.

"Oh sure, I play with everything," he replied. "I play with A-Mail, B-Mail, C-Mail, I play with all of them."

My editor and I explained that the IT department at Newsweek gave us barely enough storage to hold a few days' mail, and we both forwarded everything to Gmail so we wouldn't have to spend our time deciding what to delete. Only a few months after starting this, both of us had consumed more than half of Gmail's 2-gigabyte free storage space. (Google had already doubled the storage from one gig to two.)

Gates looked stunned, as if this offended him. "How could you need more than a gig?" he asked. "What've you got in there? Movies? PowerPoint presentations?"

No, just lots of mail.

He began firing questions. "How many messages are there?" he demanded. "Seriously, I'm trying to understand whether it's the number of messages or the size of messages." After doing the math in his head, he came to the conclusion that Google was doing something wrong.

The episode is telling. Gates's implicit criticism of Gmail was that it was wasteful in its means of storing each email. Despite his currency with cutting-edge technologies, his mentality was anchored in the old paradigm of storage being a commodity that must be conserved. He had written his first programs under a brutal imperative for brevity. And Microsoft's web-based email service reflected that parsimony.

The young people at Google had no such mental barriers. From the moment their company started, they were thinking in terms of huge numbers. Remember, they named their company after a 100-digit number! Moore's Law was as much a fact as air for them, so they understood that the expense of the seemingly astounding 2 gigabytes they gave away in 2004 would be negligible only months later. It would take some months for Gates's minions to catch up and for Microsoft's Hotmail to dramatically increase storage. (Yahoo Mail also followed suit.)

"That was part of my justification for doing Gmail," says Paul Buchheit of its ability to make use of Google's capacious servers for its storage. "When people said that it should be canceled, I told them it's really the foundation for a lot of other products. It just seemed obvious that the way things were going, all information was going to be online."



Source:

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: italics in original.)






October 13, 2013

Larry Page's Very Tough Love: "I'd Rather Be Doused with Gasoline and Set on Fire than Use Your Product"



(p. 171) Caribou took forever to develop. Part of the problem was that Larry and Sergey were so invested in the project. They adopted it as their primary email system and would often drop by to give criticisms and suggestions. Buchheit would often take a working prototype to the weekly Google product strategy meeting, where product managers submit their products to a human wind tunnel of executive criticism. Products have been known to die at GPSs; there are stories of teams entering the conference room, exhausted and hopeful after long hours of getting a demo just right, and Page saying, "You're wasting our time" and ordering the project dismantled. Larry and Sergey liked Caribou too much to kill it but dished out very tough love. At one point Page told the group, "I'd rather be doused with gasoline and set on fire than use your product."


Source:

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: italics in original.)






October 12, 2013

"Professors Have Lost the Courage of Their Own Passions, Depriving Their Students of the Fire of Inspiration"



WhyTeachBK2013-10-04.jpg











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




(p. C4) Mr. Edmundson loves to teach, but he hates the conditions under which much teaching takes place today, even at an elite university like Virginia.


. . .


He knows the studies showing that students spend less time than ever on their classwork, and he writes of an implicit pact between undergraduates and professors in which teachers give high grades and thin assignments, and students reward them with positive evaluations. After all, given all the other amenities available through the university, the idea that "the courses you take should be the primary objective of going to college is tacitly considered absurd."


. . .


Mr. Edmundson worries that too many professors have lost the courage of their own passions, depriving their students of the fire of inspiration.



For the full review, see:

MICHAEL S. ROTH. "BOOKS OF THE TIMES; How Four Years Can (and Should) Transform You." The New York Times (Weds., August 21, 2013): C4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date August 20, 2013.)


The book under review is:

Edmundson, Mark. Why Teach?: In Defense of a Real Education. New York: Bloomsbury USA, 2013.






October 8, 2013

Immigration to the U.S. Is the Story of Hope, Achievement, Youth, Freedom and Creation



ToAmericaWithLoveBK2013-10-04.jpg















Source of book image: http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51VTjY0xVbL.jpg




(p. C6) In his new book, "To America With Love," the British critic A. A. Gill attempts to make up for his fellow Britons' grouchiness, sending the United States a frilly, funny valentine.


. . .


Perhaps the most provocative thing in "To America With Love" is Mr. Gill's European take on our history of immigration. He argues that America over the years has been a magnet, drawing "the young and the strong from Europe; the adventurous, the clever, and the skilled."

In the United States, "immigration is the story of hope and achievement, of youth, of freedom, of creation," he writes. "But all entrances on one stage are exits elsewhere. In Europe it is loss. Every one a farewell, a failure, a sadness, a defeat." Between 1800 and 1914, he says, "more than 30 million Europeans immigrated to the New World: one in four Irishmen, one in five Swedes, three million Germans, five million Poles, four million Italians. There is not a country, a community, a village or household that wasn't affected by the lure of the West."

As Mr. Gill sees it, much of the bitterness that animates trans-Atlantic relationships (Europeans, he says, patronize America "for being a big, dumb, fat, belligerent child") can be traced back to this dynamic. "The belittling, the discounting, the mocking of the States is not about them at all," he writes. "It's about us, back here in the ancient, classical, civilized continent."

Europe's view of America, he contends, "has been formed and deformed by the truth that we are the ones who stayed behind, for all those good, bad and lazy reasons: because of caution, for comfort, for conformity and obligation, but mostly, I suspect, because of habit and fear. We didn't take the risky road."



For the full review, see:

MICHIKO KAKUTANI. "BOOKS OF THE TIMES; A Rebellious Trans-Atlantic Infatuation: Take That, Mrs. Trollope!" The New York Times (Thurs., August 22, 2013): C6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date August 21, 2013.)


The book under review is:

Gill, A.A. To America with Love. Reprint ed. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013.



GillAA2013-10-04.jpg











"A. A. Gill" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT review quoted and cited above.







October 5, 2013

"SEC Rules Demanded Complexity"



(p. 152) Google had considerable experience with pleasing users, but in the case of the auction, it could not create a simple interface. SEC rules demanded complexity. So the Google auction was a lot more complicated than buying Pokémon cards on eBay. People had to qualify financially as bidders. Bids had to be placed by a brokerage. If you made an error in reg-(p. 153)istering, you could not correct it but had to reregister. All those problems led to a few postponements of the start of the bidding period.

But the deeper problem was the uncertainty of Google's prospects. As the press accounts accumulated--with reporters informed by Wall Streeters eager to sabotage the process-- the perception grew that Google was a company with an unfamiliar business model run by weird people. A typical Wall Street insider analysis was reflected by Forbes.com columnist Scott Reeves, who concluded that Google's target price, at the time pegged to the range between $ 108 and $ 135 a share, was excessive. "Only those who were dropped on their head at birth [will] plunk down that kind of cash for an IPO," Reeves wrote.



Source:

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.






October 4, 2013

Taxpayers Work, Save and Invest More When Taxes Are Low



TheGrowthExperimentBK2013-09-28.jpg












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






(p. 15) The 1980s boom was launched on the simple insight that, by lowering tax rates and regulatory hurdles and juicing the incentives to produce, innovate and take risks, the animal spirits of the American free-enterprise system would revive. Two seminal books hatched the supply-side revolution. The first was Jude Wanniski's "The Way the World Works" (1978); the second, George Gilder's "Wealth and Poverty" (1981).

Almost as influential, coming a few years later, was Lawrence Lindsey's "The Growth Experiment" (1990). Slightly academic in nature, it was the first book to quantify the economic and revenue windfall of the 1981 Reagan across-the-board tax cuts. Mr. Lindsey's conclusion was that Reagan's 1981 tax act quickened the pace of production, which reduced the predicted revenue loss. His research found that although the Reagan tax cuts didn't "pay for themselves," the ones at the highest end of the income spectrum "did produce a revenue gain" because of "changes in taxpayer behavior." He concluded that "the core supply-side tenet--that tax rates powerfully affect the willingness of taxpayers to work, save and invest, and thereby also affect the health of the economy--won as stunning a vindication as has been seen in at least a half-century of economics."

He has now updated his book, taking us through the booms and busts of the past 20 years. It is a valuable project in part because Mr. Lindsey was a front-seat economic adviser to George W. Bush, serving as director of the National Economic Council and as one of the architects of the often-maligned 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts.

Mr. Lindsey's central claim is that those tax changes saved the economy from the undertow of the financial meltdown at the end of the Clinton presidency.



For the full review, see:

Stephen Moore. "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'The Growth Experiment Revisited' by Lawrence Lindsey; The 25 years after Reagan's tax cuts saw unprecedented wealth creation and progress. America's net worth exploded by $40 trillion." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., September 10, 2013): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date September 9, 2013, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'The Growth Experiment Revisited' by Lawrence Lindsey; The 25 years after Reagan's tax cuts saw unprecedented wealth creation and progress. America's net worth exploded by $40 trillion.")


The book under review is:

Lindsey, Lawrence B. The Growth Experiment Revisited: Why Lower, Simpler Taxes Really Are America's Best Hope for Recovery. New York: Basic Books, 2013.






October 1, 2013

SEC Told Google to Delete "Making the World a Better Place" from Document



(p. 150) . . . , the Securities and Exchange Commission was unimpressed by the charms of Page's "Owner's Manual." "Please revise or delete the statements about providing 'a great service to the world,' 'to do things that matter,' 'greater positive impact on the world, don't be evil' and 'making the world a better place,'" they wrote. (Google would not revise the letter.) The commission also had a problem with Page's description of the lawsuit that Overture (by then owned by Yahoo) had filed against Google as "without merit." Eventually, to resolve this issue before the IPO date, (p. 151) Google would settle the lawsuit by paying Yahoo 2.7 million shares, at an estimated value of between $ 260 and $ 290 million.

That set a contentious tone that ran through the entire process. The SEC cited Google's irregularities on a frequent basis, whether it was a failure to properly register employee stock options, inadequate reporting of financial results to stakeholders, or the use of only first names of employees in official documents. It acted toward Google like a junior high school vice principal who'd identified an unruly kid as a bad seed, requiring constant detentions.



Source:

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






September 27, 2013

Google's Bathrooms Showed Montessori Discipline



(p. 124) You could even see the company's work/ play paradox in its bathrooms. In some of Google's loos, even the toilets were toys: high-tech Japanese units with heated seats, cleansing water jets, and a control panel that looked as though it could run a space shuttle. But on the side of the stall--and, for men, at an eye-level wall placement at the urinals--was the work side of Google, a sheet of paper with a small lesson in improved coding. A typical "Testing on the Toilet" instructional dealt with the intricacies of load testing or C + + microbenchmarking. Not a second was wasted in fulfilling Google's lofty--and work-intensive--mission.

It's almost as if Larry and Sergey were thinking of Maria Montessori's claim "Discipline must come through liberty.... We do not consider an individual disciplined only when he has been rendered as artificially silent as a mute and as immovable as a paralytic. He is an individual annihilated, not disciplined. We call an individual disciplined when he is master of himself." (p. 125) Just as it was crucial to Montessori that nothing a teacher does destroy a child's creative innocence, Brin and Page felt that Google's leaders should not annihilate an engineer's impulse to change the world by coding up some kind of moon shot.

"We designed Google," Urs Hölzle says, "to be the kind of place where the kind of people we wanted to work here would work for free."



Source:

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)






September 26, 2013

Some Entrepreneurs Are Motivated by Desire for Personal Wealth



WorthlessImpossibleAndStupidBK2013-09-21.jpg











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







I have read many biographies of innovative entrepreneurs. Like the author of the review of the book discussed in the passages quoted below, I believe that they have a variety of motives. But I am more optimistic than the book author that many of the entrepreneurs, those I call "project entrepreneurs," are motivated mainly by a desire to 'make a ding in the universe.' Among these I would count Walt Disney and Steve Jobs.


(p. A11) Successful entrepreneurs, in my experience, are tenacious, hardheaded and creative. They persist with their ideas long after others might have given up, and they are good at persuading clients, partners and investors to take a chance. Like successful people in any field, they are driven by a powerful inner need, sometimes positive, like the hunger to do something entirely original, but often less appealing: a large chip on the shoulder, a desire for revenge, a distaste for authority and in many cases flat-out greed.


. . .


In "Worthless, Impossible, and Stupid: How Contrarian Entrepreneurs Create and Capture Extraordinary Value," Daniel Isenberg, a professor of entrepreneurship at Babson College and before that at Harvard Business School, offers many useful stories of entrepreneurship, culled from his teaching experience. But it isn't until two-thirds of the way through that he torturously concedes that every entrepreneur needs a streak of Gordon Gekko.

"I have gradually come to the difficult conclusion that the burning desire for extraordinary value capture is almost a sine qua non for the supreme effort required to convert the value from imagined into tangible value," he writes. "Personal gain is the simplest and most powerful motivation. If a person does not feel deeply that 'This must pay off for me,' there will rarely be extraordinary value creation."



For the full review, see:

PHILIP DELVES BROUGHTON. "BOOKSHELF; Who Moved My Fortune? Some entrepreneurs want to do good. Many more are driven by a chip on the shoulder, a desire for revenge, a distaste for authority." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., July 31, 2013): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 30, 2013.)






September 23, 2013

Montessori Taught Larry Page and Sergey Brin to Always Ask Questions



(p. 122) "Their attitude is just like, 'We're Montessori kids,'" said Mayer. "We've been trained and programmed to question authority."

Thus it wasn't surprising to see that attitude as the foundation of Google's culture. "Why aren't there dogs at work?" asked Marissa, parroting the never-ending Nerdish Inquisition conducted by her bosses. "Why aren't there toys at work? Why aren't snacks free? Why? Why? Why?"

"I think there's some truth to that," says Larry Page, who spent his preschool and first elementary school years at Okemos Montessori Radmoor School in Michigan. "I'm always asking questions, and Sergey and I both have this."

Brin wound up in Montessori almost by chance. When he was six, recently emigrated from the Soviet Union, the Paint Branch Montessori (p. 123) School in Adelphi, Maryland, was the closest private school. "We wanted to place Sergey in a private school to ease up his adaptation to the new life, new language, new friends," wrote his mother, Eugenia Brin, in 2009. "We did not know much about the Montessori method, but it turned out to be rather crucial for Sergey's development. It provided a basis for independent thinking and a hands-on approach to life."

"Montessori really teaches you to do things kind of on your own at your own pace and schedule," says Brin. "It was a pretty fun, playful environment-- as is this."



Source:

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: italics in original.)






September 22, 2013

Growth of Labor Safety Net Made Great Recession Deeper and Longer



TheRedistributionRecessionBK2013-09-05.jpg











Source of book image: http://si.wsj.net/public/resources/images/OB-VE881_bkrvre_GV_20121101145828.jpg






(p. 309) [Mulligan's empirical results suggest] that employment was dropping not only because of declining demand for the employees' products, but also because employers were substituting capital and other factors for labor. This surprising finding suggests that although a decline in aggregate demand for goods and services was one of the reasons for the decline in labor, other causes were also at play in most sectors of the economy. This fact is consistent with an inward shift in the supply of labor to the marketplace during this period.

In chapter 3, Mulligan introduces the main culprit responsible for this supplycurve shift--the unintended consequences of increases in the social safety net that substantially increased the marginal tax rate on work. In his model, Mulligan operationalizes this force into changes in the replacement rate (the fraction of productivity that the average nonemployed person receives in the form of means-tested benefits) and the self-reliance rate (1 minus the replacement rate), which is the fraction of lost productivity not replaced by means-tested benefits.

His conjecture is that, in a reverse of government policies in the 1990s that made work pay for single mothers by transforming welfare as we knew it into a program that nudged single mothers off the Aid to Families with Dependent Children rolls and into the workforce, "temporary" government program expansions to mitigate the (p. 310) short-run consequences of unemployment and the bursting of the housing bubble made a prolonged paid period of nonwork an offer that many Americans found too tempting to refuse.

Mulligan identifies and incorporates the major expansions in eligibility and benefit amounts for Unemployment Insurance and food stamps into an eligibility index that shows that most of the 199 percent growth in these programs between 2007 and 2009 was due to these changes. He uses this growth rate in a weighted index of overall statutory safety-net generosity to determine the degree to which it has influenced overall employment. He does a similar analysis of the means-tested Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), which facilitated substantial lender-provided discounts on home mortgage expenses for unemployment insurance-eligible workers. He finds that these market distortions that increased the marginal tax on work grew substantially in 2008, peaked in 2009--at almost triple their 2007 level--and then modestly fell in 2010 to a level appreciably above the 2007 level.


. . .


But his empirical evidence shows that the implementation of these "recession cures" was primarily responsible for the Great Recession's depth and duration.



For the full review, see:

Burkhauser, Richard V. "Review of: "The Redistributive Recession: How Labor Market Distortions Contracted the Economy" by Casey B. Mulligan." The Independent Review 18, no. 2 (Fall 2013): 308-11.

(Note: ellipsis, and words in brackets, added.)


Book that is under review:

Mulligan, Casey B. The Redistribution Recession: How Labor Market Distortions Contracted the Economy. New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2012.






September 19, 2013

Key to Google: "Both Larry and Sergey Were Montessori Kids"



(p. 121) [Marissa Mayer] conceded that to an outsider, Google's new-business process might indeed look strange. Google spun out projects like buckshot, blasting a spray and using tools and measurements to see what it hit. And sometimes it did try ideas that seemed ill suited or just plain odd. Finally she burst out with her version of the corporate Rosebud. "You can't understand Google," she said, "unless you know that both Larry and Sergey were Montessori kids."

"Montessori" refers to schools based on the educational philosophy of Maria Montessori, an Italian physician born in 1870 who believed that children should be allowed the freedom to pursue what interested them.

(p. 122) "It's really ingrained in their personalities," she said. "To ask their own questions, do their own things. To disrespect authority. Do something because it makes sense, not because some authority figure told you. In Montessori school you go paint because you have something to express or you just want to do it that afternoon, not because the teacher said so. This is really baked into how Larry and Sergey approach problems. They're always asking 'Why should it be like that?' It's the way their brains were programmed early on."



Source:

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: bracketed name added.)






September 18, 2013

To Save Lego, CEO Fired Almost a Third of Workers



BrickByBrickBK2013-09-02.jpg











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







(p. A15) Only 10 years ago, Lego was posting record losses; retailers were backlogged with unsold Lego toys; and it was unclear whether Lego would survive as an independent company. An internal review discovered that 94% of the sets in its product line were unprofitable. The turnaround story that followed is well told by Wharton professor David Robertson in "Brick by Brick."


. . .


Upon coming to power, Mr. Knudstorp cut 30% of Lego's product portfolio, including many of its newer offerings. To stave off financial doom, he also sold the company's headquarters building and moved into simpler accommodations--and, more painfully, let go almost a third of the workforce.

But how to move beyond the rescue stage and toward growth? Based on input from top retailers and a large customer-research study, Lego executives concluded that even though young fans of buildable toys were a minority, there were enough of them to make a worthwhile market--and their parents were willing to pay premium prices. The company would now organize its innovation efforts around its potentially very profitable core audience.

Mr. Robertson, with the benefit of access to staff at Lego and partner companies, provides unusually detailed reporting of the processes that led to Lego's current hits (and, inevitably, some misses). Among the hits is the Mindstorms NXT, the second generation of Lego's robotics set, which hadn't been updated or advertised since 2001. Mr. Robertson describes how Lego navigated between relying on sophisticated users to determine the product's design and relying on its own expertise in the creation of building experiences.



For the full review, see:

DAVID A. PRICE. "BOOKSHELF; The House That Lego Built; Lego balked at licensing warlike 'Star Wars' toys. But then anthropological research convinced company executives that kids like to compete." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., July 23, 2013): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 22, 2013.)


The book under review, is:

Robertson, David. Brick by Brick: How Lego Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry. New York: Crown Business, 2013.






September 15, 2013

When Google Earned a Profit, Sergey Brin "Felt Like We Had Built a Real Business"



(p. 94) . . . , Google was reaping rewards, and 2002 was its first profitable year. "That's really satisfying," Brin said at the time. "Honestly, when we were still in the dot-com boom days, I felt like a schmuck. I had an Internet start-up-- so did everybody else. It was unprofitable, like everybody else's, and how hard is that? But when we became profitable, I felt like we had built a real business."


Source:

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






September 14, 2013

Why "Experts" Censor Their Views to Conform to the Consensus



GroupthinkBK2013-09-02.jpg














Source of book image: http://thesituationist.files.wordpress.com/2008/02/irving-janis-groupthink.jpg?w=197&h=290



(p. 5) In his classic 1972 book, "Groupthink," Irving L. Janis, the Yale psychologist, explained how panels of experts could make colossal mistakes. People on these panels, he said, are forever worrying about their personal relevance and effectiveness, and feel that if they deviate too far from the consensus, they will not be given a serious role. They self-censor personal doubts about the emerging group consensus if they cannot express these doubts in a formal way that conforms with apparent assumptions held by the group.


For the full commentary, see:

ROBERT J. SHILLER. "ECONOMIC VIEW; Challenging the Crowd in Whispers, Not Shouts." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., November 2, 2008): 5.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date November 1, 2008.)


The reference for the second, and last, edition of the Janis book, is:

Janis, Irving L. Groupthink: Psychological Studies of Policy Decisions and Fiascoes. 2nd (pb) ed. Boston, MA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 1982.






September 11, 2013

Yahoo Execs Complained that Google Did Yahoo Searches too Well



(p. 45) Even though Google never announced when it refreshed its index, there would invariably be a slight rise in queries around the world soon after the change was implemented. It was as if the global subconscious realized that there were fresher results available.

The response of Yahoo's users to the Google technology, though, was probably more conscious. They noticed that search was better and used it more. "It increased traffic by, like, 50 percent in two months," Manber recalls of the switch to Google. But the only comment he got from Yahoo executives was complaints that people were searching too much and they would have to pay higher fees to Google.

But the money Google received for providing search was not the biggest benefit. Even more valuable was that it now had access to many more users and much more data. It would be data that took Google search to the next level. The search behavior of users, captured and encapsulated in the logs that could be analyzed and mined, would make Google the ultimate learning machine.



Source:

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.






September 6, 2013

In Conflict Between Ecologist and Economist, the Economist Won



EhrlichSimonCaricature2013-08-31.jpg Paul Ehrlich (left) and Julian Simon (right). Source of caricature: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.



(p. C6) . . . in 1980 Simon made Mr. Ehrlich a bet. If Mr. Ehrlich's predictions about overpopulation and the depletion of resources were correct, Simon said, then over the next decade the prices of commodities would rise as they became more scarce. Simon contended that, because markets spur innovation and create efficiencies, commodity prices would fall. He proposed that each party put up $1,000 to purchase a basket of five commodities. If the prices of these went down, Mr. Ehrlich would pay Simon the difference between the 1980 and 1990 prices. If the prices went up, Simon would pay. This meant that Mr. Ehrlich's exposure was limited while Simon's was theoretically infinite.


. . .


In October 1990, Mr. Ehrlich mailed a check for $576.07 to Simon.


. . .


Mr. Ehrlich was more than a sore loser. In 1995, he told this paper: "If Simon disappeared from the face of the Earth, that would be great for humanity." (Simon would die in 1998.)


. . .


Mr. Sabin's portrait of Mr. Ehrlich suggests that he is among the more pernicious figures in the last century of American public life. As Mr. Sabin shows, he pushed an authoritarian vision of America, proposing "luxury taxes" on items such as diapers and bottles and refusing to rule out the use of coercive force in order to prevent Americans from having children. In many ways, Mr. Ehrlich was an early instigator of the worst aspects of America's culture wars. This picture is all the more damning because Mr. Sabin paints it not with malice but with sympathy. A history professor at Yale, Mr. Sabin shares Mr. Ehrlich's devotion to environmentalism. Yet this affinity doesn't prevent Mr. Sabin from being clear-eyed.

At heart, "The Bet" is about not just a conflict of men; it is about a conflict of disciplines, pitting ecologists against economists. Mr. Sabin cautiously posits that neither side has been completely vindicated by the events of the past 40 years. But this may be charity on his part: While not everything Simon predicted has come to pass, in the main he has been vindicated.


. . .


Mr. Ehrlich may have been defeated in the wager, but he has continued to flourish in the public realm. The great mystery left unsolved by "The Bet" is why Paul Ehrlich and his confederates have paid so small a price for their mistakes. And perhaps even been rewarded for them. In 1990, just as Mr. Ehrlich was mailing his check to Simon, the MacArthur Foundation awarded him one of its "genius" grants. And 20 years later his partner in the wager, John Holdren, was appointed by President Obama to be director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.



For the full review, see:

JONATHAN V. LAST. "A Prediction that Bombed; Paul Ehrlich predicted an imminent population catastrophe; Julian Simon wagered he was wrong." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., August 31, 2013): C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date August 30, 2013, and has the title "Book Review: 'The Bet' by Paul Sabin; Paul Ehrlich predicted an imminent population catastrophe--Julian Simon wagered he was wrong.")


The book discussed above is:

Sabin, Paul. The Bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and Our Gamble over Earth's Future. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2013.



TheBetBK2013-08-31.jpg














Source of book image: http://paulsabin.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/sabin_the_bet_wr.jpg







September 3, 2013

Redundancy Allowed Google to Function with Cheap and Failure-Prone Hard Drives



(p. 42) . . . as the web kept growing, Google added more machines--by the end of 1999, there were eighty machines involved in the crawl (out of a total of almost three thousand Google computers at that time)--and the likelihood that something would break increased dramatically. Especially since Google made a point of buying what its engineers referred to as "el cheapo" equipment. Instead of commercial units that carefully processed and checked information, Google would buy discounted consumer models without built-in processes to protect the integrity of data.

As a stopgap measure, the engineers had implemented a scheme where the indexing data was stored on different hard drives. If a machine went bad, everyone's pager would start buzzing, even if it was the middle of the night, and they'd barrel into the office immediately to stop the crawl, copy the data, and change the configuration files. "This happened every few days, and it basically stopped everything and was very painful," says Sanjay Ghemawat, one of the DEC research wizards who had joined Google.


. . .


(p. 43) The experience led to an ambitious revamp of the way the entire Google infrastructure dealt with files. "I always had wanted to build a file system, and it was pretty clear that this was something we were going to have to do," says Ghemawat, who led the team. Though there had previously been systems that handled information distributed over multiple files, Google's could handle bigger data loads and was more nimble at running full speed in the face of disk crashes-- which it had to be because, with Google's philosophy of buying supercheap components, failure was the norm. "The main idea was that we wanted the file system to automate dealing with failures, and to do that, the file system would keep multiple copies and it would make new copies when some copy failed," says Ghemawat.



Source:

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: ellipses added.)






September 2, 2013

Jeb Bush Reads Clayton Christensen on His Kindle



BushJebCaricature2013-08-12.jpg














Jeb Bush. Source of caricature: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.




Clayton Christensen is a kindred spirit: he cares about making the world a better place through innovation in free markets. He research is almost always thought-provoking, and sometimes highly illuminating. So it speaks well of Jeb Bush that he has the good judgement to be reading one of Christensen's books on education.


(p. A11) Currently [Bush is] reading "Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns" -- on his Kindle electronic reader.


For the full interview, see:

FRED BARNES. "THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW with JEB BUSH; Republicans Must Be a National Party Florida's former governor on immigration, school choice, and the GOP's limited-government foundation." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., February 14, 2009): A11.

(Note: words in brackets added.)


The Christensen book mentioned on education, is:

Christensen, Clayton M., Curtis W. Johnson, and Michael B. Horn. Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. New York: NY: McGraw-Hill, 2008.

(Note: a revised edition of the book appeared in 2011.)






August 30, 2013

To Page and Brin Search Speed "Was Like Motherhood, and Scale Was Apple Pie"



(p. 37) The average search at that time, Hölzle recalls, took three and a half seconds. Considering that speed was one of the core values of Page and Brin-- it was like motherhood, and scale was apple pie-- this was a source of distress for the founders. "Basically during the middle of the day we were maxed out," says Hölzle. "Nothing was happening for some users, because it would just never get a page basically back. It was all about scalability, performance improvements." Part of the problem was that Page and Brin had written the system in what Hölzle calls "university code," a nice way of saying amateurish.


Source:

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.






August 26, 2013

Google Started in Garage



(p. 34) On September 4, 1998, Page and Brin filed for incorporation and finally moved off campus. Sergey's girlfriend at the time was friendly with a manager at Intel named Susan Wojcicki, who had just purchased a house on Santa Margarita Street in Menlo Park with her husband for $615,000. To help meet the mortgage, the couple charged Google $1,700 a month to rent the garage and several rooms in the house.


Source:

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.






August 25, 2013

Dubai Has Strong Ruling Clan, But Weak Institutions



DubaiBK2013-08-12.jpg
















Source of book image: http://www.christopherdavidson.net/sitebuilder/images/DVOS_cover-210x300.jpg



(p. 4) For Mr. Davidson, Dubai's greatest weakness lies in its autocratic governing system. Politics in the emirate, as in most of the Middle East, pivots not on institutions but on clans -- a ruling dynasty and its favorites who own and run Dubai in opaque fashion.

True enough, but most of the Middle East is authoritarian, yet Dubai's enlightened despotism and welcoming social environment have stood out for fostering economic advance. Like China, albeit on a tiny scale, Dubai is engaged in an experiment of economic liberalization without political democracy.

Mr. Davidson further contends that unstable neighbors threaten Dubai's success, but here he may have matters reversed. When Egypt and Iran stifle their entrepreneurs, many of them find a wide berth in Dubai. When Saudi Arabia imposes cultural restrictions on its population, Dubai offers a place to drink and let loose. When India and Pakistan have trouble creating jobs for their large populations, Dubai absorbs labor migrants. When Iraq or Lebanon descends into war, Dubai profits from rebuilding them.

In short, until a vast arc of countries from East Africa to Southeast Asia changes substantially, Dubai will remain poised to benefit by providing a relatively open, secure, low-tax, business-friendly alternative.



For the full review, see:

STEPHEN KOTKIN. "OFF THE SHELF; The Glittering Emirate, Revisited." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., December 7, 2008): 4.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date December 6, 2008, and the title "OFF THE SHELF; Dubai, the Glittering Emirate, Revisited.")


The book under review, is:

Davidson, Christopher M. Dubai: The Vulnerability of Success. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008.






August 22, 2013

"We Just Begged and Borrowed" for Equipment



(p. 32) Google was handling as many as 10,000 queries a day. At times it was consuming half of Stanford's Internet capacity. Its appetite for equipment and bandwidth was voracious. "We just begged and borrowed," says Page. "There were tons of computers around, and we managed to get some." Page's dorm room was essentially Google's operations center, with a motley assortment of computers from various manufacturers stuffed into a homemade version of a server rack-- a storage cabinet made of Legos. Larry and Sergey would hang around the loading dock to see who on campus was getting computers-- companies like Intel and Sun gave lots of free machines to Stanford to curry favor with employees of the future-- (p. 33) and then the pair would ask the recipients if they could share some of the bounty.

That still wasn't enough. To store the millions of pages they had crawled, the pair had to buy their own high-capacity disk drives. Page, who had a talent for squeezing the most out of a buck, found a place that sold refurbished disks at prices so low-- a tenth of the original cost-- that something was clearly wrong with them. "I did the research and figured out that they were okay as long as you replaced the [disk] operating system," he says. "We got 120 drives, about nine gigs each. So it was about a terabyte of space." It was an approach that Google would later adopt in building infrastructure at low cost.

Larry and Sergey would be sitting by the monitor, watching the queries-- at peak times, there would be a new one every second-- and it would be clear that they'd need even more equipment. What next? they'd ask themselves. Maybe this is real.



Source:

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: italics in original.)






August 18, 2013

Excite Rejected Google Because It Was too Good



(p. 28) Maybe the closest Page and Brin came to a deal was with Excite, a search-based company that had begun-- just like Yahoo-- with a bunch of sharp Stanford kids whose company was called Architext before the venture capitalists (VCs) got their hands on it and degeekified the name. Terry Winograd, Sergey's adviser, accompanied them to a meeting with Vinod Khosla, the venture capitalist who had funded Excite.


. . .


(p. 29) Khosla made a tentative counteroffer of $ 750,000 total. But the deal never happened. Hassan recalls a key meeting that might have sunk it. Though Excite had been started by a group of Stanford geeks very much like Larry and Sergey, its venture capital funders had demanded they hire "adult supervision," the condescending term used when brainy geeks are pushed aside as top executives and replaced by someone more experienced and mature, someone who could wear a suit without looking as though he were attending his Bar Mitzvah. The new CEO was George Bell, a former Times Mirror magazine executive. Years later, Hassan would still laugh when he described the meeting between the BackRub team and Bell. When the team got to Bell's office, it fired up BackRub in one window and Excite in the other for a bake-off.

The first query they tested was "Internet." According to Hassan, Excite's first results were Chinese web pages where the English word "Internet" stood out among a jumble of Chinese characters. Then the team typed "Internet" into BackRub. The first two results delivered pages that told you how to use browsers. It was exactly the kind of helpful result that would most likely satisfy someone who made the query.

Bell was visibly upset. The Stanford product was too good. If Excite were to host a search engine that instantly gave people information they sought, he explained, the users would leave the site instantly. Since his ad revenue came from people staying on the site--" stickiness" was the most desired metric in websites at the time-- using BackRub's technology would be (p. 30) counterproductive. "He told us he wanted Excite's search engine to be 80 percent as good as the other search engines," says Hassan. And we were like, "Wow, these guys don't know what they're talking about."

Hassan says that he urged Larry and Sergey right then, in early 1997, to leave Stanford and start a company. "Everybody else was doing it," he says. "I saw Hotmail and Netscape doing really well. Money was flowing into the Valley. So I said to them, 'The search engine is the idea. We should do this.' They didn't think so. Larry and Sergey were both very adamant that they could build this search engine at Stanford."

"We weren't ... in an entrepreneurial frame of mind back then," Sergey later said.



Source:

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis between paragraphs added; ellipsis in last sentence, in original.)






August 17, 2013

It's Hard to Be Consistent



TheFirstBillionIsTheHardestBK2013-08-08.jpg









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






(p. A13) Both Adam Smith and Horatio Alger would find something to like in the rise of T. Boone Pickens. "Boy geologist" Boone quit a promising job at Phillips Petroleum in the mid-1950s and built, over the following decades, Mesa Petroleum, a top North American independent oil and gas producer. Mesa found lots of oil and gas, provided jobs for hundreds of workers, and earned wealth for thousands of investors. During the same years, Mr. Pickens's attempts to take over Cities Service, Gulf Oil, Phillips and Unocal made the whole oil industry shape up: His bids required the managers of each company to look hard at its practices and improve its shareholder returns.

Such accomplishments are the core of Mr. Pickens's 1987 autobiography, "Boone," which was updated 13 years later and retitled "The Luckiest Guy in the World." In those books, Mr. Pickens's political philosophy rang loud and clear. "I believe," he stated, "the greatest opportunity lies in a free marketplace." He warned: "There are powerful forces afoot trying to restrict that freedom in the interests of the vested and already wealthy. I am talking about a relatively small collection of corporate executives who would use the engine of American commerce for their own narrow ends."


. . .


Now Mr. Pickens has new dreams -- and he is lobbying Washington to make them come alive.

In particular, Mr. Pickens wants the federal government -- through a mix of tax incentives, mandates and subsidies -- to override the market and redirect the uses of natural gas.


. . .


"The First Billion" argues for this plan, along with recounting Mr. Pickens's business ups and downs. The book is often entertaining, featuring the usual "Boone-isms": e.g., "Show me a good loser, and I'll show you a loser." But readers unfamiliar with Mr. Pickens's earlier memoirs may not realize that the new one represents a kind of bait-and-switch. Mr. Pickens's standing to pronounce on energy matters was earned as a free-market producer. He is now using that standing to defy the market itself.



For the full review, see:

ROBERT BRADLEY JR. "BUSINESS BOOKSHELF; When Effort Is Energetic." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., September 10, 2008): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)


The book under review is:

Pickens, T. Boone. The First Billion Is the Hardest: Reflections on a Life of Comebacks and America's Energy Future. New York: Crown Business, 2008.






August 14, 2013

"Web Links Were Like Citations in a Scholarly Article"



(p. 17) Page, a child of academia, understood that web links were like citations in a scholarly article. It was widely recognized that you could identify which papers were really important without reading them-- simply tally up how many other papers cited them in notes and bibliographies. Page believed that this principle could also work with web pages. But getting the right data would be difficult. Web pages made their outgoing links transparent: built into the code were easily identifiable markers for the destinations you could travel to with a mouse click from that page. But it wasn't obvious at all what linked to a page. To find that out, you'd have to somehow collect a database of links that connected to some other page. Then you'd go backward.


Source:

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.






August 13, 2013

For Hubbard and Kane "Institutions Explain Innovation"



HowTheMightyFallBK2013-08-08.jpg












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






(p. A11) Messrs. Hubbard and Kane argue, as do others, that certain policies and core principles are the key: property rights, flexible work rules, open markets. For the authors, such matters explain economic growth entirely.

To those who would cite the primacy of technological breakthroughs, Messrs. Hubbard and Kane assert that inventions only spark growth if there are systems in place (such as intellectual-property rights) that enable inventions to flourish and their value to spread. "The wheel and the windmill were invented many times," they write, "then forgotten, until finally one society had the institutional framework to implement them widely and pass them on permanently." In short, "institutions explain innovation."



For the full review, see:

Matthew Rees. "BOOKSHELF; How the Mighty Fall; The Roman empire eventually lost its economic vitality thanks to price controls, heavy taxes and state-sponsored debt relief.." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., June 21, 2013): A11.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 20, 2013.)


The book under review is:

Hubbard, Glenn, and Tim Kane. Balance: The Economics of Great Powers from Ancient Rome to Modern America. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013.







August 10, 2013

"A Jigger of Asperger's in the Mix"



(p. 11) Page was not a social animal-- people who talked to him often wondered if there were a jigger of Asperger's in the mix-- and could unnerve people by simply not talking. But when he did speak, more often than not (p. 12) he would come out with ideas that bordered on the fantastic.


Source:

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.






August 9, 2013

Less Credentialed Hazlitt Got More Right than Keynes and White



TheBattleOfBrettonWoodsBK2013-07-21.jpg




















Source of book image:
http://s.s-bol.com/imgbase0/imagebase/large/FC/7/0/6/9/9200000009899607.jpg



(p. C5) One of the many merits of "The Battle of Bretton Woods," a superb history of mid-20th-century monetary affairs, is the timing of its publication. Today, as never before, central banks are printing money, suppressing interest rates and manipulating markets. You wonder where it will all end.


. . .


(p. C6) According to Mr. Steil, the recondite Bretton Woods debates failed to engage the American public as a political issue. If so, it was no fault of Henry Hazlitt's. An editorial writer for the New York Times, Hazlitt directed persistent, withering fire against White's and Keynes's brainchild. (His collected editorials, titled "From Bretton Woods to World Inflation," were published in 1984.) The conference had it all wrong, Hazlitt thundered in the Times. The IMF would subsidize unsound policies. What was wanted were sound ones.

"The broad principles should not be difficult to formulate," the readers of the Times were reminded on the eve of the gathering in New Hampshire. Governments should balance their budgets, forswear 1930s-style impediments to free trade (quotas, exchange restrictions) and refrain from "currency and credit inflation." And the currency itself? It should be "redeemable in something that is itself fixed and definite: for all practical purposes this means a return to the historic gold standard."


. . .


White was a Harvard Ph.D. Keynes was, at least according to Mr. Steil, "the most innovative and iconoclastic economist of his age, if not of all time." Hazlitt was no trained economist at all. But it was he, not the two acclaimed experts, who turned out to be right.



For the full review, see:

James Grant. "A Fateful Meeting That Shaped the World." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., March 16, 2013): C5-C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 15, 2013.)


The book under review is:

Steil, Benn. The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Order Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013.






August 5, 2013

In the Plex Helps Us Understand Entrepreneurs Page and Brin



InThePlexBK2013-04-06.jpg















Source of book image: http://mastersofmedia.hum.uva.nl/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/intheplex.jpg




In the Plex goes from detail to detail of the values, actions and quirks of a large cast of characters who have been involved in the Google story. I did not find the book as consistently gripping as Isaacson's Steve Jobs biography.

But some of the details help suggest new hypotheses, or test old ones, on important issues of entrepreneurship and technological progress. Some parts are revealing of the goals and methods of Page and Brin.

During the next weeks I will quote some of the more interesting passages.


Book discussed:

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.






August 4, 2013

Hunter-Gatherers Had High Child Mortality and Died Before Age 40



(p. 31) Child mortality in foraging tribes was severe. A survey of 25 hunter-gatherer tribes in historical times from various continents revealed that, on average, 25 percent of children died before they were 1, and 37 percent died before they were 15. In one traditional hunter-gatherer tribe, child mortality was found to be 60 percent. Most historical tribes had a population growth rate of approximately zero. This stagnation is evident, says Robert Kelly in his survey of hunting-gathering peoples, because "when formerly mobile people become sedentary, the rate of population growth increases." All things being equal, the constancy of farmed food breeds more people.

While many children died young, older hunter-gatherers did not have (p. 32) it much better. It was a tough life. Based on an analysis of bone stress and cuts, one archaeologist said the distribution of injuries on the bodies of Neanderthals was similar to that found on rodeo professionals--lots of head, trunk, and arm injuries like the ones you might get from close encounters with large, angry animals. There are no known remains of an early hominin who lived to be older than 40. Because extremely high child mortality rates depress average life expectancy, if the oldest outlier is only 40, the median age was almost certainly less than 20.



Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.






August 3, 2013

Wittgenstein Heirs Lost Family Wealth and "Found Little Happiness"



TheHouseOfWittgensteinBK2013-07-21.jpg














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








(p. W10) As he lay dying during Christmas 1912 -- from a gruesome throat cancer -- the Viennese industrialist Karl Wittgenstein no doubt took some comfort in the fact that he was leaving to his heirs one of the largest fortunes in Europe. He had acquired his wealth in just 30 years, the period during which Wittgenstein, an engineer, transformed a small steel mill into Europe's largest steel cartel through a combination of hard work, luck and ruthlessness. As der österreichische Eisenkönig (the "Austrian iron king"), he was the chief executive, principal shareholder or director of dozens of industrial companies and banks that provided the ore, manufacturing and financing for most of the steel products of the Habsburg Empire.

In his spare time, Wittgenstein acquired a spectacular house in Vienna, grandly styled as the family's Palais Wittgenstein.


. . .


Today, though, the Wittgenstein millions are gone and the Palais replaced by a hideous concrete apartment block. "Riches," Adam Smith wrote, ". . . very seldom remain long in the same family." Alexander Waugh's grimly amusing "The House of Wittgenstein" shows how the family fortune was lost and how the family members themselves, despite instances of prodigious talent and accomplishment, found little happiness in their own lives or pleasure in their sibling relations.



For the full review, see:

JAMES F. PENROSE. "BOOKS; A Viennese Blend: Riches and Rancor; Blessed by Musical and Intellectual Gifts, and Lots of Money, a Family Still Struggled to Find Harmony." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., March 1, 2009): W10.

(Note: ellipsis added; italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date February 28, 2009.)


The book under review is:

Waugh, Alexander. The House of Wittgenstein: A Family at War. New York: Doubleday, 2009.






July 31, 2013

Falling Computer Prices Cured the "Digital Divide"



(p. 304) The more evident the power of the internet as an uplifting force became, the more evident the divide between the digital haves and have-nots. One sociological study concluded that there were "two Americas" emerging. The citizens of one America were poor people who could not afford a computer, and of the other, wealthy individuals equipped with PCs who reaped all the benefits. During the 1990s, when technology boosters like me were promoting the advent of the internet, we were often asked: What are we going to do about the digital divide? My an-(p. 305)swer was simple: nothing. We didn't have to do anything, because the natural history of a technology such as the internet was self-fulfilling. The have-nots were a temporary imbalance that would be cured (and more) by technological forces. There was so much profit to be made connecting up the rest of the world, and the unconnected were so eager to join, that they were already paying higher telecom rates (when they could get such service) than the haves. Furthermore, the costs of both computers and connectivity were dropping by the month. At that time most poor in America owned televisions and had monthly cable bills. Owning a computer and having internet access was no more expensive and would soon be cheaper than TV. In a decade, the necessary outlay would become just a $100 laptop. Within the lifetimes of all born in the last decade, computers of some sort (connectors, really) will cost $5.


Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.






July 30, 2013

The French and Japanese Believe Water Cleans the Anus Better than Dry Paper



TheBigNecessityBK2013-07-21.jpg

















Source of the book image: http://jacketupload.macmillanusa.com/jackets/high_res/jpgs/9780805090833.jpg



(p. C34) Ms. George's book is lively . . . . It is hard not to warm to a writer who can toss off an observation like this one: "I like engineers. They build things that are useful and sometimes beautiful -- a brick sewer, a suspension bridge -- and take little credit. They do not wear black and designer glasses like architects. They do not crow."


. . .


In Japan, where toilets are amazingly advanced -- most of even the most basic have heated seats and built-in bidet systems for front and rear -- the American idea of cleaning one's backside with dry paper is seen as quaint at best and disgusting at worst. As Ms. George observes: "Using paper to cleanse the anus makes as much sense, hygienically, as rubbing your body with dry tissue and imagining it removes dirt."



For the full review, see:

DWIGHT GARNER. "BOOKS OF THE TIMES; 15 Minutes of Fame for Human Waste and Its Never-Ending Assembly Line." The New York Times (Fri., December 12, 2008): C34.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date December 11, 2008.)


The book under review, is:

George, Rose. The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2008.






July 27, 2013

In 1916 a Single Home Motor Would Drive All Home Machines



(p. 301) By the 1910s, electric motors had started their inevitable spread into homes. They had been domesticated. Unlike a steam engine, they did not smoke or belch or drool. Just a tidy, steady whirr from a five-pound (p. 302) hunk. As in factories, these single "home motors" were designed to drive all the machines in one home. The 1916 Hamilton Beach "Home Motor" had a six-speed rheostat and ran on 110 volts. Designer Donald Norman points out a page from the 1918 Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog advertising the Home Motor for $8.75 (which is equivalent to about $100 these days). This handy motor would spin your sewing machine. You could also plug it into the Churn and Mixer Attachment ("for which you will find many uses") and the Buffer and Grinder Attachments ("will be found very useful in many ways around the home"). The Fan Attachment "can be quickly attached to Home Motor," as well as the Beater Attachment to whip cream and beat eggs.


Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.

(Note: the quote above omits the copy of a 1918 electric motor ad that appeared in the middle of the original paragraph.)






July 26, 2013

Mencken's Prejudices: Fresh, Vital, Withering and Gleeful



BuckleyChristopher2013-07-21.jpg











"Christopher Buckley." Source of caption and image: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.





(p. 5) Which book has had the greatest impact on you? What book made you want to write?

H. L. Mencken's "Prejudices." He wrote these six volumes in the 1920s, but their zest, sinew and cut-and-thrust are undated, fresh and vital nearly a century after their ink dried. No American writer -- except perhaps Twain and Bierce -- could be so withering and gleeful at the same time.



For the full interview, see:

Buckley, Christopher. "By the Book: Christopher Buckley." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., July 7, 2013): 5.

(Note: the bold in the original indicates a question to Buckley by the unidentified NYT interviewer.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date July 3, 2013, and has the title "Christopher Buckley: By the Book.")


The six volumes mentioned in the interview, have been reprinted in a two volume set:

Mencken, H.L. H.L. Mencken: Prejudices: The Complete Series. New York: Library of America, 2010.






July 25, 2013

Slow Patent System Makes U.S. Look Like Third World Country



(p. 118) The absurd length of time and the outrageous cost of obtaining a patent is a national disgrace. If we heard it took two to five years to obtain title to real property somewhere, we would assume it was a corrupt third world country. And yet that is how long it takes to receive a patent now, depending on the area of technology.


Source:

Halling, Dale B. The Decline and Fall of the American Entrepreneur: How Little Known Laws and Regulations Are Killing Innovation. Charleston, S.C.: BookSurge Publishing, 2009.






July 23, 2013

If Driverless Cars Only Kill Half a Million Per Year, that "Would Be an Improvement"



(p. 261) . . . , human-piloted cars cause great harm, killing millions of people each year worldwide. If robot-controlled cars killed "only" half a million people per year, it would be an improvement!


Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






July 22, 2013

Great-Grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt Privately Built First Highway Dedicated to Cars



TheLongIslandMotorParkwayBK2013-07-21.jpg

















Source of book image: https://lihj.cc.stonybrook.edu/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Motor-Parkway_review.jpg




(p. 13) It survives only as segments of other highways, as a right of way for power lines and as a bike trail, but the Long Island Motor Parkway still holds a sense of magic as what some historians say is the country's first road built specifically for the automobile. It opened 100 years ago last Friday as a rich man's dream.

As detailed in a new book, "The Long Island Motor Parkway" by Howard Kroplick and Al Velocci (Arcadia Publishing), the parkway ran about 45 miles across Long Island, from Queens to Ronkonkoma, and was created by William Kissam Vanderbilt II, the great-grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt.

. . .


The younger Vanderbilt was a car enthusiast who loved to race. He had set a speed record of 92 miles an hour in 1904, the same year he created his own race, the Vanderbilt Cup.

But his race came under fire after a spectator was killed in 1906, and Vanderbilt wanted a safe road on which to hold the race and on which other car lovers could hurl their new machines free of the dust common on roads made for horses. The parkway would also be free of "interference from the authorities," he said in a speech.

So he created a toll road for high-speed automobile travel. It was built of reinforced concrete, had banked turns, guard rails and, by building bridges, he eliminated intersections that would slow a driver down. The Long Island Motor Parkway officially opened on Oct. 10, 1908, and closed in 1938.


. . .


But by the end of Vanderbilt's life (he died in 1944), the public had come to feel entitled to car ownership. And there was growing pressure for public highways, like the parkways that the urban planner Robert Moses was building.

. . .


In 1938, Moses refused Vanderbilt's appeal to incorporate the motor parkway into his new parkway system. The motor parkway just could not compete with the public roads, even after the toll was reduced to 40 cents, and Moses eventually gained control of Vanderbilt's pioneering road for back taxes of about $80,000. The day of public roads had come, supplanting private highways.


. . .


The parkway marked the beginning of a process: the road was designed for the car. But in offering higher speeds, the parkway and other modern roads would push cars to their technical limits and beyond, inspiring innovation. In that sense, the first modern automobile highway helped to create the modern automobile.



For the full story, see:

PHIL PATTON. "A 100-Year-Old Dream: A Road Just for Cars." The New York Times, SportsSunday Section (Sun., October 12, 2008): 13.

(Note: the centered bold ellipses were in the original; the other ellipses were added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date October 9, 2008.)


The book mentioned in the article, is:

Kroplick, Howard, and Al Velocci. The Long Island Motor Parkway. Mount Pleasant, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2008.



LongIslandMotorParkwayRouteMap2013-07-21.jpg "Approximate Route of Long Island Motor Parkway." Source of caption and map: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.







July 19, 2013

The Precautionary Principle Is Biased Against the New, and Ignores the Risks of the Old



(p. 250) In general the Precautionary Principle is biased against anything new. Many established technologies and "natural" processes have unexamined faults as great as those of any new technology. But the Precautionary Principle establishes a drastically elevated threshold for things that are new. In effect it grandfathers in the risks of the old, or the "nat-(p. 251)ural." A few examples: Crops raised without the shield of pesticides generate more of their own natural pesticides to combat insects, but these indigenous toxins are not subject to the Precautionary Principle because they aren't "new." The risks of new plastic water pipes are not compared with the risks of old metal pipes. The risks of DDT are not put in context with the old risks of dying of malaria.


Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.






July 18, 2013

Ignoring Einstein's Mistakes by Deifying Him, Makes Us Forget His Struggles



EinsteinsMistakesBK2013-07-17.jpg
















Source of book image: http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41zyL4LVYxL.jpg




(p. A13) Mr. Ohanian finds that four out of five of the seminal papers that Einstein produced in the so-called "miracle year" of 1905, when he was working as a patent inspector in Zurich, were "infested with flaws."


. . .


. . . he notes Einstein's errors for a purpose, showing us why his achievement was all the greater for them.

In this Mr. Ohanian provides a useful corrective, for there is a tendency, even today, to deify Einstein and other men of genius, treating them as if they were immortal gods. Einstein himself objected to the practice even as he reveled in his fame. "It is not fair," he once observed, "to select a few individuals for boundless admiration and to attribute superhuman powers of mind and of character to them." In doing so, ironically, we make less of the person, not more, forgetting and simplifying their struggle.


. . .


. . . Einstein's ability to make use of his mistakes as "stepping stones and shortcuts" was central to his success, in Mr. Ohanian's view. To see Einstein's wanderings not as the strides of a god-like genius but as the steps and missteps of a man -- fallible and imperfect -- does not diminish our respect for him but rather enhances it.



For the full review, see:

McMahon, Darrin M. "BOOKSHELF; Great and Imperfect." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., September 5, 2008): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)


The book under review is:

Ohanian, Hans C. Einstein's Mistakes: The Human Failings of Genius. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2008.






July 15, 2013

Chinese Peasants Applied Precautionary Principle to Scythe Technology



(p. 249) In a letter Orville Wright wrote to his inventor friend Henry Ford, Wright recounts a story he heard from a missionary stationed in China. Wright told Ford the story for the same reason I tell it here: as a cautionary tale about speculative risks. The missionary wanted to improve the laborious way the Chinese peasants in his province harvested grain. The local farmers clipped the stalks with some kind of small hand shear. So the missionary had a scythe shipped in from America and demonstrated its superior productivity to an enthralled crowd. "The next morning, however, a delegation came to see the missionary. The scythe must be destroyed at once. What, they said, if it should fall into the hands of thieves; a whole field could be cut and carried away in a single night." And so the scythe was banished, progress stopped, because nonusers could imagine a possible--but wholly improbable--way it could significantly harm their society.


Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.






July 14, 2013

Record Companies Refused to See Efficiency of Napster Distribution System



AppetiteForSelfDestructionBK2013-07-13.jpg











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






(p. A15) . . . the central character in "Appetite for Self-Destruction" is technological change.


. . .


Record labels scrambled to negotiate with Napster and develop a legal version of the service with multiple revenue streams. The attempts all failed. In Mr. Knopper's telling, there were unreasonable demands on all sides. But he faults music executives for "cling[ing] to the old, suddenly inefficient model of making CDs and distributing them to record stores. . . . In this world, the labels controlled -- and profited from -- everything." In the new world being ushered in by Napster, he writes, control was shifting "to a snot-nosed punk and his crazy uncle."

The labels' inability to reach an agreement with Napster destroyed "the last chance for the record industry as we know it to stave off certain ruin," Mr. Knopper writes in a typically overheated passage. Had a deal been consummated, he suggests, a legal version of Napster might have generated revenues of $16 billion in 2002 and saved the industry. Whether or not the author's estimate is accurate, his larger point remains: The music industry's big mistake was trying to protect a business model that no longer worked. Litigation would not keep music consumers offline.



For the full review, see:

JEREMY PHILIPS. "BUSINESS BOOKSHELF; Spinning Out of Control; How the record industry missed out on a chance to compete in a new digital world." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., February 11, 2009): A15.

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


The book under review is:

Knopper, Steve. Appetite for Self-Destruction: The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age. New York: Free Press, 2009.






July 12, 2013

The Decay of River Rouge's Diseconomies of Scale



RiverRougeFordRollingHall2013-06-28.jpg "The rolling hall at Ford's River Rouge plant, one of Andrew Moore's photographs of Detroit." Source of caption and of the Andrew Moore photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


Ford's River Rouge plant near Detroit is a standard textbook example of diseconomies of scale (aka diminishing returns to scale). The image above is an apt illustration of the consequences of diseconomies of scale.


(p. 19) A Connecticut native, Mr. Moore moved to New York in 1980, living near South and John Streets in Lower Manhattan. At night he would wander the neighborhood taking pictures of the construction of the South Street Seaport, which kindled an interest in documenting "life in flux," he said. "I like places in transformation, the process of becoming and changing."


. . .


Photos like those of the enormous rolling hall at Ford's River Rouge plant and a sunset over the Bob-Lo Island boat dock were inspired, Mr. Moore said, by 19th-century American landscape painters like Frederic Church and Martin Johnson Heade.



For the full story, see:

MIKE RUBIN. "Capturing the Idling of the Motor City." The New York Times, Arts&Leisure Section (Sun., August 21, 2011): 19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date August 18, 2011.")


Andrew Moore has a book of his photos of Detroit:

Moore, Andrew, and Philip Levine. Andrew Moore: Detroit Disassembled. Bologna, Italy: Damiani/Akron Art Museum, 2010.






July 11, 2013

Millions Die Due to Precautionary Principle Ban of DDT



(p. 248) . . . , malaria infects 300 million to 500 million people worldwide, causing 2 million deaths per year. It is debilitating to those who don't die and leads to cyclic poverty. But in the 1950s the level of malaria was reduced by 70 percent by spraying the insecticide DDT around the insides of homes. DDT was so successful as an insecticide that farmers eagerly sprayed it by the tons on cotton fields--and the molecule's by-products made their way into the water cycle and eventually into fat cells in animals. Biologists blamed it for a drop in reproduction rates for some predatory birds, as well as local die-offs in some fish and aquatic life species. Its use and manufacture were banned in the United States in 1972. Other countries followed suit. Without DDT spraying, however, malaria cases in Asia and Africa began to rise again to deadly pre-1950s levels. Plans to reintroduce programs for household spraying in malarial Africa were blocked by the World Bank and other aid agencies, who refused to fund them. A treaty signed in 1991 by 91 countries and the EU agreed to phase out DDT altogether. They were relying on the precautionary principle: DDT was probably bad; better safe than sorry. In fact DDT had never been shown to hurt humans, and the environmental harm from the miniscule amounts of DDT applied in homes had not been measured. But nobody could prove it did not cause harm, despite its proven ability to do good.


Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






July 10, 2013

Samuel Adams Is Underrated Founder Because He Burned His Paper Trail



SamelAdamsALifeBK2013-07-09.jpg















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




(p. A17) "Samuel Adams: A Life" makes it abundantly clear why the British so detested Adams. He started talking independence more than a decade before the Declaration and did more than anyone to organize opposition to colonial taxes and to make "no taxation without representation" a rallying cry. . . .


. . .


If Mr. Stoll's biography lacks the narrative power of books on other Founders, such as David McCullough's "John Adams," the reason may be that the paper trail left by Samuel Adams is frustratingly short. He destroyed much of his correspondence during the revolutionary years, fearful that it could fall into the wrong hands. Some of the letters that remain end with the words "burn this." This Adams wasn't playing for the history books. He was trying to plot a revolution. Mr. Stoll makes a convincing case that Samuel Adams is not just the most underrated of the Founders but also one of the most admirable, down-to-earth and principled (he worked to abolish slavery).



For the full review, see:

JONATHAN KARL. "Revolution Is No Tea Party; Rabble-rouser, wordsmith, strategist and defender of liberty." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., November 3, 2008): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)


The book under review is:

Stoll, Ira. Samuel Adams: A Life. New York: Free Press, 2008.






July 7, 2013

The Precautionary Principle Stops Technological Progress



(p. 247) All versions of the Precautionary Principle hold this axiom in common: A technology must be shown to do no harm before it is embraced. It must be proven to be safe before it is disseminated. If it cannot be proven safe, it should be prohibited, curtailed, modified, junked, or ignored. In other words, the first response to a new idea should be inaction until its safety is established. When an innovation appears, we should pause. Only after a new technology has been deemed okay by the certainty of science should we try to live with it.

On the surface, this approach seems reasonable and prudent. Harm must be anticipated and preempted. Better safe than sorry. Unfortunately, the Precautionary Principle works better in theory than in practice. "The precautionary principle is very, very good for one thing--stopping technological progress," says philosopher and consultant Max More. Cass R. Sunstein, who devoted a book to debunking the principle, says, "We must challenge the Precautionary Principle not because it leads in bad directions, but because read for all it is worth, it leads in no direction at all."



Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.






July 6, 2013

In the England of the Late 1600s, Coffeehouses Were "Crucibles of Creativity"



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Source of book image: http://www.drinkoftheweek.com/wp-content/plugins/simple-post-thumbnails/timthumb.php?src=/wp-content/thumbnails/23682.jpg&w=250&h=400&zc=1&ft=jpg



(p. 8) Like coffee itself, coffeehouses were an import from the Arab world.


. . .


Patrons were not merely permitted but encouraged to strike up conversations with strangers from entirely different walks of life. As the poet Samuel Butler put it, "gentleman, mechanic, lord, and scoundrel mix, and are all of a piece."


. . .


. . . , coffeehouses were in fact crucibles of creativity, because of the way in which they facilitated the mixing of both people and ideas. Members of the Royal Society, England's pioneering scientific society, frequently retired to coffeehouses to extend their discussions. Scientists often conducted experiments and gave lectures in coffeehouses, and because admission cost just a penny (the price of a single cup), coffeehouses were sometimes referred to as "penny universities." It was a coffeehouse argument among several fellow scientists that spurred Isaac Newton to write his "Principia Mathematica," one of the foundational works of modern science.

Coffeehouses were platforms for innovation in the world of business, too. Merchants used coffeehouses as meeting rooms, which gave rise to new companies and new business models. A London coffeehouse called Jonathan's, where merchants kept particular tables at which they would transact their business, turned into the London Stock Exchange. Edward Lloyd's coffeehouse, a popular meeting place for ship captains, shipowners and traders, became the famous insurance market Lloyd's.

And the economist Adam Smith wrote much of his masterpiece "The Wealth of Nations" in the British Coffee House, a popular meeting place for Scottish intellectuals, among whom he circulated early drafts of his book for discussion.



For the full commentary, see:

TOM STANDAGE. "OPINION; Social Networking in the 1600s." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., June 23, 2013): 8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 22, 2013.)



The author of the commentary is also the author of a related book:

Standage, Tom. A History of the World in Six Glasses. New York: Walker & Company, 2005.






July 3, 2013

Amish Break the Golden Rule



(p. 237) If we apply the ubiquity test--what happens if everyone does it?--to the Amish way, the optimization of choice collapses. By constraining the suite of acceptable occupations and narrowing education, the Amish are holding back possibilities not just for their children but indirectly for all.

If you are a web designer today, it is only because many tens of thousands of other people around you and before you have been expanding the realm of possibilities. They have gone beyond farms and home shops to invent a complex ecology of electronic devices that require new expertise and new ways of thinking. If you are an accountant, untold numbers of creative people in the past devised the logic and tools of accounting for you. If you do science, your instruments and field of study have been created by others. If you are a photographer, or an extreme sports athlete, or a baker, or an auto mechanic, or a nurse--then your potential has been given an opportunity by the work of others. You are being expanded as others expand themselves.


. . .


. . . as you embrace new technologies, you are indirectly working for future generations of Amish, and for the minimite homesteaders, even though they are not doing as much for you. Most of what you adopt they will ignore. But every once in a while your adoption of "something that doesn't quite work yet" (Danny Hillis's definition of technology) will evolve into an appropriate tool they can use. It might be a solar grain dyer; it might be a cure for cancer.



Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.

(Note: ellipses added.)






July 2, 2013

Property Rights, Flexible Work Rules, Open Markets Are Keys to Economic Growth



BalanceBK2013-06-28.jpg











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







(p. A11) Messrs. Hubbard and Kane argue, as do others, that certain policies and core principles are the key: property rights, flexible work rules, open markets. For the authors, such matters explain economic growth entirely.

To those who would cite the primacy of technological breakthroughs, Messrs. Hubbard and Kane assert that inventions only spark growth if there are systems in place (such as intellectual-property rights) that enable inventions to flourish and their value to spread. "The wheel and the windmill were invented many times," they write, "then forgotten, until finally one society had the institutional framework to implement them widely and pass them on permanently." In short, "institutions explain innovation."



For the full review, see:

Matthew Rees. "BOOKSHELF; How the Mighty Fall; The Roman empire eventually lost its economic vitality thanks to price controls, heavy taxes and state-sponsored debt relief." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., June 21, 2013): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 20, 2013.)


The book under review, is:

Hubbard, Glenn, and Tim Kane. Balance: The Economics of Great Powers from Ancient Rome to Modern America. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013.






June 29, 2013

"Self-Reliant" Amish Depend on the Technologies of the Outside World



(p. 230) The Amish are a little sensitive about this, but their self-reliant lifestyle as it is currently practiced is heavily dependent on the greater technium that surrounds their enclaves. They do not mine the metal they build their mowers from. They do not drill or process the kerosene they use. They don't manufacture the solar panels on their roofs. They don't grow or weave the cotton in their clothes. They don't educate or train their own doctors. They also famously do not enroll in armed forces of any kind. (But in compensation for that, the Amish are world-class volunteers in the outside world. Few people volunteer more often, or with (p. 231) more expertise and passion, than the Amish/Mennonites. They travel by bus or boat to distant lands to build homes and schools for the needy.) If the Amish had to generate all their own energy, grow all their clothing fibers, mine all metal, harvest and mill all lumber, they would not be Amish at all because they would be running large machines, dangerous factories, and other types of industry that would not sit well in their backyards (one of the criteria they use to decide whether a craft is appropriate for them). But without someone manufacturing this stuff, they could not maintain their lifestyle or prosperity. In short, the Amish depend on the outside world for the way they currently live. Their choice of minimal technology adoption is a choice--but a choice enabled by the technium. Their lifestyle is within the technium, not outside it.



Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.






June 25, 2013

Limited Choice Is Cost of Amish Community Closeness



(p. 230) . . . the cost of . . . closeness and dependency is limited choice. No education beyond eighth grade. Few career options for guys, none besides homemaker for girls. For the Amish and minimites, one's fulfillment must blossom inside the traditional confines of a farmer, tradesman, or housewife. But not everyone is born to be a farmer. Not every human is ideally matched to the rhythms of horse and corn and seasons and the eternal close inspection of village conformity. Where in the Amish scheme of things is the support for a mathematical genius or a person who might spend all day composing new music?


Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.

(Note: ellipses added.)






June 24, 2013

We Should Disenthrall Ourselves of False Scientific Certainties



An Optimists Tour of the Future CoverBK2013-06-21.jpg
















Source of book image: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-ELpfH2bTO7c/Tb53WpKuDxI/AAAAAAAADrE/Zq8BQiiasJc/s640/An+Optimists+Tour+of+the+Future+Cover.jpg



(p. C4) Among the scientific certainties I have had to unlearn: that upbringing strongly shapes your personality; that nurture is the opposite of nature; that dietary fat causes obesity more than dietary carbohydrate; that carbon dioxide has been the main driver of climate change in the past.

I came across a rather good word for this kind of unlearning--"disenthrall"--in Mark Stevenson's book "An Optimist's Tour of the Future," published just this week. Mr. Stevenson borrows it from Abraham Lincoln, whose 1862 message to Congress speaks of disenthralling ourselves of "the dogmas of the quiet past" in order to "think anew."

Mr. Stevenson's disenthrallment comes in the course of a series of sharp and fascinating interviews with technological innovators and scientific visionaries. This disenthralls him of the pessimism about the future and nostalgia about the past that he barely realized he had and whose "fingers reach deep into [his] soul." It eventually turns him into an optimist almost as ludicrously sanguine about the 21st century as I am: "I steadfastly refuse to believe that human society can't grow, improve and learn; that it can't embrace change and remake the world better."

Along the way, Mr. Stevenson is struck by other examples of how the way he thinks and reasons is "in thrall to a world that is passing." The first of these bad habits is linear thinking about the future. . . .

We expect to see changes coming gradually, but because things like computing power or the cheapness of genome sequencing change exponentially, technologies can go from impossible to cheap quite suddenly and with little warning.



For the full commentary, see:

MATT RIDLEY. "MIND & MATTER; A Key Lesson of Adulthood: The Need to Unlearn." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., February 5, 2011): C4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)


The book praised by Ridley, in the passages quoted above, is:

Stevenson, Mark. An Optimist's Tour of the Future: One Curious Man Sets out to Answer "What's Next?". New York: Avery, 2011.






June 21, 2013

Amish "Are Big Boosters of Genetically Modified Corn"



(p. 222) The Amish use disposable diapers (why not?), chemical fertilizers, and pesticides, and they are big boosters of genetically modified corn. In Europe this corn is called Frankenfood. I asked a few of the Amish elders about that last one. Why do they plant GMOs? Well, they reply, corn is susceptible to the corn borer, which nibbles away at the bottom of the stem and occasionally topples the stalk. Modern 500-horsepower harvesters don't notice this fall; they just suck up all the material and spit out the corn into a bin. The Amish harvest their corn semimanually. It's cut by a chopper device and then pitched into a thresher. But if there are a lot of stalks that are broken, they have to be pitched by hand. That is a lot of very hard, sweaty work. So they plant Bt corn. This genetic mutant carries the genes of the corn borer's enemy, Bacillus thuringiensis, which produces a toxin deadly to the corn borer. Fewer stalks are broken and the harvest can be aided with machines, so yields are up. One elder Amish man whose sons run his farm said he was too old to be pitching heavy, broken cornstalks, and he told his sons that he'd only help them with the harvest if they planted Bt corn. The alternative was to purchase expensive, modern harvesting equipment, which none of them wanted. So the technology of genetically modified crops allowed the Amish to continue using old, well-proven, debt-free equipment, which accomplished their main goal of keeping the family farm together. They did not use these words, but they made it clear that they considered genetically modified crops appropriate technology for family farms.


Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.

(Note: italics in original.)






June 20, 2013

Nate Silver "Chides Environmental Activists for Their Certainty"



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Source of book image: http://si.wsj.net/public/resources/images/OB-US032_bkrvno_GV_20120924132722.jpg






(p. 12) In recent years, the most sophisticated global-warming skeptics have seized on errors in the forecasts of the United Nations' International Panel on Climate Change (I.P.C.C.) in order to undermine efforts at greenhouse gas reduction. These skeptics note that global temperatures have increased at only about half the rate the I.P.C.C. predicted in 1990, and that they flatlined in the 2000s (albeit after rising sharply in the late '90s).

Silver runs the numbers to show that the past few decades of data are still highly consistent with the hypothesis of man-made global warming. He shows how, at the rate that carbon dioxide is accumulating, a single decade of flat temperatures is hardly invalidating. On the other hand, Silver demonstrates that projecting temperature increases decades into the future is a dicey proposition. He chides some environmental activists for their certainty -- observing that overambitious predictions can undermine a cause when they don't come to pass . . .



For the full review, see:

NOAM SCHEIBER. "Known Unknowns." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., November 4, 2012): 12.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 2, 2012.)


The book under review, is:

Silver, Nate. The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail -- but Some Don't. New York: The Penguin Press, 2012.






June 17, 2013

Amish Factory Uses Pneumatics in Place of Electricity



(p. 219) The Amish also make a distinction between technology they have at work and technology they have at home. I remember an early visit to an Amish man who ran a woodworking shop near Lancaster, Pennsylvania. . . .


. . .


(p. 220) While the rest of his large workshop lacked electricity beyond that naked bulb, it did not lack power machines. The place was vibrating with an ear-cracking racket of power sanders, power saws, power planers, power drills, and so on. Everywhere I turned there were bearded men covered in sawdust pushing wood through screaming machines. This was not a circle of Renaissance craftsman hand-tooling masterpieces. This was a small-time factory cranking out wooden furniture with machine power. But where was the power coming from? Not from windmills.

Amos took me around to the back where a huge SUV-sized diesel generator sat. It was massive. In addition to a gas engine there was a very large tank, which, I learned, stored compressed air. The diesel engine burned petroleum fuel to drive the compressor that filled the reservoir with pressure. From the tank, a series of high-pressure pipes snaked off toward every corner of the factory. A hard rubber flexible hose connected each tool to a pipe. The entire shop ran on compressed air. Every piece of machinery was running on pneumatic power. Amos even showed me a pneumatic switch, which he could flick like a light switch to turn on some paint-drying fans running on air.

The Amish call this pneumatic system "Amish electricity." At first, pneumatics were devised for Amish workshops, but air power was seen as so useful that it migrated to Amish households. In fact, there is an entire cottage industry in retrofitting tools and appliances to run on Amish electricity. The retrofitters buy a heavy-duty blender, say, and yank out the electrical motor. They then substitute an air-powered motor of appropriate size, add pneumatic connectors, and bingo, your Amish mom now has a blender in her electricity-less kitchen. You can get a pneumatic sewing machine and a pneumatic washer/dryer (with propane heat). In a display of pure steam-punk (air-punk?) nerdiness, Amish hackers try to outdo one another in building pneumatic versions of electrified contraptions. Their mechanical skill is quite impressive, particularly since none went to school beyond the eighth grade. They (p. 221) love to show off their geekiest hacks. And every tinkerer I met claimed that pneumatics were superior to electrical devices because air was more powerful and durable, outlasting motors that burned out after a few years of hard labor. I don't know if this claim of superiority is true or merely a justification, but it was a constant refrain.



Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.

(Note: ellipses added.)






June 16, 2013

Behind the Iron Curtain, Those Who Opposed "Were to Be Destroyed by "Cutting Them Off Like Slices of Salami""



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Source of book image: http://www.opednews.com/populum/uploaded/iron-curtain-20882-20130113-95.jpg



(p. 16) That Soviet tanks carried Moscow-trained agents into Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and East Germany was known in the West at the time and has been well documented since. When those agents set out to produce not only a friendly sphere of Soviet influence but also a cordon of dictatorships reliably responsive to Russian orders, Winston Churchill was moved to warn, just days after the Nazis' surrender in 1945, that an Iron Curtain was being drawn through the heart of Europe. (He coined the metaphor in a message to President Truman a full year before he used it in public in Fulton, Mo.) And Matyas Rakosi, the "little Stalin" of Hungary, was well known for another apt metaphor, describing how the region's political, economic, cultural and social oppositions were to be destroyed by "cutting them off like slices of salami."

Applebaum tracks the salami slicing as typically practiced in Poland, Hungary and Germany, and serves up not only the beef but also the fat, vinegar and garlic in exhausting detail. She shows how the knives were sharpened before the war's end in Soviet training camps for East European Communists, so that trusted agents could create and control secret police forces in each of the "liberated" nations. She shows how reliable operatives then took charge of all radio broadcasting, the era's most powerful mass medium. And she demonstrates how the Soviet stooges could then, with surprising speed, harass, persecute and finally ban all independent institutions, from youth groups and welfare agencies to schools, churches and rival political parties.

Along the way, millions of Germans, Poles, Ukrainians and Hungarians were ruthlessly driven from their historic homes to satisfy Soviet territorial ambitions. Millions more were deemed opponents and beaten, imprisoned or hauled off to hard labor in Siberia. In Stalin's paranoid sphere, not even total control of economic and cultural life was sufficient. To complete the terror, he purged even the Communist leaders of each satellite regime, accusing them of treason and parading them as they made humiliating confessions.

It is good to be reminded of these sordid events, now that more archives are accessible and some witnesses remain alive to recall the horror.



For the full review, see:

MAX FRANKEL. "Stalin's Shadow." The New York Times (Sun., November 25, 2012): 16.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 21, 2012.)


The book under review, is:

Applebaum, Anne. Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956. New York: Doubleday, 2012.






June 13, 2013

If Anarcho-Primitives Destroy Civilization, Billions of City-Dwellers Will Die



(p. 211) . . . , the . . . problem with destroying civilization as we know it is that the alternative, such as it has been imagined by the self-described "haters of civilization," would not support but a fraction of the people alive today. In other words, the collapse of civilization would kill billions. Ironically, the poorest rural inhabitants would fare the best, as they could retreat to hunting and gathering with the least trouble, but billions of urbanites would die within months or even weeks, once food ran out and disease took over. The anarcho-primitives are rather sanguine about this catastrophe, arguing that accelerating the collapse early might save lives in total.


Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.

(Note: ellipses added.)






June 12, 2013

Patents Turned Steam from Toy to Engine



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Source of book image: http://img2.imagesbn.com/p/9781400067053_p0_v1_s260x420.JPG



(p. 20) The obvious audience for Rosen's book consists of those who hunger to know what it took to go from Heron of Alexandria's toy engine, created in the first century A.D., to practical and brawny beasts like George and Robert Stephenson's Rocket, which kicked off the age of steam locomotion in 1829. But Rosen is aiming for more than a fan club of steam geeks. The "most powerful idea" of his title is not an early locomotive: "The Industrial Revolution was, first and foremost, a revolution in invention," he writes, "a radical transformation in the process of invention itself." The road to Rocket was built with hundreds of innovations large and small that helped drain the mines, run the mills, and move coal and then people over rails.


. . .


Underlying it all, Rosen argues, was the recognition that ideas themselves have economic value, which is to say, this book isn't just gearhead wonkery, it's legal wonkery too. Abraham Lincoln, wondering why Heron's steam engine languished, claimed that the patent system "added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius." Rosen agrees, offering a forceful argument in the debate, which has gone on for centuries, over whether patents promote innovation or retard it.

Those who believe passionately, as Thomas Jefferson did, that inventions "cannot, in nature, be a subject of property," are unlikely to be convinced. Those who agree with the inventors James Watt and Richard Arkwright, who wrote in a manuscript that "an engineer's life without patent is not worthwhile," will cheer. Either way, Rosen's presentation of this highly intellectual debate will reward even those readers who never wondered how the up-and-down chugging of a piston is converted into consistent rotary motion.



For the full review, see:

JOHN SCHWARTZ. "Steam-Driven Dreams." The New York Times (Sun., August 29, 2010): 20.

(Note: ellipsis added; italicized words in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date August 26, 2010.)


The book under review, is:

Rosen, William. The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention. New York: Random House, 2010.






June 10, 2013

After Failing to Enslave Indians, Starving Jamestown Colonists Ate 14-Year-Old Girl



JamestownFourteenYearOldCannibalized2013-05-14.jpg








"A facial reconstruction of a 14-year-old girl whose skull shows signs that her remains were used for food after her death and burial." Source of caption and image: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



Acemoglu and Robinson in the long, but thought-provoking, opening chapter of their Why Nations Fail book, discuss starvation at the Jamestown colony. Only they don't mainly attribute it to a harsh winter or a slow rescue from England, as does the article quoted below (it is from the New York Times, after all).

Economists Acemoglu and Robinson (p. 23) instead criticize the colony's initial plan to thrive by enslaving natives to bring them gold and food. Eventually John Smith made the bold suggestion that the colonists should try to work to produce something to eat or to trade. The rulers of the colony ignored Smith, resulting in starvation and cannibalism.



(p. A11) Archaeologists excavating a trash pit at the Jamestown colony site in Virginia have found the first physical evidence of cannibalism among the desperate population, corroborating written accounts left behind by witnesses. Cut marks on the skull and skeleton of a 14-year-old girl show that her flesh and brain were removed, presumably to be eaten by the starving colonists during the harsh winter of 1609.

The remains were excavated by archaeologists led by William Kelso of Preservation Virginia, a private nonprofit group, and analyzed by Douglas Owsley, a physical anthropologist at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington. The skull bears tentative cuts to the forehead, followed by four strikes to the back of the head, one of which split the skull open, according to an article in Smithsonian magazine, where the find was reported Wednesday.

It is unclear how the girl died, but she was almost certainly dead and buried before her remains were butchered. According to a letter written in 1625 by George Percy, president of Jamestown during the starvation period, the famine was so intense "thatt notheinge was Spared to mainteyne Lyfe and to doe those things which seame incredible, as to digge upp deade corpes outt of graves and to eate them."



For the full story, see:

NICHOLAS WADE. "Girl's Bones Bear Signs of Cannibalism by Starving Virginia Colonists." The New York Times (Thurs., May 2, 2013): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 1, 2013.)



The Acemoglu book mentioned above is:

Acemoglu, Daron, and James Robinson. Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty. New York: Crown Business, 2012.



JamestownBonesShowCannibalism2013-05-14.jpg "Human remains from the Jamestown colony site in Virginia bearing evidence of cannibalism." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.






June 9, 2013

Moore's Law: Inevitable or Intel?




I believe that Moore's Law remained true for a long time, not because it was inevitable, but because an exemplary company worked very hard and effectively to make it true.


(p. 159) In brief, Moore's Law predicts that computing chips will shrink by half in size and cost every 18 to 24 months. For the past 50 years it has been astoundingly correct.

It has been steady and true, but does Moore's Law reveal an imperative in the technium? In other words is Moore's Law in some way inevitable? The answer is pivotal for civilization for several reasons. First, Moore's Law represents the acceleration in computer technology, which is accelerating everything else. Faster jet engines don't lead to higher corn yields, nor do better lasers lead to faster drug discoveries, but faster computer chips lead to all of these. These days all technology follows computer technology. Second, finding inevitability in one key area of technology suggests invariance and directionality may be found in the
rest of the technium.



Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.






June 8, 2013

The Eccentric History of How Bureaucratic Paper-Pushing Drives Clerks Crazy



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Source of book image: http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1360928417l/15904345.jpg




(p. C4) If paperwork studies have an unofficial standard-bearer and theoretician, it's Mr. Kafka. In "The Demon of Writing" he lays out a concise if eccentric intellectual history of people's relationship with the paperwork that governs (and gums up) so many aspects of modern life. The rise of modern bureaucracy is a well-established topic in sociology and political science, where it is often related as a tale of increasing order and rationality. But the paper's-eye view championed by Mr. Kafka tells a more chaotic story of things going wrong, or at least getting seriously messy.

It's an idea that makes perfect sense to any modern cubicle dweller whose overflowing desk stands as a rebuke to the utopian promise of the paperless office. But Mr. Kafka traces the modern age of paperwork to the French Revolution and the Declaration of the Rights of Man, which guaranteed citizens the right to request a full accounting of the government. An explosion of paper followed, along with jokes, gripes and tirades against the indignity of rule by paper-pushing clerks, a fair number of whom, judging from the stories in Mr. Kafka's book, went mad.



For the full story, see:

JENNIFER SCHUESSLER. "The Paper Trail Through History." The New York Times (Mon., December 17, 2012): C1 & C4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date December 16, 2012.)


Kafka's book, mentioned above, is:

Kafka, Ben. The Demon of Writing: Powers and Failures of Paperwork. Cambridge, Mass.: Zone Books, 2012.



KafkaBenAuthor2013-05-13.jpg "Ben Kafka, author of "The Demon of Writing: Powers and Failures of Paperwork."" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.






June 5, 2013

Early Societies Were Violent, Superstitious and Unfair



(p. 89) Human nature is malleable. We use our minds to change our values, expectations, and definition of ourselves. We have changed our nature since our hominin days, and once changed, we will continue to change ourselves even more. Our inventions, such as language, writing, law, and science, have ignited a level of progress that is so fundamental and embedded in the present that we now naively expect to see similar good things in the past as well. But much of what we consider "civil" or even "humane" was absent long ago. Early societies were not peaceful but rife with warfare. One of the most common causes of adult death in tribal societies was to be declared a witch or evil spirit. No rational evidence was needed for these superstitious accusations. Lethal atrocities for infractions within a clan were the norm; fairness, as we might think of it, did not extend outside the immediate tribe. Rampant inequality among genders and physical advantage for the strong guided a type of justice few modern people would want applied to them.


Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.






June 4, 2013

Edison, Not Muybridge, Remains the Father of Hollywood



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






(p. A13) Wish it though we might, this strangely off-center Briton isn't really the Father of Hollywood, nor even a distant progenitor of "Avatar." The famous time-lapse images that he took for Stanford, proving that a horse does take all four hoofs off the ground while galloping--and the tens of thousands of photographs that he went on to make of birds flying and people sneezing or bending over and picking things up--were soon so comprehensively overtaken by newer technologies (lenses, shutters, celluloid) that his stature as a proto-movie-maker was soon reduced to a way-station. His contribution was technically interesting but hardly seminal at all. The tragic reality is that Thomas Edison, with whom Muybridge was friendly enough to propose collaboration, retains the laurels--though, as Mr. Ball points out with restrained politeness, Muybridge might have fared better had he been aware of Edison's reputation for "borrowing the work of others and not returning it."


For the full review, see:

SIMON WINCHESTER. "BOOKSHELF; Lights, Camera, Murder; The time-lapse photos Muybridge took in the 19th century were technically innovative, but they didn't make him the Father of Hollywood." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., February 6, 2013): A13.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date February 6, 2013.)


The book under review is:

Ball, Edward. The Inventor and the Tycoon: A Gilded Age Murder and the Birth of Moving Pictures. New York: Doubleday, 2013.






June 2, 2013

Tesla CTO Straubel Likes Biography of Tesla



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J.B. Straubel, Chief Technology Officer of Tesla Motors. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.






(p. 2) J. B. Straubel is a founder and the chief technical officer of Tesla Motors in Palo Alto, Calif. The company makes electric vehicles that some compare to Apple products in terms of obsessive attention to design, intuitive user interface and expense.



READING I like to read biographies of interesting people, mostly scientists and engineers. Right now, it's "Steve Jobs," by Walter Isaacson. One of my favorites biographies was "Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla," by Marc Seifer, which I read even before Tesla Motors started.


. . .


WATCHING I really like the movie "October Sky." It's about a guy who grew up in a little coal-mining town around the time of Sputnik. He fell in love with the idea of building rockets and the movie follows him through his high school years when he's building rockets and eventually he ends up becoming an engineer at NASA. I watch it every year or so. It's inspirational. I always come out of it wanting to work harder.



For the full interview, see:

KATE MURPHY. "DOWNLOAD; J. B. Straubel." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., April 7, 2013): 2.

(Note: ellipsis added; bold in original.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date April 6, 2013.)






June 1, 2013

Cities Provide Children "Options for Their Future"



(p. 85) As Suketu Mehta, author of Maximum City (about Mumbai), says, "Why would anyone leave a brick house in the village with its two mango trees and its view of small hills in the East to come here?" Then he answers: "So that someday the eldest son can buy two rooms in Mira Road, at the northern edges of the city. And the younger one can move beyond that, to New Jersey. Discomfort is an investment."

Then Mehta continues: "For the young person in an Indian village, the call of Mumbai isn't just about money. It's also about freedom." Stewart Brand recounts this summation of the magnetic pull of cities by activist Kavita Ramdas: "In the village, all there is for a woman is to obey her husband and relatives, pound millet, and sing. If she moves to town, she can get a job, start a business, and get education for her children." The Bedouin of Arabia were once seemingly the freest people on Earth, roaming the great Empty Quarter at will, under a tent of stars and no one's thumb. But they are rapidly quitting their nomadic life and (p. 86) hustling into drab, concrete-block apartments in exploding Gulf-state ghettos. As reported by Donovan Webster in National Geographic, they stable their camels and goats in their ancestral village, because the bounty and attraction of the herder's life still remain for them. The Bedouin are lured, not pushed, to the city because, in their own words: "We can always go into the desert to taste the old life. But this [new] life is better than the old way. Before there was no medical care, no schools for our children." An eighty-year-old Bedouin chief sums it up better than I could: "The children will have more options for their future."



Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.

(Note: italics, an bracketed "new," in original.)






May 31, 2013

Paul Allen's Account of the Founding of Microsoft



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Source of book image: http://www.entrepreneur.com/dbimages/slideshow/idea-man-paul-allen.jpg



(p. C6) The first half of "Idea Man" sets forth Mr. Allen's version of the Microsoft creation myth, depicting Mr. Gates as a petulant, ambitious and money-minded mogul-to-be and Mr. Allen as an underappreciated visionary. Pictures of them from the 1970s and early '80s also tell this story, making Mr. Allen look like a hirsute, powerful older brother and Mr. Gates like a kid.


. . .


"Idea Man" is long overdue. It turns out to be as remote, yet as surpassingly strange, as its author, whose receipt of a diagnosis of Stage 4 non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2009 has made it that much more important for him to tell his story. Though it is written in the smoothly proficient style of many a collaborator-assisted memoir, it is a book filled with wild extremes: breakthrough, breakup, power, indulgence, blue-sky innovation. And it winds up offering Mr. Allen's guarded, partial answer to a universal question: what if you could make your wildest dreams come true?



For the full review, see:

JANET MASLIN. "BOOKS OF THE TIMES; The Reclusive Other Half of Microsoft's Odd Couple Breaks His Silence." The New York Times (Tues., April 19, 2011): C6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date April 18, 2011.)


The book under review is:

Allen, Paul. Idea Man: A Memoir by the Cofounder of Microsoft. New York: Portfolio, 2011.






May 28, 2013

Modern Cities Are "Successful Former Slums" that Allowed "Vibrant Economic Activity"



(p. 82) Babylon, London, and New York all had teeming ghettos of unwanted settlers erecting shoddy shelters with inadequate hygiene and engaging in dodgy dealings. Historian Bronislaw Geremek states that "slums constituted a large part of the urban landscape" of Paris in the Middle Ages. Even by the 1780s, when Paris was at its peak, nearly 20 percent of its residents did not have a "fixed abode"--that is, they lived in shacks. In a familiar complaint about medieval French cities, a gentleman from that time noted: "Several families inhabit one house. A (p. 83) weaver's family may be crowded into a single room, where they huddle around a fireplace." That refrain is repeated throughout history. A century ago Manhattan was home to 20,000 squatters in self-made housing. Slab City alone, in Brooklyn (named after the use of planks stolen from lumber mills), contained 10,000 residents in its slum at its peak in the 1880s. In the New York slums, reported the New York Times in 1858, "nine out of ten of the shanties have only one room, which does not average over twelve feet square, and this serves all the purposes of the family."

San Francisco was built by squatters. As Rob Neuwirth recounts in his eye-opening book Shadow Cities, one survey in 1855 estimated that "95 percent of the property holders in [San Francisco] would not be able to produce a bona fide legal title to their land." Squatters were everywhere, in the marshes, sand dunes, military bases. One eyewitness said, "Where there was a vacant piece of ground one day, the next saw it covered with half a dozen tents or shanties." Philadelphia was largely settled by what local papers called "squatlers." As late as 1940, one in five citizens in Shanghai was a squatter. Those one million squatters stayed and kept upgrading their slum so that within one generation their shantytown became one of the first twenty-first-century cities.

That's how it works. This is how all technology works. A gadget begins as a junky prototype and then progresses to something that barely works. The ad hoc shelters in slums are upgraded over time, infrastructure is extended, and eventually makeshift services become official. What was once the home of poor hustlers becomes, over the span of generations, the home of rich hustlers. Propagating slums is what cities do, and living in slums is how cities grow. The majority of neighborhoods in almost every modern city are merely successful former slums. The squatter cities of today will become the blue-blood neighborhoods of tomorrow. This is already happening in Rio and Mumbai today.

Slums of the past and slums of today follow the same description. The first impression is and was one of filth and overcrowding. In a ghetto a thousand years ago and in a slum today shelters are haphazard and dilapidated. The smells are overwhelming. But there is vibrant economic activity.



Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.

(Note: italics, and bracketed "San Francisco" in original.)






May 27, 2013

How Electricity Matters for Life



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Source of book image:
http://media.npr.org/assets/bakertaylor/covers/t/the-spark-of-life/9780393078039_custom-86637e64da2201ed3081e0f26f40e0d139cbbf9d-s6-c10.jpg




(p. C9) Top-drawer scientists always are excited about their field, but many have difficulty conveying this to a general audience. Not so Frances Ashcroft. She is a distinguished physiologist at Oxford University whose work has provided crucial insight into how insulin secretion is connected to electrical activity in cells. Her research has meant that children born with one form of diabetes can control it using oral medication instead of regular and painful insulin injections.

After Ms. Ashcroft made her breakthrough in 1984, she felt as if she were "dancing in the air, shot high into the sky on the rocket of excitement with the stars exploding in vivid colours all around me," she writes in her engaging and informative "The Spark of Life: Electricity in the Human Body." Even today, thinking of it "sends excitement fizzing through my veins."

Like so much else in our bodies, insulin secretion depends on crucial proteins in the cell walls that regulate the flow of ions (electrically charged atoms or molecules) between the interior of the cell and the fluids that surround it. The ions, mostly sodium, potassium and calcium, literally provide "the spark of life." Ms. Ashcroft uses her research into cellular "ion channels" as an overture to a rich and stimulating account of how electricity and the varied ways in which animals and plants produce it explain so much of evolutionary biology.


. . .


. . . all of Ms. Ashcroft's themes and variations represent facets of the same underlying ionic mechanism. In describing its wonders, she has produced a gem that sparkles.



For the full review, see:

WILLIAM BYNUM. "Singing the Body Electric." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., September 29, 2012): C9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date September 28, 2012.)



The book under review, is:

Ashcroft, Frances. The Spark of Life: Electricity in the Human Body. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2012.






May 24, 2013

Technology Brings Choices and Control, Which Brings Happiness



(p. 78) For the past 30 years the conventional wisdom has been that once a person achieves a minimal standard of living, more money does not bring more happiness. If you live below a certain income threshold, increased money makes a difference, but after that, it doesn't buy happiness. That was the conclusion of a now-classic study by Richard Easterlin in 1974. However, recent research from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania shows that worldwide, affluence brings increased satisfaction. Higher income earners are happier. Citizens in higher-earning countries tend to be more satisfied on average.

My interpretation of this newest research--which also matches our intuitive impressions--is that what money brings is increased choices, rather than merely increased stuff (although more stuff comes with the territory). We don't find happiness in more gadgets and experiences. We do find happiness in having some control of our time and work, a chance for real leisure, in the escape from the uncertainties of war, poverty, and corruption, and in a chance to pursue individual freedoms--all of which come with increased affluence.

I've been to many places in the world, the poorest and the richest spots, the oldest and the newest cities, the fastest and the slowest cultures, and it is my observation that when given a chance, people who walk will buy a bicycle, people who ride a bike will get a scooter, people riding a scooter will upgrade to a car, and those with a car dream of a plane. Farmers everywhere trade their ox plows for tractors, their gourd bowls for tin ones, their sandals for shoes. Always. Insignificantly few ever go back. The exceptions such as the well-known Amish are not so exceptional when examined closely, for even their communities adopt selected technology without retreat.



Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.

(Note: italics in original.)






May 23, 2013

Wealth from Innovation Is Nobler than Wealth from Litigation



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Source of book image: http://ww4.hdnux.com/photos/15/60/06/3604871/3/628x471.jpg




(p. C7) In business, Green routinely sued her competitors. . . .


. . .


It was precisely Green's vision of life as a zero-sum game, a match between enemies, that proved her flaw. She appreciated the idea that dollars compound, but she never seemed to grasp that the compounding of ideas, innovation, is just as important, that in certain, non-litigious, environments ideas "fructify," to use a period verb. Litigation like Green's prevented the kind of innovation in which she might have wanted to invest. Wealth is created when Apple beats Samsung, but more wealth is created when Apple comes up with a new phone.



For the full review, see:

AMITY SHLAES. "Quarrelsome Queen of the Gilded Age." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., September 29, 2012): C7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date September 28, 2012.)



The book under review, is:

Wallach, Janet. The Richest Woman in America: Hetty Green in the Gilded Age. New York: Nan A. Talese, 2012.






May 20, 2013

"Lowest-Paid Burger Flipper" Is "Better Off than King Henry"



(p. 76) After going from room to room, skipping none except the garage (that would be a project in itself), we arrived at a total of 6,000 varieties of things in our house. Since we have multiple examples of some varieties, such as books, CDs, paper plates, spoons, socks, on so on, I estimate the total number of objects in our home, including the garage, to be close to 10,000.

Without trying very hard, our typical modern house holds a king's ransom. But in fact, we are wealthier than King Henry. In fact, the lowest-paid burger flipper working at McDonald's is in many respects (p. 77) better off than King Henry or any of the richest people living not too long ago. Although the burger flipper barely makes enough to pay the rent, he or she can afford many things that King Henry could not. King Henry's wealth--the entire treasure of England--could not have purchased an indoor flush toilet or air-conditioning or secured a comfortable ride for 500 kilometers. Any taxicab driver can afford these today. Only 100 years ago, John Rockefeller's vast fortune as the world's richest man could not have gotten him the cell phone that any untouchable street sweeper in Bombay now uses. In the first half of the 19th century Nathan Rothschild was the richest man in the world. His millions were not enough to buy an antibiotic. Rothschild died of an infected abscess that could have been cured with a three-dollar tube of neomycin today. Although King Henry had some fine clothes and a lot of servants, you could not pay people today to live as he did, without plumbing, in dark, drafty rooms, isolated from the world by impassable roads and few communication connections. A poor university student living in a dingy dorm room in Jakarta lives better in most ways than King Henry.



Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.






May 19, 2013

Cooking Allowed the Toothless to Live



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Source of book image: http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1344733081l/13587130.jpg




(p. C12) . . . the narrative, ragtag though it may be, is a good one and it starts with the single greatest achievement in cookware--the cooking pot. Originally made of clay, this simple invention allowed previously inedible foods to be cooked in water, a process that removed toxins, made them digestible and reduced the need for serious chewing, a deadly problem for the toothless. (Archaeologists find adult skeletons without teeth only at sites dating from after the invention of the cooking pot.)


. . .


When "Consider the Fork" turns to cultural history, Ms. Wilson's points sometimes contradict one another. On one hand, she slyly condemns the rich throughout history and their use of cheap cooking labor. Yet she also relates how the Lebanese writer Anissa Helou remembers kibbé being made in Beirut by her mother and grandmother: They pounded the lamb in a mortar and pestle for an hour, a process described in loving terms. So is cooking labor a bedrock of family values or class exploitation?



For the full review, see:

CHRISTOPHER KIMBALL. "The World on a Plate." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., October 6, 2012): C12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date October 5, 2012.)



The book under review, is:

Wilson, Bee. Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat. New York: Basic Books, 2012.






May 16, 2013

New Technology Gets Better, Cheaper and More Diverse



(p. 75) Devices not only get better, they also get cheaper while they get better. We turn around to peer through our window into the past and realize there wasn't window glass back then. The past also lacked machine-woven cloth, refrigerators, steel, photographs, and the entire warehouse of goods spilling into the aisles of our local superstore. We can trace this cornucopia back along a diminishing curve to the Neolithic era. Craft from ancient times can surprise us in its sophistication, but in sheer quantity, variety, and complexity, it pales against modern inventions. The proof of this is clear: We buy the new over the old. Given the choice between an old-fashioned tool and a new one, most people--in the past as well as now--would grab the newer one. A very few will collect old tools, but as big as eBay is, and flea markets anywhere in the world, they are dwarfed by the market of the new. But if the new is not really better, and we keep reaching for it, then we are consistently duped or consistently dumb. The more likely reason we seek the new is that new things do get better. And of course there are more new things to choose from.


Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.






May 15, 2013

Were Phone Phreaks Creative Incipient Entrepreneurs or Destructive "Sophomoric Savants"?



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Source of book image: http://img1.imagesbn.com/p/9780802120618_p0_v2_s260x420.JPG



(p. C6) Mr. Lapsley also describes John Draper, aka Captain Crunch, who was probably the most celebrated of the phreakers; his nickname derived from the fact that whistles that used to come in Cap'n Crunch cereal boxes happened to generate the key 2600-Hz tone used in long-distance switching. . . .

The phone-phreak netherworld was introduced to a mass audience by the October 1971 issue of Esquire magazine, which included what has to be (at least indirectly) one of the most influential articles ever written: Ron Rosenbaum's "Secrets of the Little Blue Box." Not only did it turn phreakers into folk heroes, but it inspired two young men, Steve Wozniak (who provided the foreword for this book) and Steve Jobs, to construct and sell blue boxes. Going door to door in Berkeley dorms, they managed to sell several dozen at $170 each. The "two Steves" savored this mix of clever engineering and entrepreneurial hustle: As Mr. Lapsley quotes Jobs saying: "If we hadn't made blue boxes, there would have been no Apple." (Mr. Rosenbaum's article also put the "phreak" into "phone phreak.")

. . .: By the 1980s, computerized phone systems and fiber-optic cables rendered many of the old phreaking modes obsolete. In addition, I can't help suspecting that the breakup of AT&T in 1984--the result of an antitrust lawsuit filed by the federal government--deeply discouraged the hard-core phreaks. Surreptitiously penetrating one of the shriveled new regional phone companies must have seemed a paltry caper compared with taking on mighty, majestic AT&T.


. . .


I must, however, take issue with one of Mr. Lapsley's conclusions. In reflecting on the phreaks' legacy, he writes: "The phone phreaks taught us that there is a societal benefit to tolerating, perhaps even nurturing (in the words of Apple) the crazy ones--the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers." Is that truly what they taught us? . . .

Wilt Chamberlain supposedly once said that "nobody roots for Goliath." Perhaps. But the lesson to be learned from those waging guerrilla war against giants like the phone company and the Internet is that sophomoric savants who tamper with society's indispensable systems ultimately harm all too many innocent people.



For the full review, see:

HOWARD SCHNEIDER. "BOOKSHELF; Playing Tricks on Ma Bell." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., February 2, 2013): C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date February 1, 2013.)



The book under review, is:

Lapsley, Phil. Exploding the Phone: The Untold Story of the Teenagers and Outlaws Who Hacked Ma Bell. New York: Grove Press, 2013.






May 12, 2013

Knowledge Economy Migrating to Intangible Goods and Services



(p. 67) Our present economic migration from a material-based industry to a knowledge economy of intangible goods (such as software, design, and media products) is just the latest in a steady move toward the immaterial. (Not that material processing has let up, just that intangible processing is now more economically valuable.) Richard Fisher, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, says, "Data from nearly all parts of the world show us that consumers tend to spend relatively less on goods and more on services as their incomes rise. . . . Once people have met their basic needs, they tend to want medical care, transportation and communication, information, recreation, entertainment, financial and legal advice, and the like." The disembodiment of value (more value, less mass) is a steady trend in the technium. In six years the average weight per dollar of U.S. exports (the most valuable things the U.S. produces) (p. 68) dropped by half. Today, 40 percent of U.S. exports are services (intangibles) rather than manufactured goods (atoms). We are steadily substituting intangible design, flexibility, innovation, and smartness for rigid, heavy atoms. In a very real sense our entry into a service- and idea-based economy is a continuation of a trend that began at the big bang.


Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.

(Note: ellipsis in original; a graph is omitted that appears in the middle of the paragraph quoted above.)






May 11, 2013

The Process of Picking a Pope



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Source of book image: http://yalepress.yale.edu/yupbooks/images/full13/9780300115970.jpg



(p. C3) The popes appointed by the German Holy Roman Emperor Henry III in the early 11th century were . . . unconventional but . . . edifying. Determined to purge the corruptions of Rome, Henry personally appointed four outstanding popes, reformers to a man, all of them Germans. The greatest of them, St. Leo IX (1049-1054), arrived in Rome as a barefoot pilgrim and was the first pope to travel widely through Europe, stirring local bishops to tackle corruption and undertake renewal.

Henry III's German popes ended the tradition that the Bishop of Rome had to be a local man, and medieval conclaves chose popes from the small but international College of Cardinals. Exceptions to this rule were seldom a success.

The most notorious case was St. Celestine V (1294), an 85-year-old hermit and visionary from Naples chosen in the hope that an "angelic Pope" would free the papacy from its financial and political entanglements. But the old man was hopelessly incompetent and easily swayed by forceful politicians. After only six months, he was badgered into resigning by Cardinal Benedetto Caetani, who succeeded him as Boniface VIII and promptly imprisoned him.

The experiment of electing a non-cardinal was tried again in 1378. After a run of seven French popes based in Avignon, the Roman mob demanded an Italian. Sixteen terrified cardinals obliged by electing Urban VI. A distinguished administrator as Archbishop of Bari, Urban VI was unhinged by his elevation. Aggressively paranoid, he alienated all supporters and appears to have murdered five of his cardinals. The French cardinals elected a rival pope, who returned to Avignon, starting a schism that would last a generation.



For the full commentary, see:

EAMON DUFFY. "When Picking A Pope Was A Perilous Affair." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., February 16, 2013): C3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date February 15, 2013.)



Duffy's related book, is:

Duffy, Eamon. Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes. Third ed., Yale Nota Bene. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006.






May 8, 2013

You Can Buy a New Flint Knife or Stone Ax



(p. 55) Let's take the oldest technology of all: a flint knife or stone ax. Well, it turns out you can buy a brand-new flint knife, flaked by hand and carefully attached to an antler-horn handle by tightly wound leather straps. In every respect it is precisely the same technology as a flint knife made 30,000 years ago. It's yours for fifty dollars, available from more than one website. In the highlands of New Guinea, tribesmen were making stone axes for their own use until the 1960s. They still make stone axes the same way for tourists now. And stone-ax aficionados study them. There is an unbroken chain of knowledge that has kept this Stone Age technology alive. Today, in the United States alone, there are 5,000 amateurs who knap fresh arrowhead points by hand. They meet on weekends, exchange tips in flint-knapping clubs, and sell their points to souvenir brokers. John Whittaker, a professional archaeologist and flint knapper himself, has studied these amateurs and estimates that they produce over one million brand-new spear and arrow points per year. These new points are indistinguishable, even to experts like Whittaker, from authentic ancient ones.


Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.






May 7, 2013

Imagining Oscar Wilde's 1882 Visit to Omaha



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Source of image: http://images.amazon.com/images/P/1451617585.01.LZZZZZZZ.jpg



(p. 10) Hansen's first collection, "Nebraska," which appeared in 1989, was a work that in its wrought realism, its ways of culling grim beauty from the often harsh history of his native place, achieved a memorable intensity. "She Loves Me Not" republishes seven of those stories, but to suggest that he's recycling would miss the larger point. Instead, he has used this early work as the basis for what becomes a very different, exploded, view of a place. In these pages, Nebraska -- Omaha in particular -- is both rendered and reappropriated, registered and riffed on through a range of tonalities.

The first story, "Wilde in Omaha," is, as its title suggests, a playful reimagining of Oscar Wilde's actual visit to that city in March of 1882. Recounted by a bumbling, fame-besotted journalist, the British writer's short stay among the arts-avid, cornfed Nebraska bourgeoisie becomes a delightful anthology of some of this famed raconteur's best bits. For Wilde will make no conversational response to any question that isn't an epigram, as often as not a well-known one. Hansen's setup lines can be almost groaningly obvious. When a Mr. Rosewater of The Daily Bee asks him, apropos of nothing, "Are you a hunter?" Wilde gets to deliver one of his celebrated bons mots: "Are you asking if I gallop after foxes in the shires? Indeed not. I consider that the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable." Didn't Monty Python run a similar shtick some years before? They did. But Hansen isn't pretending otherwise.

"Wilde in Omaha" is followed by a string of stories from the "Nebraska" collection, and what a shift it is to go from that highly arch patter to the cruel horror of the blizzard of 1888 -- a mere six years, but in terms of the circuit of human experience the very antipodes. "Wickedness" consists of a series of episodic encounters of farm people and townspeople with the completely unexpected -- and unprecedented -- storm. It's mainly a catalog of last hours and final moments, but the detailing, the staging, is unsurpassed. Every moment is fully imagined. "A tin water pail rang in a skipping roll to the horse path." A wife who has gone out to look for her husband is found "standing up in her muskrat coat and black bandanna, her scarf-wrapped hands tightly clenching the top strand of rabbit wire that was keeping her upright, her blue eyes still open but cloudily bottled by a half inch of ice, her jaw unhinged as though she'd died yelling out a name."




For the full review, see:

SVEN BIRKERTS. "Odes to Omaha." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., November 11, 2012): 10.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 9, 2012.)






May 4, 2013

Steam-Powered Cars Show that Old Technologies Rarely Totally Disappear



(p. 53) In my own travels around the world I was struck by how resilient ancient technologies were, how they were often first choices where power and modern resources were scarce. It seemed to me as if no technologies ever disappeared. I was challenged on this conclusion by a highly regarded historian of technology who told me without thinking, "Look, they don't make steam-powered automobiles anymore." Well, within a few clicks on Google I very quickly located folks who are making brand-new parts for Stanley steam-powered cars. Nice shiny copper valves, pistons, whatever you need. With enough money you could put together an entirely new steam-powered car. And of course, thousand of hobbyists are still bolting together steam-powered vehicles, and hundreds more are keeping old ones running. Steam power is very much an intact, though uncommon, species of technology.


Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.

(Note: italics in original.)






April 30, 2013

Increased CO2 "Kept a New Ice Age at Bay"



(p. 38) . . . the repeated inventions and spread of agriculture around the planet affected not only the surface of the Earth, but its 100-kilometer-wide (60-mile-wide) atmosphere as well. Farming disturbed the soil and increased CO2. Some climatologists believe that this early anthropogenic warming, starting 8,000 years ago, kept a new ice age at bay. Widespread adoption of farming disrupted a natural climate cycle that ordinarily would have refrozen the northernmost portions of the planet by now.


Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






April 29, 2013

David Kay Johnston Defends Entrepreneurial Capitalism Against Crony Capitalism



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Source of book image: http://media.npr.org/assets/bakertaylor/covers/manually-added/fineprint_custom-c26eb6a3f6c4d9bc09220769911f3cbeaa900b7f-s6-c10.jpg



I saw an informative C-SPAN interview with David Cay Johnston a while back. I had known from Johnston's previous books and reporting, that he was devoted to exposing the outrages of crony capitalism. What the interview revealed to me was that Johnston was not opposed to capitalism in general, and in fact viewed himself as friendly to entrepreneurial capitalism.

I believe that big companies are not bad when they got and stay big by honestly earning big profits from willing and delighted consumers. But big companies are bad when, as often happens, they use their size to get the government to suppress start-up competitors or to take money from taxpayers to subsidize their activities.

I have not yet read Johnston's latest book on the big and bad, but I expect it to present sad, but useful, examples.




Book discussed:

Johnston, David Cay. The Fine Print: How Big Companies Use "Plain English" to Rob You Blind. New York: Portfolio, 2012.






April 28, 2013

Reinhart Rogoff Result Robust: High Debt Lowers Growth Rate from 3.5 to 2.3 Percent



(p. A29) CAMBRIDGE, Mass. In May 2010, we published an academic paper, "Growth in a Time of Debt." Its main finding, drawing on data from 44 countries over 200 years, was that in both rich and developing countries, high levels of government debt -- specifically, gross public debt equaling 90 percent or more of the nation's annual economic output -- was associated with notably lower rates of growth.


. . .


Last week, three economists at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, released a paper criticizing our findings. They correctly identified a spreadsheet coding error that led us to miscalculate the growth rates of highly indebted countries since World War II. But they also accused us of "serious errors" stemming from "selective exclusion" of relevant data and "unconventional weighting" of statistics -- charges that we vehemently dispute.


. . .


Our 2010 paper found that, over the long term, growth is about 1 percentage point lower when debt is 90 percent or more of gross domestic product. The University of Massachusetts researchers do not overturn this fundamental finding, which several researchers have elaborated upon.


. . .


There were just 26 cases where the ratio of debt to G.D.P. exceeded 90 percent for five years or more; the average high-debt spell was 23 years. In 23 of the 26 cases, average growth was slower during the high-debt period than in periods of lower debt levels. Indeed, economies grew at an average annual rate of roughly 3.5 percent, when the ratio was under 90 percent, but at only a 2.3 percent rate, on average, at higher relative debt levels.


. . .


The fact that high-debt episodes last so long suggests that they are not, as some liberal economists contend, simply a matter of downturns in the business cycle.

In "This Time Is Different," our 2009 history of financial crises over eight centuries, we found that when sovereign debt reached unsustainable levels, so did the cost of borrowing, if it was even possible at all. The current situation confronting Italy and Greece, whose debts date from the early 1990s, long before the 2007-8 global financial crisis, support this view.



For the full commentary, see:

CARMEN M. REINHART and KENNETH S. ROGOFF. "Debt, Growth and the Austerity Debate." The New York Times (Fri., April 26, 2013): A29.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 25, 2013.)


The full reference to the authors' book is:

Reinhart, Carmen M., and Kenneth Rogoff. This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009.






April 26, 2013

Longer Life Spans "Allowed More Time to Invent New Tools"



(p. 33) The primary long-term consequence of . . . slightly better nutrition was a steady increase in longevity. Anthropologist Rachel Caspari studied the dental fossils of 768 hominin individuals in Europe, Asia, and Africa, dated from 5 million years ago until the great leap. She determined that a "dramatic increase in longevity in the modern humans" began about 50,000 years ago. Increasing longevity allowed grandparenting, creating what is called the grandmother effect: In a virtuous circle, via the communication of grandparents, ever more powerful innovations carried forward were able to lengthen life spans further, which allowed more time to invent new tools, which increased population. Not only that: Increased longevity "provide[d] a selective advantage promoting further population increase," because a higher density of humans increased the rate and influence of innovations, which contributed to increased populations. Caspari claims that the most fundamental biological factor that underlies the behavioral innovations of modernity maybe the increase in adult survivorship. It is no coincidence that increased longevity is the most measurable consequence of the acquisition of technology. It is also the most consequential.


Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.

(Note: ellipsis added; bracketed "d" in Kelly's original.)






April 25, 2013

The Costs of Green Jobs Policies



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Source of book image: http://javelindc.com/home/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/regulating_to_disaster.jpg



I caught part of a C-SPAN presentation on the Regulating to Disaster book. It sounded plausible and intriguing---consistent with other evidence I have seen that "green" jobs have been over-hyped and under-delivered.

Perhaps more important, there are the high opportunity costs of the tax dollars devoted to the "green" jobs, in terms of the non-green jobs that would have been created by entrepreneurs if less of their income had been taxed away.

I hope to look at the book in the near future.


Book discussed:

Furchtgott-Roth, Diana. Regulating to Disaster: How Green Jobs Policies Are Damaging America's Economy. New York: Encounter Books, 2012.






April 21, 2013

Analytical Solutions Require Unrealistic Assumptions that Make Models Useless for Policy



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Source of book image: http://www.anderson.ucla.edu/faculty/edward.leamer/images/COVER%209120_jkt_Rev1.jpg



(p. 190) When I was a younger man, I and all of my cohort were apprehensive if we saw Ed Leamer in the audience when we were presenting a paper. His comments were blunt, incisive, and often negative. But what truly terrified us was that he was almost always right. . . .

Leamer has produced a highly original little book, with big insights and lessons for us all. He explores the tension between economics that is mathematically sophisticated and complex but often vacuous, versus economics that may be vague but which is useful and carries a message. It is frankly a remarkable work, full of insights and persuasive arguments that need to be read, debated, and taken seriously.


. . .


(p. 191) But this is no rant of an old guy. Leamer gets very specific about his notions of usefulness versus rigor. A good drum to bang on is Samuelson, an important "mathematizer." I would strongly encourage all young trade economists and perhaps all graduate students who have been subjected to a traditional international trade course at any level, to read the section on factor-price equalization. This is beautifully done and even exciting and funny at times. As told by Leamer, the young Samuelson excoriates Ohlin for largely dismissing the possibility of factor-price equalization and then presents his (Samuelson's) "proof" of factor-price equalization. The latter, of course, is a theorem that is mathematically correct given the assumptions, but Ohlin is talking about its usefulness in understanding the world and constructing policy. The factor-price-equalization theorem is indeed a prime example of something that is valid but not useful.


. . .


Yet at the same time, I have thought long and hard about exactly what message should be given to graduate students and assistant professors without much success. The journal publishing business puts a huge premium on rigor over usefulness and few referees or editors are inclined to take the chance inherent in accepting papers that are a bit loose in their analytical or econometric structures, no matter how exciting they might be. If you accept that, then the profession as a whole has to rethink our view of what is an important scientific contribution: I cannot simply tell graduate students to think more broadly and worry less about elegance. Some will of course deny that there is any tension, but I side with Leamer. Over and over again, I hear, read, and/or referee papers (p. 192) where, in order to get an analytical solution to a model, the author has to assume away almost every interesting feature of the problem to the point that the remaining model is uninteresting and uninformative. But that at least qualifies the paper for possible publication in Econometrica, RESTud, or JET.



For the full review, see:

Markusen, James R. "Book Review of Ed Leamer's the Craft of Economics." Journal of Economic Literature 51, no. 1 (2013): 190-92.

(Note: ellipses added; italics in original.)


The book under review is:

Leamer, Edward E. The Craft of Economics, Ohlin Lectures. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2012.






April 18, 2013

Hunter-Gatherers Complained of Hunger and Food Monotony



(p. 30) Based on numerous historical encounters with aboriginal tribes, we know [hunter-gatherers] often, if not regularly, complained about being hungry. Famed anthropologist Colin Turnbull noted that although the Mbuti frequently sang to the goodness of the forest, they often complained of hunger. Often the com-(p. 31)plaints of hunter-gathers were about the monotony of a carbohydrate staple, such as mongongo nuts, for every meal; when they spoke of shortages, or even hunger, they meant a shortage of meat, and a hunger for fat, and a distaste for periods of hunger. Their small amount of technology gave them sufficiency for most of the time, but not abundance.


Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.

(Note: "hunter-gathers" substituted for "they" by AMD.)






April 17, 2013

Chagnon Enraged Cultural Anthropologists By Showing Tribal Violence



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Source of book image: http://media.npr.org/assets/bakertaylor/covers/n/noble-savages/9780684855103_custom-4deac679a847f1d6e7d64424b01d0be54b54e3a7-s6-c10.jpg



(p. C) In the 1960s, cultural anthropologists led by Marvin Harris argued that conflict among prestate people was mostly over access to scarce protein. Dr. Chagnon disputed this, arguing that Yanomamo Indians' chief motive for raiding and fighting--which they did a great deal--seemed to be to abduct, recover or avenge the abduction of women. He even claimed that Indian men who had killed people ("unokais") had more wives and more children than men who had not killed, thus gaining a Darwinian advantage.

Such claims could not have been more calculated to enrage the presiding high priests of cultural anthropology, slaughtering as it did at least three sacred cows of the discipline: that uncontacted tribal people were peaceful, that Darwinism had nothing to say about human behavior and culture, and that material resources were the cause of conflict.


. . .


Meanwhile the science has been going Dr. Chagnon's way. Recent studies have confirmed that mortality from violence is very common in small-scale societies today and in the past. Almost one-third of such people die in raids and fights, and the death rate is twice as high among men as among women. This is a far higher death rate than experienced even in countries worst hit by World War II. Thomas Hobbes's "war of each against all" looks more accurate for humanity in a state of nature than Jean-Jacques Rousseau's "noble savage," though anthropologists today prefer to see a continuum between these extremes.



For the full commentary, see:

MATT RIDLEY. "MIND & MATTER; Farewell to the Myth of the Noble Savage." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., January 26, 2013): C4.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date January 25, 2013.)

(Note: ellipsis added.)


The Chagnon book that Ridley is discussing:

Chagnon, Napoleon. Noble Savages: My Life among Two Dangerous Tribes -- the Yanomamo and the Anthropologists. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013.






April 14, 2013

Hunter-Gatherers Lived "in the Ultimate Disposable Culture"



(p. 30) In a very curious way, foragers live in the ultimate disposable culture. The best tools, artifacts, and technology are all disposable. Even elaborate handcrafted shelters are considered temporary. When a clan or family travels, they might erect a home (a bamboo hut or snow igloo, for example) for only a night and then abandon it the next morning. Larger multifamily lodges might be abandoned after a few years rather than maintained. The same goes for food patches, which are abandoned after harvesting.


Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.






April 13, 2013

Academia Rejected Maslow's Humanistic Psychology



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Source of book image: http://www.harpercollins.com/harperimages/isbn/large/9/9780061834769.jpg


(p. 23) Abraham Maslow, humanistic psychology's founding father, rejected the atomistic approaches of psychoanalysis and behaviorism that dominated the first half of the 20th century. He strove to develop a psychology that provided "a fuller, though still scientific, treatment of the individual" and understood the potential for growth as innate. His ideas got their most welcome reception from industrial management, to which Maslow retreated when academia failed to roll out the red carpet. But Grogan eloquently insists that humanistic psychology subtly revolutionized Americans' conception of the self and the role of therapy, and asserts that current trends in the field, like positive psychology, owe the theory a debt they have been reluctant to pay.


For the full review, see:

MEGAN BUSKEY. "Nonfiction Chronicle." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., March 31, 2013): 23.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 29, 2013.)


The book under review:

Grogan, Jessica. Encountering America: Humanistic Psychology, Sixties Culture, and the Shaping of the Modern Self. New York: Harper Perennial, 2012.






April 10, 2013

At Least By 100,000 Years Ago, Humans Looked Just Like Us



(p. 22) The exact time . . . protohumans became fully modern humans is of course debated. Some say 200,000 years ago, but the undisputed latest date is 100,000 years ago. By 100,000 years ago, humans had crossed the threshold where they were outwardly indistinguishable from us. We would not notice anything amiss if one of them were to stroll alongside us on the beach. However, their tools and most of their behavior were indistinguishable from those of their relatives the Neanderthals in Europe and Erectus in Asia.


Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






April 9, 2013

Marx's Contradictions Due to His Being a Reactive Journalist Instead of a Philosopher



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Source of book image: http://s-usih.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/marx.jpg



(p. 14) Plenty of scholars sweated through the 20th century trying to reconcile inconsistencies across the great sweep of Marx's writing, seeking to shape a coherent Marxism out of Marx. Sperber's approach is more pragmatic. He accepts that Marx was not a body of ideas, but a human being responding to events. In this context, it's telling that Marx's prime vocation was not as an academic but as a campaigning journalist: Sperber suggests Marx's two stints at the helm of a radical paper in Cologne represented his greatest periods of professional fulfillment. Accordingly, much of what the scholars have tried to brand as Marxist philosophy was instead contemporary commentary, reactive and therefore full of contradiction.


For the full review, see:

JONATHAN FREEDLAND. "A Man of His Time." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., March 31, 2013): 14.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 29, 2013.)


The book under review:

Sperber, Jonathan. Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life. New York: Liveright Publishing Corp., 2013.






April 6, 2013

In Later Middle Ages Machines Replaced Slaves and Coolies



(p. 7) By the European Middle Ages, craftiness manifested itself most significantly in a new use of energy. An efficient horse collar had disseminated throughout society, drastically increasing farm acreage, while water mills and windmills were improved, increasing the flow of lumber and flour and improving drainage. And all this plentitude came without slavery. As Lynn White, historian of technology, wrote, "The chief glory (p. 8) of the later Middle Ages was not its cathedrals or its epics or its scholasticism: it was the building for the first time in history of a complex civilization which rested not on the backs of sweating slaves or coolies but primarily on non-human power." Machines were becoming our coolies.


Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.






April 5, 2013

"Before British Settlement" American Indians Lived Lives of "Violence, Terror and Stoic Suffering"



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Source of book image: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-Mfln_Fc2NF4/ULE7koH_h7I/AAAAAAAAD1Y/4AOrpodtoac/s1600/9780394515700.jpg



(p. C8) Mr. Bailyn opens with an account of the Indians of eastern North America in the years before English settlement. He reviews their economy, technology, religion and much else, drawing examples from the Powhatan, the Pequot and other tribes. He emphasizes the violence, terror and stoic suffering in their lives rather more than the contemporary specialists in the subject would, but brutality--on just about everyone's part--is a major theme throughout this book.


For the full review, see:

J.R. MCNEILL. "BOOKSHELF; Before Plymouth Rock, and After." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., November 17, 2012): C8.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 16, 2012.)



Book under review:

Bailyn, Bernard. The Barbarous Years: The Peopling of British North America: The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600-1675. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012.






April 1, 2013

Kevin Kelly Explains and Criticizes Amish Attitude toward Technology



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Source of book image: http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/files/2012/02/kevin-kelly-book_rdax_620x349-300x285.jpg



Kevin Kelly's book has received a lot of attention, sometimes in conjunction with Steven Johnson's Where Good Ideas Come From, with which it shares some themes. I found the Kelly book valuable, but frustrating.

The valuable part includes the discussion of the benefits of technology, and the chapter detailing Amish attitudes and practices related to technology. On the latter, for instance, I learned that the Amish do not categorically reject new technology, but believe that it should be adopted more slowly, after long community deliberation.

What frustrated me most about the book is that it argues that technology has a life of its own and that technological progress is predetermined and inevitable. (I believe that technological progress depends on enlightened government policies and active entrepreneurial initiative, neither of which is inevitable.)

In the next several weeks, I will be quoting some of the more important or thought-provoking passages in the book.


The reference for Kelly's book, is:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.



The Johnson book mentioned above, is:

Johnson, Steven. Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation. New York: Riverhead Books, 2010.






March 30, 2013

Chinese Communists Starved 45 Million in Mao's Famine



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Source of book image: http://reviews.libraryjournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/xun.jpg




(p. C5) It is difficult to look dispassionately at some 45 million dead. It was not war that produced this shocking number, nor natural disaster. It was a man. It was politics and one man's vanity. The cause was famine and violence across rural China, a result of Mao Zedong's unchecked drive to turn his country rapidly into a communist utopia and a leading industrial nation.


. . .


(p. C6) . . . important pieces of evidence are being covered up . . . : Some originals transcribed in Zhou Xun's chastening documentary history, "The Great Famine in China, 1958-1962" ( . . . ) have since been reclassified by the Beijing authorities and vanished once more into closed files.

In 2010, Frank Dikötter produced "Mao's Great Famine," an authoritative account of the catastrophe, written with a bravura seldom seen in Western writing on modern China. Impassioned and outraged, Mr. Dikötter detailed the destruction, the suffering and the cruelty or hubris of China's leaders. Sorting through forgotten and hidden documents with great intellectual honesty, Mr. Dikötter ended his journey pointing his finger directly at Mao, who notoriously said, as he called for higher grain deliveries from the countryside at the height of the famine: "It is better to let half the people die so that the other half can eat their fill."


. . .


As a teenager in 1959, Mr. Yang watched his father die of starvation. Years later, while working in a senior editorial post at Xinhua, China's state-controlled news agency, he began his own search for the truth behind the famine. The author spent 20 years tracking down survivors across China and using his authority as a respected Communist cadre to access provincial archives. It was, in part, expiation for his shame in not questioning his father's death.


. . .


There is no memorial anywhere in China to the victims of the famine, no public monument, no remembrance day. Graves are not marked and mass burial grounds have disappeared into the landscape. The famine's very existence has been denied. The Communist Party will only admit to "food shortages" and "some difficulties" during the Great Leap Forward. They claim that these setbacks were a result of natural disasters.

Mr. Yang set about writing his book as a tombstone for his father and for every victim who had died from starvation. He was also erecting a tombstone for the system that brought about the Great Famine. First published in Hong Kong in 2008, Mr. Yang's work is banned in China. The reason is clear: The book challenges the very foundation of the Communist Party's authority.



For the full review, see:

MICHAEL FATHERS. "BOOKSHELF; A Most Secret Tragedy; The Great Leap Forward aimed to make China an industrial giant--instead it killed 45 million." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., October 27, 2012): C5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date October 26, 2012.)



Books under review:

Yang, Jisheng. Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012.

Zhou, Xun, ed. The Great Famine in China, 1958-1962: A Documentary History. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012.


The Dikötter book mentioned, is:

Dikötter, Frank. Mao's Great Famine. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2010.






March 27, 2013

Jobs' Protest Against Mortality: Omit the On-Off Switches on Apple Devices



(p. 571) . . . [Jobs] admitted that, as he faced death, he might be overestimating the odds out of a desire to believe in an afterlife. "I like to think that something survives after you die," he said. "It's strange to think that you accumulate all this experience, and maybe a little wisdom, and it just goes away. So I really want to believe that something survives, that maybe your consciousness endures."

He fell silent for a very long time. "But on the other hand, perhaps it's like an on-off switch," he said. "Click! And you're gone."

Then he paused again and smiled slightly. "Maybe that's why I never liked to put on-off switches on Apple devices."



Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis and bracketed "Jobs" added; italics in original.)






March 26, 2013

New York Resisted Roosevelt's Enforcing "Stupid" Vice Laws



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Source of book image: http://media.npr.org/assets/bakertaylor/covers/i/island-of-vice/9780385519724_custom-e38a25fc66f104a049d4d24aa39dbe92d42fbd57-s6-c10.jpg



(p. C9) . . . as Richard Zacks's excellent "Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt's Doomed Quest to Clean Up Sin-Loving New York" ably shows, while we might like to believe that the stretch from 1970 to 1995 represents the city's nadir, it was just about business as usual in New York over the centuries.

From its time as a Dutch colonial outpost, the city has always been pretty bad. You'd almost think New Yorkers prefer it that way. Of course, we don't like fraud, robbery, assault, arson, rape or murder any more than anyone else does. But the deliberate injury of one's fellow citizen isn't the only way to break the law. There are also those crimes that fall under the broad category of "vice": things such as gambling, prostitution, indecent exposure and selling alcohol at a convenient time. Historically, the average New Yorker has not greeted these acts with the same immediate urge to suppress that many of his or her fellow Americans have had. You don't get a nickname like "The City That Never Sleeps" without having a certain amount of things worth staying up for.


. . .


In the end, Mr. Zacks's exhaustively researched yet lively story is a classic battle between an irresistible force, Roosevelt's ego, and an immovable object, the people of New York's unwillingness to follow laws they thought were stupid. In this case, the object won, and handily. Mr. Zacks's account of the way the city's saloonkeepers instantly turned their establishments into hotels to take advantage of a loophole in the law is particularly amusing. Eventually, the police department, not unsympathetic to the Sunday tippler, began finding ways to wriggle out from under the commissioner's thumb, and beer-friendly Tammany Hall, with the people solidly behind it, began peeling away his allies.



For the full review, see:

DAVID WONDRICH. "BOOKSHELF; Teddy's Rough Ride." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., March 17, 2012): C9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 30, 2012.)



Book under review:

Zacks, Richard. Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt's Doomed Quest to Clean up Sin-Loving New York. New York: Doubleday, 2012.






March 23, 2013

"The Ante for Being in the Room" at Apple Was Brutal Honesty




The following passage is Steve Jobs speaking, as quoted by Walter Isaacson.


(p. 569) I don't think I run roughshod over people, but if something sucks, I tell people to their face. It's my job to be honest. I know what I'm talking about, and I usually turn out to be right. That's the culture I tried to create. We are brutally honest with each other, and anyone can tell me they think I am full of shit and I can tell them the same. And we've had some rip-roaring arguments, where we are yelling at each other, and it's some of the best times I've ever had. I feel totally comfortable saying "Ron, that store looks like shit" in front of everyone else. Or I might say "God, we really fucked up the engineering on this" in front of the person that's responsible. That's the ante for being in the room: You've got to be able to be super honest. Maybe there's a better way, a gentlemen's club where we all wear ties and speak in this Brahmin language and velvet codewords, but I don't know that way, because I am middle class from California.

I was hard on people sometimes, probably harder than I needed to be. I remember the time when Reed was six years old, coming home, and I had just fired somebody that day, and I imagined what it was like (p. 570) for that person to tell his family and his young son that he had lost his job. It was hard. But somebody's got to do it. I figured that it was always my job to make sure that the team was excellent, and if I didn't do it, nobody was going to do it.



Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.






March 22, 2013

Adolphus Busch Was First to Pasteurize Beer



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Source of book image: https://encrypted-tbn1.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcTAFP9Hrx5IMUu1VH2WgoGcF43prrX2QiZx1J770DEx8BcGm55p1g



(p. C9) The first King of Beers was a German immigrant who came to America just before the Civil War. Adolphus Busch set down roots in heavily Germanic St. Louis, used an inheritance to buy a brewery-supply business and married into the Anheuser family, which owned a struggling brewery of its own. Installed as president of the family business (re-christened Anheuser-Busch), Adolphus purchased a beer recipe--you have to love this--used by monks in a Bohemian village named Budweis. The crisp, pale lager was known as Budweiser.


. . .


Adolphus certainly knew how to sell beer. He was the first American brewer to pasteurize his product, meaning that he could store it longer and ship it greater distances. He bought his own rail-car company and glass bottler; in the age of trusts he was a one-man conglomerate. Anticipating the family taste for luxury, Adolphus maintained baronial mansions in St. Louis, Cooperstown, N.Y., and Pasadena, Calif. His style was grand or, as Mr. Knoedelseder puts it, "over-the-top gauche."



For the full review, see:

Roger Lowenstein. "BOOKSHELF; Fall of the House of Busch." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 1, 2012): C9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 30, 2012.)





Book under review:

Knoedelseder, William. Bitter Brew: The Rise and Fall of Anheuser-Busch and America's Kings of Beer. New York: HarperBusiness, 2012.






March 19, 2013

Real Entrepreneurs Do Not Launch a Startup in Order to Cash In and Move On




The following passage is Steve Jobs speaking, as quoted by Walter Isaacson.

I agree with the part about real entrepreneurs not going public quick in order to cash in. But I disagree that the real entrepreneurs are mainly interested in building a lasting company. I think that often they are mainly interested in getting a project, or a series of projects, done (and done reasonably well). Recall that when Walt Disney couldn't convince Roy Disney to pursue the Disneyland project, Walt left the main Disney company to pursue the project through a secondary rump Disney company.


(p. 569) I hate it when people call themselves "entrepreneurs" when what they're really trying to do is launch a startup and then sell or go public, so they can cash in and move on. They're unwilling to do the work it takes to build a real company, which is the hardest work in business. That's how you really make a contribution and add to the legacy of those who went before. You build a company that will still stand for something a generation or two from now. That's what Walt Disney did, and Hewlett and Packard, and the people who built Intel. They created a company to last, not just to make money. That's what I want Apple to be.


Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.






March 18, 2013

Much of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" Was Funded Out of Producer's Own Pocket



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Source of book image: http://www.awn.com/files/imagepicker/23/artofpeanuts-cover-620.jpg



(p. C10) Of all the "Peanuts" television specials ever made, the first--"A Charlie Brown Christmas" (1965)--was the Charlie Browniest. The 25-minute special was an underdog, just like its hapless protagonist, and barely made it on the air. CBS gave producer Lee Mendelson so minuscule a budget, we learn in Charles Solomon's "The Art and Making of Peanuts Animation," that he was forced to fund the rest out of his own pocket--even though Coca-Cola had already guaranteed sponsorship. When "A Charlie Brown Christmas" pulled in sensational ratings, CBS grudgingly asked for follow-ups. "We're going to order four more," a network executive told Mr. Mendelson, "though my aunt in New Jersey didn't like it either"--a line that Schulz might have written.


. . .


"A Charlie Brown Christmas" established the template, mixing morals and gags in a way that made the peachiness seem endearing. The perfectly pitched dialogue, written by Schulz himself, was voiced (at his insistence) by actual children. The expressionist use of line and color was introduced by director Bill Melendez, and the understated yet supremely catchy Latin jazz scores were the work of pianist-composer Vince Guaraldi and his combo. The tune Guaraldi called "Linus and Lucy" came to be synonymous with "Peanuts" for the generations that grew up on the specials.

While the movements of the characters--especially Snoopy--could be antic, Guaraldi's scores set a cool counterpoint and provided a sense of serenity that was utterly unique. The characters weren't always moving--sometimes they would stop and simply listen to each other--and Schulz insisted that there be no laugh track. He made the climax of the drama Linus walking to the center of the school stage to recite from the gospel of Luke--a decision daring even in its day, not least because it stopped the action for an extended period to show a hand-drawn character delivering a lisping speech.



For the full review, see:

WILL FRIEDWALD. "BOOKSHELF; Cheers for Chuck." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 22, 2012): C10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date December 21, 2012.)


Book under review:

Solomon, Charles. The Art and Making of Peanuts Animation: Celebrating Fifty Years of Television Specials. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books, 2012.






March 15, 2013

Jobs Believed Great Companies Decline When Salesmen (Rather than Engineers and Designers) Take Over




The following passage is Steve Jobs speaking, as quoted by Walter Isaacson.


(p. 568) I have my own theory about why decline happens at companies like IBM or Microsoft. The company does a great job, innovates and becomes a monopoly or close to it in some field, and then the quality of (p. 569) the product becomes less important. The company starts valuing the great salesmen, because they're the ones who can move the needle on revenues, not the product engineers and designers. So the salespeople end up running the company. John Akers at IBM was a smart, eloquent, fantastic salesperson, but he didn't know anything about product. The same thing happened at Xerox. When the sales guys run the company, the product guys don't matter so much, and a lot of them just turn off.


Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.






March 14, 2013

Foreign Aid Is Not Effective



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Source of book image: http://img1.imagesbn.com/p/9781580054348_p0_v1_s260x420.JPG



(p. C8) In 2002, Tori Hogan was a 20-year-old intern for the international nonprofit Save the Children, helping write a report on the effect of humanitarian aid on children. In a dusty refugee-camp high school in Kenya a teenage student told her: "A lot of aid workers come and go, but nothing changes. If the aid projects were effective, we wouldn't still be living like this after all these years." That remark ended Tori Hogan's "dreams of 'saving Africa,' " she writes in "Beyond Good Intentions," a book that bypasses sweeping condemnations of the aid industry to reach sometimes less satisfying zones of nuance.


. . .


The most savage writing on this topic comes from authors who have devoted chunks of their lives to conflict zones. In "The Crisis Caravan" (2010), Dutch journalist Linda Polman quotes, to devastating effect, Sierra Leone rebels who claim that they launched mass amputations in 1999 to compete with Congo and Kosovo for international attention and development aid. Michael Maren, the author of "Road to Hell" (2010), lost his child to the aid effort in Somalia.



The book under review is:

Hogan, Tori. Beyond Good Intentions: A Journey into the Realities of International Aid. pb (appears there was no hb edition) ed. Berkeley, CA: Seal Press, 2012.

(Note: ellipsis added.)



The Polman book mentioned above, is:

Polman, Linda. The Crisis Caravan: What's Wrong with Humanitarian Aid? New York: Metropolitan Books, 2010.


The Maren book mentioned above, is:

Maren, Michael. The Road to Hell: The Ravaging Effects of Foreign Aid and International Charity. New York: The Free Press, 1997.






March 13, 2013

To Avoid Economic Crises We Need to Look at Evidence from Economic History



(p. 1093) Methodologically, the most fundamental and forceful message from the book is that, by ignoring history and the fact that crises remain frequent, recurrent, episodic events--in both rich and poor countries--almost everyone, including researchers and policymakers, made themselves vulnerable to the wishful thinking encapsulated in the book's title. There is a deeper statistical point here. Crises, and for that matter large recessions and other phenomena that are of first-order interest given their implications for economic activity, occur at quite a low frequency. They are rare events, meaning that they do not occur so frequently, at least for most countries in a short-span time series. Thus recent experience can be an unfaithful guide for scholars and statesmen alike, a good example being the complacent thinking that accompanied the erstwhile Great Moderation of recent decades even as financial pressures built up nationally and internationally. Possibly the most important lesson that readers will take away from this book is that if we are to do better in future, from our policy thinking in the chambers of power to our macroeconometric analyses in academe, (p. 1094) we need to admit the existence of, and come to grips with, a much broader universe of evidence.


For the full review, see:

Taylor, Alan M. "Global Financial Stability and the Lessons of History: A Review of Carmen M. Reinhart and Kenneth S. Rogoff's This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly." Journal of Economic Literature 50, no. 4 (Dec. 2012): 1092-105.

(Note: italics in original.)


The book that Taylor reviews, is:

Reinhart, Carmen M., and Kenneth Rogoff. This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009.







March 11, 2013

Open Systems Limit the Integrated Vision that Creates Great Products




The following passage is Steve Jobs speaking, as quoted by Walter Isaacson.


(p. 568) People pay us to integrate things for them, because they don't have the time to think about this stuff 24/7. If you have an extreme passion for producing great products, it pushes you to be integrated, to connect your hardware and your software and content management. You want to break new ground, so you have to do it yourself. If you want to allow your products to be open to other hardware or software, you have to give up some of your vision.


Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.






March 10, 2013

Ibrahim's Celtel Provided Private Infrastructure to Aid African Growth



LessWalkMoreTalkBK2013-01-29.jpg

















Source of book image: http://media.wiley.com/product_data/coverImage300/04/04707432/0470743204.jpg



I was searching for a biography of the entrepreneur Mo Ibrahim who founded the innovative African cell phone company Celtel. The closest I have been able to find so far is Less Walk, More Talk which looks promising, but which I have not yet read.

Arguably, cell phones in Africa have provided important infrastructure that has made it somewhat easier to be productive there, and hence made a contribution to economic growth.



The book is:

Southwood, Russell. Less Walk More Talk: How Celtel and the Mobile Phone Changed Africa. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2009.






March 7, 2013

Steve Jobs: "Never Rely on Market Research"




The following passage is Steve Jobs speaking, as quoted by Walter Isaacson.


(p. 567) Some people say, "Give the customers what they want." But that's not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they're going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, "If I'd asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, 'A faster horse!'" People don't know what they want until you show it to them. That's why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.


Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.






March 6, 2013

Entrepreneur Ping Fu Learned the Resilience of Bamboo



BendNotBreakBK2013-01-13.jpg











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








(p. A11) The history of American business is full of immigrant success stories--of men and women who flee poverty and oppression in their home countries, arrive on our shores with only pennies in their pockets, and go on to build companies that generate wealth, create jobs, and provide innovative products and services.

Count among them Ping Fu, the Chinese-born chief executive of the high-tech company Geomagic, which provides 3D-imaging for such modern-day miracles as customized prosthetic limbs. If your child wears orthodontic braces, chances are that they were designed for his teeth with the help of Geomagic technology. Ms. Fu founded the company in 1997, 13 years after arriving in San Francisco with $80 in her purse and three English phrases in her vocabulary: "hello," "thank you" and "help."


. . .


In the U.S., Ms. Fu worked as a maid, a waitress and a baby sitter while learning English and studying computer science. She eventually landed at Bell Labs in Illinois before striking out on her own. "I was a reluctant and unlikely entrepreneur," she writes. In China, "I had been hardwired to think that money was evil, and traumatized as a child because of my family's success." Encouraged by her Shanghai Papa to follow in the family's entrepreneurial tradition, she and her then-husband launched Geomagic. In her book, she traces the challenges she faced in building a company--obtaining funding, winning customers, managing a growing staff of professionals.

Ms. Fu's life story raises a core question about the development of the human psyche: Why is it that, confronted with the kind of horrors that Ms. Fu experienced as a child, some survivors succeed in later life while others fail, overcome by the trials they endured?

Ms. Fu credits the tranquil, happy childhood she experienced for the first eight years of her life. She also points to the Taoist teachings of her Shanghai Papa, who taught her to admire the flexible nature of the bamboo trees that grew in the family garden. Bamboo, he told her, "suggests resilience, meaning that we have the ability to bounce back from even the most difficult times."



For the full review, see:

MELANIE KIRKPATRICK. "BOOKSHELF; The Art Of Resilience; Ping Fu endured gang-rape and political prison in China before arriving on our shores and founding her own high-tech firm." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., January 9, 2013): D7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date January 8, 2013.)



The book under review is:

Fu, Ping. Bend, Not Break: A Life in Two Worlds. New York: Portfolio, 2012.






March 3, 2013

Profits Allow You to Make Great Products, But the Products, Not the Profits, Are the Motivation




The following passage is Steve Jobs speaking, as quoted by Walter Isaacson.


(p. 567) My passion has been to build an enduring company where people were motivated to make great products. Everything else was secondary. Sure, it was great to make a profit, because that was what allowed you to make great products. But the products, not the profits, were the motivation. Sculley flipped these priorities to where the goal was to make money. It's a subtle difference, but it ends up meaning everything: the people you hire, who gets promoted, what you discuss in meetings.


Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.







March 2, 2013

Organic Food May Be Less Healthy than Non-Organic Food



Schwarcz, Joe - The Right Chemistry BK 2013-01-12.jpeg

















Source of book image: http://www.leckeragency.com/sites/default/files/books/Schwarcz,%20Joe%20-%20The%20Right%20Chemistry%20Cover.jpeg



(p. D7) . . . , when did "chemical" become a dirty word? That's a question raised by one of Canada's brightest scientific minds: Joe Schwarcz, director of the Office for Science and Society at McGill University in Montreal. Dr. Schwarcz, who has received high honors from Canadian and American scientific societies, is the author of several best-selling books that attempt to set the record straight on a host of issues that commonly concern health-conscious people.

I've read two of his books, "Science, Sense and Nonsense" (published in 2009) and "The Right Chemistry" (2012), and recently attended a symposium on the science of food that Dr. Schwarcz organized at McGill.

What follows are tips from his books and the symposium that can help you make wiser choices about what does, and does not, pass your lips in 2013.


. . .


ORGANIC OR NOT? Wherever I shop for food these days, I find an ever-widening array of food products labeled "organic" and "natural." But are consumers getting the health benefits they pay a premium for?

Until the 20th century, Dr. Schwarcz wrote, all farming was "organic," with manure and compost used as fertilizer and "natural" compounds of arsenic, mercury and lead used as pesticides.

Might manure used today on organic farms contain disease-causing micro-organisms? Might organic produce unprotected by insecticides harbor cancer-causing molds? It's a possibility, Dr. Schwarcz said. But consumers aren't looking beyond the organic sales pitch.

Also questionable is whether organic foods, which are certainly kinder to the environment, are more nutritious. Though some may contain slightly higher levels of essential micronutrients, like vitamin C, the difference between them and conventionally grown crops may depend more on where they are produced than how.

A further concern: Organic producers disavow genetic modification, which can be used to improve a crop's nutritional content, enhance resistance to pests and diminish its need for water. A genetically modified tomato developed at the University of Exeter, for example, contains nearly 80 times the antioxidants of conventional tomatoes. Healthier, yes -- but it can't be called organic.



For the full story, see:

JANE E. BRODY. "PERSONAL HEALTH; What You Think You Know (but Don't) About Wise Eating." The New York Times (Tues., January 1, 2013): D7.

(Note: ellipses added; bold in original.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date DECEMBER 31, 2012.)



The Schwarcz books mentioned above, are:

Schwarcz, Joe. The Right Chemistry: 108 Enlightening, Nutritious, Health-Conscious and Occasionally Bizarre Inquiries into the Science of Daily Life. Toronto, Ontario: Doubleday Canada, 2012.

Schwarcz, Joe. Science, Sense & Nonsense. Toronto, Ontario: Doubleday Canada, 2009.






February 27, 2013

Steve Jobs' "Nasty Edge" Helped Him Create an Apple "Crammed with A Players"



(p. 565) . . . I think . . . [Jobs] actually could have controlled himself, if he had wanted. When he hurt people, it was not because he was lacking in emotional awareness. Quite the contrary: He could size people up, understand their inner thoughts, and know how to relate to them, cajole them, or hurt them at will.

The nasty edge to his personality was not necessary. It hindered him more than it helped him. But it did, at times, serve a purpose. Polite and velvety leaders, who take care to avoid bruising others, are generally not as effective at forcing change. Dozens of the colleagues whom Jobs most abused ended their litany of horror stories by saying that he got them to do things they never dreamed possible. And he created a corporation crammed with A players.



Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: ellipses and bracketed "Jobs" added.)






February 26, 2013

Yang Documents How Mao Starved the Proletariat



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Source of book image: http://img1.imagesbn.com/p/9780374277932_p0_v1_s260x420.JPG




(p. C12) Yang Jisheng's "Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962" exemplifies E.H. Carr's famous dictum: "Study the historian before you study the facts." Mr. Yang is not the first historian to exhume the darkest crime of the political party that still rules China but the first Chinese journalist and longtime Party member to do so. He uses the Party's own historical records and the perpetrators' own words to craft his devastatingly detailed indictment.


For the full review essay, see:

Sylvia Nasar (author of passage quoted above, one of 50 contributors to whole article). "Twelve Months of Reading; We asked 50 of our friends to tell us what books they enjoyed in 2012--from Judd Apatow's big plans to Bruce Wagner's addictions. See pages C10 and C11 for the Journal's own Top Ten lists." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 15, 2012): passim (Nasar's contribution is on p. C12).

(Note: the online version of the review essay has the date December 14, 2012.)



The book under review, is:

Yang, Jisheng. Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012.







February 25, 2013

Green Threats to Restrict Coal Creates Incentive to Extract More Coal Now



(Wang, p. 1146) The last chapter of the book advances the supply-side analysis and presents the "Green Paradox," that "(t)he mere announcement of intentions to fight global warming made the world warm even faster" ([Sinn, p. ] 189). The key insight is that demand-reduction measures affect carbon supply through pressure on future prices. Since the existing "green" policies almost always involve increasing stringency and widening coverage over time, the increasing downward price pressure therefore induces resource owners to expedite extraction and thereby exacerbates the climate problem.


For the full review, see:

Wang, Tao. "The Green Paradox: A Supply-Side Approach to Global Warming." Journal of Economic Literature 50, no. 4 (Dec. 2012): 1145-46.

(Note: bracketed information added.)


The book under review is:

Sinn, Hans-Werner. The Green Paradox: A Supply-Side Approach to Global Warming. Cambridge and London: MIT Press, 2012.






February 24, 2013

Entrepreneur Mackey Says Whole Foods Drops Prices as Larger Size Creates Economies of Scale



MackeyJohnWholeFoodsCEO2013-02-23.jpg











"John Mackey." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.





(p. 16) In your new book, "Conscious Capitalism," you write that Whole Foods sees its customers as its "most important stakeholders" and that the company is obsessed with their happiness. The biggest complaint I hear about Whole Foods is how expensive it is. Why not drop prices to make your customers happier? People always complain about prices being too high. Whole Foods prices have dropped every year as we get to be larger and we have economies of scale. Also, people are not historically well informed about food prices. We're only spending about 7 percent of our disposable personal income on food. Fifty years ago, it was nearly 16 percent.


. . .


In 2009, some Whole Foods customers organized boycotts after you wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal expressing opposition to Obama's health care proposals. Do you wish you hadn't written it?
No, I don't. I regret that a lot of people didn't actually read it and it got taken out of context. President Obama asked for ideas about health care reform, and I put my ideas out there. Whole Foods has a good health care plan. It's not a solution to America's health care problems, but it's part of the solution.

So did you vote for Romney?
I did.

I imagine a certain percentage of Whole Foods customers will also boycott because of this.
I don't know what to say except that I'm a capitalist, first. There are many things I don't like about Romney, but more things I don't like about Obama. This is America, and people disagree on things.



For the full interview, see:

Andrew Goldman, Interviewer. "TALK; The Kale King." The New York Times Magazine (Sun., January 20, 2013): 16.

(Note: ellipsis added; bold in original, indicating interviewer questions.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date January 18, 2013, and has the title "TALK; John Mackey, the Kale King.")


Mackey's book is:

Mackey, John, and Rajendra Sisodia. Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press, 2013.






February 23, 2013

Admiring Jobs' New Products, Gates Wistfully Wondered If "Maybe I Should Have Stayed in That Game"



(p. 553) Bill Gates had never lost his fascination with Jobs. In the spring of 2011 I was at a dinner with him in Washington, where he had come to discuss his foundation's global health endeavors. He expressed amazement at the success of the iPad and how Jobs, even while sick, was focusing on ways to improve it. "Here I am, merely saving the world from malaria and that sort of thing, and Steve is still coming up with amazing new products," he said wistfully. "Maybe I should have stayed in that game." He smiled to make sure that I knew he was joking, or at least half joking.


Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.






February 22, 2013

Darwin Shared His Thought Processes Without Condescension



DarwinCharlesIn1881.jpg














"SAGE OF AGES; Portrait of Charles Darwin in 1881, by Julia Margaret Cameron." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.






(p. C14) . . . Mr. Johnson observes:

No scientific innovator has ever taken more trouble to smooth the way for lay readers without descending into vulgarity. What is almost miraculous about the book is Darwin's generosity in sharing his thought processes, his lack of condescension. There is no talking down, but no hauteur, either. It is a gentlemanly book.

In both style and substance, this passage is classic Paul Johnson.


. . .


What makes Darwin good, in the biographer's estimation, is the scientist's democratic dissemination of knowledge. Darwin triumphed with "The Origin of Species," Mr. Johnson contends, not only because of his ability to portray the theory of evolution as the inescapable outcome of his decades of study and the work of fellow scientists, whom he was careful to praise, but because he was acutely aware that he had to present his notions of natural selection and survival of the fittest so as not to stir up public controversy. To an extraordinary degree, Darwin deflected attacks by couching his discoveries in terms of the plants he liked to examine and cultivate. He had relatively little to say about human evolution.



For the full review, see:

CARL ROLLYSON. "Studies of the Moral Animal." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 15, 2012): C14.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review essay has the date December 14, 2012.)



The book under review is:

Johnson, Paul M. Darwin: Portrait of a Genius. New York: Viking Adult, 2012.







February 19, 2013

Steve Jobs Advised Obama to Reduce Regulations of Business and Union Power in Education



(p. 544) The meeting . . . lasted forty-five minutes, and Jobs did not hold back. "You're headed for a one-term presidency," Jobs told Obama at the outset. To prevent that, he said, the administration needed to be a lot more business-friendly. He described how easy it was to build a factory in China, and said that it was almost impossible to do so these days in America, largely because of regulations and unnecessary costs.

Jobs also attacked America's education system, saying that it was hopelessly antiquated and crippled by union work rules. Until the teachers' unions were broken, there was almost no hope for education reform. Teachers should be treated as professionals, he said, not as industrial assembly-line workers. Principals should be able to hire and fire them based on how good they were. Schools should be staying open until at least 6 p.m. and be in session eleven months of the year. It was absurd, he added, that American classrooms were still based on teachers standing at a board and using textbooks. All books, learning materials, and assessments should be digital and interactive, tailored to each student and providing feedback in real time.



Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






February 18, 2013

Entrepreneur Peter Thiel Says We Should Fight for Longer Lives



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Source of book image: http://si.wsj.net/public/resources/images/OB-PJ926_bkrv10_DV_20110829191924.jpg







(p. C13) Sonia Arrison's "100 Plus" was first published in 2011, but its message is evergreen: how scientists are directly attacking the problem of aging and death and why we should fight for life instead of accepting decay as inevitable. The goal of longer life doesn't just mean more years at the margin; it means a healthier old age. There is nothing to fear but our own complacency.


For the full review essay, see:

Peter Thiel (author of passage quoted above, one of 50 contributors to whole article). "Twelve Months of Reading; We asked 50 of our friends to tell us what books they enjoyed in 2012--from Judd Apatow's big plans to Bruce Wagner's addictions. See pages C10 and C11 for the Journal's own Top Ten lists." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 15, 2012): passim (Thiel's contribution is on p. C13).

(Note: the online version of the review essay has the date December 14, 2012.)



The book Thiel endorses is:

Arrison, Sonia. 100 Plus: How the Coming Age of Longevity Will Change Everything, from Careers and Relationships to Family and Faith. New York: Basic Books, 2011.






February 15, 2013

Steve Jobs Framing a Decision in Terms of Christensen's "The Innovator's Dilemma"





The following passage is Steve Jobs speaking, as quoted by Walter Isaacson.



(p. 532) It's important that we make this transformation, because of what Clayton Christensen calls "the innovator's dilemma," where people who invent something are usually the last ones to see past it, and we certainly don't want to be left behind. I'm going to take MobileMe and make it free, and we're going to make syncing content simple. We are building a server farm in North Carolina. We can provide all the syncing you need, and that way we can lock in the customer.


Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.






February 14, 2013

Arne Duncan Endorses Christensen's Disruption of All Levels of Education



DisruptingClassAndChristensen2013-01-11.jpg

Source of book image and photo of Christensen: http://images.businessweek.com/ss/08/12/1215_best_design_books/image/disruptingclass.jpg



(p. C6) Clayton Christensen is a provocative thinker, and I have been greatly influenced by his work on disruptive innovation and how it can transform education.


For the full review essay, see:

Arne Duncan (author of passage quoted above, one of 50 contributors to whole article). "Twelve Months of Reading; We asked 50 of our friends to tell us what books they enjoyed in 2012--from Judd Apatow's big plans to Bruce Wagner's addictions. See pages C10 and C11 for the Journal's own Top Ten lists." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 15, 2012): passim (Duncan's contribution is on p. C6).

(Note: the online version of the review essay has the date December 14, 2012.)



Christensen's books suggesting disruptive innovations for education are:

Christensen, Clayton M., Curtis W. Johnson, and Michael B. Horn. Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. updated ed. New York: NY: McGraw-Hill, 2011.

Christensen, Clayton M., and Henry J. Eyring. The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the inside Out. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2011.






February 11, 2013

Apple's Corporate Culture Under Jobs: "Accountability Is Strictly Enforced"



(p. 531) In theory, you could go to your iPhone or any computer and access all aspects of your digital life. There was, however, a big problem: The service, to use Jobs's terminology, sucked. It was complex, devices didn't sync well, and email and other data got lost randomly in the ether. "Apple's MobileMe Is Far Too Flawed to Be Reliable," was the headline on Walt Mossberg's review in the Wall Street Journal.

Jobs was furious. He gathered the MobileMe team in the auditorium on the Apple campus, stood onstage, and asked, "Can anyone tell me what MobileMe is supposed to do?" After the team members offered their answers, Jobs shot back: "So why the fuck doesn't it do that?" Over the next half hour he continued to berate them. "You've tarnished Apple's reputation," he said. You should hate each other for having let each other down. Mossberg, our friend, is no longer writing good things about us." In front of the whole audience, he got rid of the leader of the MobileMe team and replaced him with Eddy Cue, who oversaw all Internet content at Apple. As Fortune's Adam Lashinsky reported in a dissection of the Apple corporate culture, "Accountability is strictly enforced."




Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.






February 10, 2013

Is America Moving Toward a Less Upwardly Mobile Future?



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Source of book image: http://catholicexchange.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Coming-Apart.jpg







(p. C6) The future as described by Charles Murray in "Coming Apart'' is bleak enough to have been imagined by George Orwell. Unfortunately, "Coming Apart" is nonfiction, meticulously documented and depressingly real. Mr. Murray examines America as it moves away from an upwardly mobile, socially mobile country with shared purpose and shared identities to a country dividing into two isolated and disparate camps.


For the full review essay, see:

Jeb Bush (author of passage quoted above, one of 50 contributors to whole article). "Twelve Months of Reading; We asked 50 of our friends to tell us what books they enjoyed in 2012--from Judd Apatow's big plans to Bruce Wagner's addictions. See pages C10 and C11 for the Journal's own Top Ten lists." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 15, 2012): passim (Bush's contribution is on p. C6).

(Note: the online version of the review essay has the date December 14, 2012.)



The book under review, is:

Murray, Charles. Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010. New York: Crown Forum, 2012.






February 7, 2013

The Universality of Values: Every Kid Wants a Cell Phone



(p. 528) When they got to Istanbul, . . . [Jobs] hired a history professor to give his family a tour. At the end they went to a Turkish bath, where the professor's lecture gave Jobs an insight about the globalization of youth:

I had a real revelation. We were all in robes, and they made some Turkish coffee for us. The professor explained how the coffee was made very different from anywhere else, and I realized, "So fucking what?" Which kids even in Turkey give a shit about Turkish coffee? All day I had looked at young people in Istanbul. They were all drinking what every other kid in the world drinks, and they were wearing clothes that look like they were bought at the Gap, and they are all using cell phones. They were like kids everywhere else. It hit me that, for young people, this whole world is the same now. When we're making products, there is no such thing as a Turkish phone, or a music player that young people in Turkey would want that's different from one young people elsewhere would want. We're just one world now.


Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis and bracketed "Jobs" added; indented Jobs block quote was indented in the original.)






February 3, 2013

Steve Jobs Viewed Patents as Protecting Property Rights in Ideas



(p. 512) . . . Apple filed suit against HTC (and, by extension, Android), alleging infringement of twenty of its patents. Among them were patents covering various multi-touch gestures, swipe to open, double-tap to zoom, pinch and expand, and the sensors that determined how a device was being held. As he sat in his house in Palo Alto the week the lawsuit was filed, he became angrier than I had ever seen him:

Our lawsuit is saying, "Google, you fucking ripped off the iPhone, wholesale ripped us off." Grand theft. I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple's $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong. I'm going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product. I'm willing to go to thermonuclear war on this. They are scared to death, because they know they are guilty. Outside of Search, Google's products--Android, Google Docs--are shit.

A few days after this rant, Jobs got a call from Schmidt, who had resigned from the Apple board the previous summer. He suggested they get together for coffee, and they met at a café in a Palo Alto shopping center. "We spent half the time talking about personal matters, then half the time on his perception that Google had stolen Apple's user interface designs," recalled Schmidt. When it came to the latter subject, Jobs did most of the talking. Google had ripped him off, (p. 513) he said in colorful language. "We've got you red-handed," he told Schmidt. "I'm not interested in settling. I don't want your money. If you offer me $5 billion, I won't want it. I've got plenty of money. I want you to stop using our ideas in Android, that's all I want." They resolved nothing.



Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






February 2, 2013

Eastern Europeans Were Lab Rats in Stalin's Monstrous Experiment



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Source of book image: http://media.cleveland.com/books_impact/photo/ironjpg-2761d5de1590effb.jpg



(p. C12) In a stunning follow-up to "Gulag," Anne Applebaum takes readers back to the events that triggered the half-century-long standoff between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. Instead of the usual aerial view, "Iron Curtain" re-creates what it was like on the ground for those who became the lab rats in Stalin's monstrous social experiment.


For the full review essay, see:

Sylvia Nasar (author of passage quoted above, one of 50 contributors to whole article). "Twelve Months of Reading; We asked 50 of our friends to tell us what books they enjoyed in 2012--from Judd Apatow's big plans to Bruce Wagner's addictions. See pages C10 and C11 for the Journal's own Top Ten lists." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 15, 2012): passim (Nasar's contribution is on p. C12).

(Note: the online version of the review essay has the date December 14, 2012.)



The book under review, is:

Applebaum, Anne. Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956. New York: Doubleday, 2012.







January 30, 2013

Rupert Murdoch and Steve Jobs "Hit It Off Well"



(p. 508) Murdoch and Jobs hit it off well enough that Murdoch went to his Palo Alto house for dinner twice more during the next year. Jobs joked that he had to hide the dinner knives on such occasions, because he was afraid that his liberal wife was going to eviscerate Murdoch when (p. 509) he walked in. For his part, Murdoch was reported to have uttered a great line about the organic vegan dishes typically served: "Eating dinner at Steve's is a great experience, as long as you get out before the local restaurants close." Alas, when I asked Murdoch if he had ever said that, he didn't recall it.


Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.






January 29, 2013

Fragile Governments Cling to Failed Foreign Aid



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Source of book image: http://si.wsj.net/public/resources/images/OB-VL312_bkrvta_DV_20121122124330.jpg







(p. C12) Nassim Nicholas Taleb's "Antifragile" argues that some people, organizations and systems are resilient in the face of stress because they are able to alter themselves by adapting and learning. The converse is fragility, embodied in entities that are immovable even when faced with shocks or adversity. To my mind, an obvious example is how numerous governments and international agencies have clung to foreign aid as a tool to combat poverty even though aid has failed to deliver sustainable growth and meaningfully reduce indigence. And nation-states, which rest on one unifying vision of the nation, tend to be fragile, while city-states that adjust, adapt and constantly evolve tend to be antifragile. Mr. Taleb's lesson: Embrace, rather than try to avoid, the shocks.


For the full review essay, see:

Dambisa Moyo (author of passage quoted above, one of 50 contributors to whole article). "Twelve Months of Reading; We asked 50 of our friends to tell us what books they enjoyed in 2012--from Judd Apatow's big plans to Bruce Wagner's addictions. See pages C10 and C11 for the Journal's own Top Ten lists." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 15, 2012): passim (Moyo's contribution is on p. C12).

(Note: the online version of the review essay has the date December 14, 2012.)



The book under review, is:

Taleb, Nassim Nicholas. Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder. New York: Random House, 2012.






January 26, 2013

The Project Entrepreneur: Never Say Die



(p. 485) . . . [Jobs] chafed at not being in control, and he sometimes hallucinated or be-(p. 486)came angry. Even when he was barely conscious, his strong personality came through. At one point the pulmonologist tried to put a mask over his face when he was deeply sedated. Jobs ripped it off and mumbled that he hated the design and refused to wear it. Though barely able to speak, he ordered them to bring five different options for the mask and he would pick a design he liked. The doctors looked at Powell, puzzled. She was finally able to distract him so they could put on the mask. He also hated the oxygen monitor they put on his finger. He told them it was ugly and too complex. He suggested ways it could be designed more simply. "He was very attuned to every nuance of the environment and objects around him, and that drained him," Powell recalled.


Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis and bracketed "Jobs" added.)






January 25, 2013

ExxonMobil's "Honorable If Rigid Corporate Culture"



PrivateEmpireBK2013-01-11.jpg












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






(p. C12) From Indiana to Indonesia, ExxonMobil is the multinational corporation that people love to hate. John D. Rockefeller's creation is famed and feared for its discipline, its disregard for public opinion and its ability, year after year, to pump out the largest profits of any corporation on the planet. In "Private Empire," Steve Coll provides a rare exploration of what makes a modern corporate giant tick and shows why the world looks different to the executives in the "God Pod" at ExxonMobil's Texas headquarters than it might to you or me.


For the full review essay, see:

Marc Levinson. "Boardroom Reading of 2012." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 15, 2012): C12.

(Note: the online version of the review essay has the date December 14, 2012.)



From another review of the same book:


"Private Empire" is meticulous, multi-angled and valuable. It is also, perhaps surprisingly, despite all the dark facts I have dumped above, impartial. Mr. Coll and his phlegmatic research assistants have interviewed more than 400 people, including Exxon Mobil's longtime chief executive Lee R. Raymond, a legendarily hard character.

It's among this book's achievements that it attempts to view a dysfunctional energy world, as often as not, through Exxon Mobil's eyes. The company is portrayed here, some egregious missteps aside, as possessing an honorable if rigid corporate culture that seeks to supply a product (unlike tobacco companies, to which it is often compared) that a functioning society actually must have.



For this full review, see:

DWIGHT GARNER. "Oil's Dark Heart Pumps Strong." The New York Times (Sat., April 27, 2012): C25 & C32(?).

(Note: the online version of the review essay has the date April 26, 2012 and has the title "BOOKS OF THE TIMES; Oil's Dark Heart Pumps Strong; 'Private Empire,' Steve Coll's Book on Exxon Mobil.")



The book under review, is:

Coll, Steve. Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power. New York: The Penguin Press, 2012.






January 22, 2013

Apple's iTunes for Windows Gave "a Glass of Ice Water to Somebody in Hell"



(p. 463) Mossberg wanted the evening joint appearance to be a cordial discussion, not a debate, but that seemed less likely when Jobs unleashed a swipe at Microsoft during a solo interview earlier that day. Asked about the fact that Apple's iTunes software for Windows computers was extremely popular, Jobs joked, "It's like giving a glass of ice water to somebody in hell."

So when it was time for Gates and Jobs to meet in the green room before their joint session that evening, Mossberg was worried. Gates got there first, with his aide Larry Cohen, who had briefed him about Jobs's remark earlier that day. When Jobs ambled in a few minutes later, he grabbed a bottle of water from the ice bucket and sat down. After a moment or two of silence, Gates said, "So I guess I'm the representative from hell." He wasn't smiling. Jobs paused, gave him one of his impish grins, and handed him the ice water. Gates relaxed, and the tension dissipated.



Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.






January 21, 2013

The Creation of Consistent, Predictable Dyes and Paints



The-Color-Revolution-by-Regina-Lee-Blaszczyk.png
















Source of book image: http://www.kristenlovesdesign.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/The-Color-Revolution-by-Regina-Lee-Blaszczyk.png




(p. C12) Few things seem as eternal as color. Yet as Regina Lee Blaszczyk argues, color has a history, a history largely created by business. In "The Color Revolution," Ms. Blaszczyk shows how the invention of synthetic organic chemistry in the 1850s allowed chemists to create consistent, predictable colors in dyes and paints. Once a chemical company's magenta was reliable, manufacturers could select it from a color card, order it by mail, and use it to produce dresses and dishware in exactly the promised hue.


For the full review essay, see:

Marc Levinson. "Boardroom Reading of 2012." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 15, 2012): C12.

(Note: the online version of the review essay has the date December 14, 2012.)



The book under review, is:

Blaszczyk, Regina Lee. The Color Revolution, Lemelson Center Studies in Invention and Innovation. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2012.






January 18, 2013

Steve Jobs Was Deeply Influenced by Clayton Christensen's "The Innovator's Dilemma"



(p. 408) Microsoft was willing to license its Windows Media software and digital rights format to other companies, just as it had licensed out its operating system in the 1980s. Jobs, on the other hand, would not license out Apple's FairPlay to other device makers; it worked only on an iPod. Nor would he allow other online stores to sell songs for use on iPods. A variety of experts said this would eventually cause Apple to lose market share, as it did in the computer wars of the 1980s. "If Apple continues to rely on a proprietary architecture," the Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen told Wired, "the iPod will likely become a niche product." (Other than in this case, Christensen was one of the world's most insightful business analysts, and Jobs was deeply (p. 409) influenced by his book The Innovator's Dilemma.) Bill Gates made the same argument. "There's nothing unique about music," he said. "This story has played out on the PC."


Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.






January 17, 2013

A Well-Researched Case Study on How Mulally Saved Ford



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Source of book image: http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2012/04/01/business/01-SHELF/01-SHELF-articleInline.jpg



(p. C12) Tomes by management gurus telling you how to remake your company are a dime a dozen. Well-researched case studies are much rarer. In "American Icon," Bryce G. Hoffman takes a careful look at how Alan Mulally, recruited from Boeing in 2006, restructured Ford Motor Co. in the midst of the steepest economic downturn since the 1930s. An engineer with no automotive background, Mr. Mulally came into a company on the verge of collapse and brought it back with insistent demands for accountability, information-sharing and tough decisions. Mr. Hoffman, who wrote this book with the company's cooperation, provides a fascinating and detailed examination of how a dynamic leader brought about change. He makes clear that much of the credit goes to others, not least Don Leclair, then the chief financial officer, who, even before Mr. Mulally's arrival, was arranging to mortgage everything up to Ford's blue-oval trademark to amass the $23.6 billion in cash that enabled the company to survive the recession.


For the full review essay, see:

Marc Levinson. "Boardroom Reading of 2012." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 15, 2012): C12.

(Note: the online version of the review essay has the date December 14, 2012.)



The book under review, is:

Hoffman, Bryce G. American Icon: Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Company. New York: Crown Business, 2012.






January 14, 2013

With iTunes, Apple Leapfrogged CD Burners (a Boat Apple Had Missed)




Is the example sketched below, and in a previous entry, a case of a first mover disadvantage? Or is it simply a case of a lucky or wise bounce-back from a genuine mistake?


(p. 382) . . . [Job's] angry insistence that the iMac get rid of its tray disk drive and use instead a more elegant slot drive meant that it could not include the first CD burners, which were initially made for the tray format. "We kind of missed the boat on that," he recalled. "So we needed to catch up real fast." The mark of an innovative company is not only that it comes up with new ideas first, but also that it knows how to leapfrog when it finds itself behind.


Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis and bracketed "Job's" added.)






January 13, 2013

Harvard University Press Dropped Watson's "The Double Helix" as Too Controversial



WatsonAndCrick2013-01-11.jpg



"Partners; James D. Watson, left, with Francis Crick and their model of part of a DNA molecule in 1953. Crick did not like Dr. Watson's book at first." Source of caption: print version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.





(p. D2) Anyone seeking to understand modern biology and genomics could do much worse than start with the discovery of the structure of DNA, on which almost everything else is based. The classic account of the discovery, "The Double Helix," by James D. Watson, was first published in 1968 and has now been reissued in an annotated and illustrated edition.


. . .


An appendix makes it clear how close "The Double Helix" came to being suppressed. Dr. Watson sent the manuscript to many of the central players, inviting their comments on its accuracy. Harvard University Press had accepted it for publication, but the Harvard authorities came to feel it was too hot a potato and dropped it.

Atheneum Publishers, which picked it up, requested a blander title -- previous versions had included "Honest Jim" and "Base Pairs." The latter -- referring to the paired sets of chemical bases that form the steps in the double helix, and by extension to the two discoverers -- gave particular offense to Crick, who failed to see why he should be considered base. Atheneum's lawyers then tried to make the text inoffensive to the many possible litigants.

But Dr. Watson was able to resist many changes. He had cannily persuaded Bragg to write a foreword, and this endorsement from an establishment figure provided sufficient protection for the book to be published. It proceeded to sell more than a million copies.



For the full review, see:

NICHOLAS WADE. "BOOKS ON SCIENCE; Twists in the Tale of the Great DNA Discovery." The New York Times (Tues., November 13, 2012): D2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 12, 2012.)



The annotated version of the Watson book is:

Watson, James D. The Annotated and Illustrated Double Helix. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012.






January 10, 2013

Apple "Finding a Way to Leapfrog Over Its Competitors"




Isaacson says Jobs wanted two refinements in the iMac. One was new colors. The other is discussed below.

I am not sure what to make of this episode. Is Isaacson suggesting that it was good for Apple that Jobs made a mistake on the type of CD hardware to put in the iMac? That this added constraint "would then force Apple to be imaginative and bold"?

Or is the moral that good people who make a lot of quick decisions, make mistakes, sometimes big mistakes, and that Jobs found a way to bounce back from this one?


(p. 356) There was one other important refinement that Jobs wanted for the iMac: getting rid of that detested CD tray. "I'd seen a slot-load drive on a very high-end Sony stereo," he said, "so I went to the drive manufacturers and got them to do a slot-load drive for us for the version of the iMac we did nine months later." Rubinstein tried to argue him out of the change. He predicted that new drives would come along that could burn music onto CDs rather than merely play them, and they would be available in tray form before they were made to work in slots. "If you go to slots, you will always be behind on the technology," Rubinstein argued.

"I don't care, that's what I want," Jobs snapped back. They were having lunch at a sushi bar in San Francisco, and Jobs insisted that they continue the conversation over a walk. "I want you to do the slot-load drive for me as a personal favor," Jobs asked. Rubinstein agreed, of course, but he turned out to be right. Panasonic came out with a CD drive that could rip and burn music, and it was available first for computers that had old-fashioned tray loaders. The effects of this (p. 357) would ripple over the next few years: It would cause Apple to be slow in catering to users who wanted to rip and burn their own music, but that would then force
Apple to be imaginative and bold in finding a way to leapfrog over its competitors when Jobs finally realized that he had to get into the music market.



Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.






January 6, 2013

"Think Profit"



(p. 339) At the January 1998 San Francisco Macworld, Jobs took the stage where Amelio had bombed a year earlier. He sported a full beard and a leather jacket as he touted the new product strategy. And for the first time he ended the presentation with a phrase that he would make his signature coda: "Oh, and one more thing . . ." This time the "one more thing" was "Think Profit." When he said those words, the crowd erupted in applause. After two years of staggering losses, Apple had enjoyed a profitable quarter, making $45 million. For the full fiscal year of 1998, it would turn in a $309 million profit. Jobs was back, and so was Apple.


Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)






January 2, 2013

Jobs Laid Off 3,000 from Apple to Save It from Bankruptcy



(p. 339) In his first year back, Jobs laid off more than three thousand people, which salvaged the company's balance sheet. For the fiscal year that ended when Jobs became interim CEO in September 1997, Apple lost $1.04 billion. "We were less than ninety days from being insolvent," he recalled.


Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.






December 30, 2012

"The Arpanet Was Not an Internet"



XeroxParcSign2012-12-18.jpg "Xerox PARC headquarters." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A11) A telling moment in the presidential race came recently when Barack Obama said: "If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen." He justified elevating bureaucrats over entrepreneurs by referring to bridges and roads, adding: "The Internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all companies could make money off the Internet."


. . .


Robert Taylor, who ran the ARPA program in the 1960s, sent an email to fellow technologists in 2004 setting the record straight: "The creation of the Arpanet was not motivated by considerations of war. The Arpanet was not an Internet. An Internet is a connection between two or more computer networks."

If the government didn't invent the Internet, who did? Vinton Cerf developed the TCP/IP protocol, the Internet's backbone, and Tim Berners-Lee gets credit for hyperlinks.

But full credit goes to the company where Mr. Taylor worked after leaving ARPA: Xerox. It was at the Xerox PARC labs in Silicon Valley in the 1970s that the Ethernet was developed to link different computer networks. Researchers there also developed the first personal computer (the Xerox Alto) and the graphical user interface that still drives computer usage today.

According to a book about Xerox PARC, "Dealers of Lightning" (by Michael Hiltzik), its top researchers realized they couldn't wait for the government to connect different networks, so would have to do it themselves. "We have a more immediate problem than they do," Robert Metcalfe told his colleague John Shoch in 1973. "We have more networks than they do." Mr. Shoch later recalled that ARPA staffers "were working under government funding and university contracts. They had contract administrators . . . and all that slow, lugubrious behavior to contend with."



For the full commentary, see:

Gordon Crovitz. "INFORMATION AGE; Who Really Invented the Internet?" The Wall Street Journal (Mon., July 23, 2012): A11.

(Note: ellipsis between paragraphs was added; ellipsis internal to last paragraph was in original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 22, 2012.)



I read the Hiltzik book several years ago, and my memory of it is not sharp, but I remember thinking that it was a useful book:

Hiltzik, Michael A. Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age. New York: HarperBusiness, 1999.






December 25, 2012

"The People Who Are Crazy Enough to Think They Can Change the World Are the Ones Who Do"



(p. 329) . . . those who could stand up to Jobs, including Clow and his teammates Ken Segall and Craig Tanimoto, were able to work with him to create a tone poem that he liked. In its original sixty-second version it read:

Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.


Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






December 24, 2012

Williams Made Providence a Sanctuary for the Persecuted



RogerWilliamsAndTheCreationOfTheAmericanSouldBK2012-12-18.jpg















Source of book image: http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1320716933l/11797348.jpg





I have not yet read Barry's book on Roger Williams, but I did enjoy and learn from his earlier The Great Influenza book.



(p. 12) Williams struck overland, through snow and bitter cold, "wch I feele yet," he reminisced later in life. He survived because he had help. "The ravens fed me in the wilderness," he said, comparing himself to the scriptural prophets sustained by bird-borne morsels, though his "ravens" were Indians. With their assistance, he reached the upper bend of a bay that would be named for its inhabitants, the Narragansett. There, Williams bought land from its native proprietors and established a settlement he called Providence, to honor the divine assistance given to him and other Christians on their flights from persecution.


. . .


Next, Williams refused to take an oath of fidelity to Massachusetts, on the grounds that anything sworn in God's name for worldly purposes was corrupt.

The authorities in Massachusetts were so outraged that having failed to arrest Williams, they tried to obliterate his new settlement. He went back to England to get a charter to protect his colony on his own terms: with a "hedge or wall of Separation between the Garden of the Church and the Wildernes of the world." In several publications, he argued that the individual conscience should not -- could not -- be governed, let alone persecuted. If God was the ultimate punisher of sin, it was impious for humans to assume his authority. And it was "directly contrary to the nature of Christ Jesus . . . that throats of men should be torne out for his sake."

Barry shows how controversial these beliefs were at the time, and in this way reinforces the standard image of Williams as an early proponent of liberty of conscience.



For the full review, see:

JOYCE E. CHAPLIN. "Errand in the Wilderness." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., May 26, 2012): 12.

(Note: ellipsis between paragraphs was added; ellipsis internal to quotation was in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 25, 2012 and has the title "Roger Williams: The Great Separationist.")


The book being reviewed, is:

Barry, John M. Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty. New York: Viking Adult, 2012.






December 21, 2012

Ellison and Jobs on Money



(p. 299) . . . Jobs and his family went to Hawaii for Christmas vacation. Larry Ellison was also there, as he had been the year (p. 300) before. "You know, Larry, I think I've found a way for me to get back into Apple and get control of it without you having to buy it," Jobs said as they walked along the shore. Ellison recalled, "He explained his strategy, which was getting Apple to buy NeXT, then he would go on the board and be one step away from being CEO." Ellison thought that Jobs was missing a key point. "But Steve, there's one thing I don't understand," he said. "If we don't buy the company, how can we make any money?" It was a reminder of how different their desires were. Jobs put his hand on Ellison's left shoulder, pulled him so close that their noses almost touched, and said, "Larry, this is why it's really important that I'm your friend. You don't need any more money."

Ellison recalled that his own answer was almost a whine: "Well, I may not need the money, but why should some fund manager at Fidelity get the money? Why should someone else get it? Why shouldn't it be us?"

"I think if I went back to Apple, and I didn't own any of Apple, and you didn't own any of Apple, I'd have the moral high ground," Jobs replied.

"Steve, that's really expensive real estate, this moral high ground," said Ellison. "Look, Steve, you're my best friend, and Apple is your company. I'll do whatever you want."



Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






December 20, 2012

Chernobyl May Have Caused No Long-Term Increase in Cancer



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Source of book image: http://luxuryreading.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/9781605294452.jpg




(p. C11) . . . Andrew Blackwell, a journalist and self-described "sensitive, eco-friendly liberal," deserves praise for producing an environmentalist book that avoids the usual hyperventilation, upending stubborn myths with prosaic facts.


. . .


His Geiger counter convulses on a visit to the abandoned areas around Chernobyl, but Mr. Blackwell reacts soberly. While the initial disaster provoked a justifiable public panic, it also inspired scare-mongering from groups like Greenpeace, which claimed that the fallout would cause 270,000 cancer cases. He points to a study commissioned by the United Nations concluding that, after an initial spike in thyroid cancer, "no measurable increase has yet been demonstrated in the region's cancer rates." The author is also sure to irritate certain readers with the claim that "paradoxically, perversely, the accident may have actually been good" for the local environment, since the evacuation created an accidentally verdant nature reserve.



For the full review, see:

MICHAEL C. MOYNIHAN. "A Guided Tour of Catastrophe" The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 26, 2012): C11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 25, 2012.)


The book being reviewed, is:

Blackwell, Andrew. Visit Sunny Chernobyl: And Other Adventures in the World's Most Polluted Places. New York: Rodale Books, 2012.






December 17, 2012

"It's Kind of Fun to Do the Impossible"



(p. 284) "It's kind of fun to do the impossible," Walt Disney once said. That was the type of attitude that appealed to Jobs. He admired Disney's obsession with detail and design, and he felt that there was a natural fit between Pixar and the movie studio that Disney had founded.


Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.






December 13, 2012

"Did Alexander Graham Bell Do Any Market Research Before He Invented the Telephone?"



(p. 170) After the Macintosh team returned to Bandley 3 that afternoon, a truck pulled into the parking lot and Jobs had them all gather next to it. Inside were a hundred new Macintosh computers, each personalized with a plaque. "Steve presented them one at a time to each team member, with a handshake and a smile, as the rest of us stood around cheering," Hertzfeld recalled. It had been a grueling ride, and many egos had been bruised by Jobs's obnoxious and rough management style. But neither Raskin nor Wozniak nor Sculley nor anyone else at the company could have pulled off the creation of the Macintosh. Nor would it likely have emerged from focus groups and committees. On the day he unveiled the Macintosh, a reporter from Popular Science asked Jobs what type of market research he had done. Jobs responded by scoffing, "Did Alexander Graham Bell do any market research before he invented the telephone?"


Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: italics in original.)






December 12, 2012

"Planning Is Crap"



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Source of book image: http://images.indiebound.com/636/044/9780807044636.jpg



(p. C8) As Mr. Wooten recounts, obstacles abounded from a municipality bent on redesigning New Orleans while the city was still in crisis. Neighborhoods from middle-class Lakeview to the devastated Lower Ninth Ward began to fear that the city they loved didn't love them back.

"Planning is crap," said Martin Landrieu, a member of a prominent local political family, at a meeting of Lakeview residents. "What you really need is the cleaning up of houses . . . . Where are the hammers and nails?" Yet five months after Katrina, a city commission called Bring New Orleans Back presented an ambitious plan to restore the city that included converting neighborhoods that had heavy flooding into green space. The commission also imposed a temporary moratorium on rebuilding there. Residents would have to show that their communities were viable or risk being planned out of existence; they were given four months.



For the full review, see:

CARLA MAIN. "After the Waters Receded." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., August 4, 2012): C8.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)

(Note: the online version of the article was dated August 3, 2012.)






December 9, 2012

"What Marketing Guys Are: Paid Poseurs"



(p. 152) Jobs had asked Hertzfeld and the gang to prepare a special screen display for Sculley's amusement. "He's really smart," Jobs said. "You wouldn't believe how smart he is." The explanation that Sculley might buy a lot of Macintoshes for Pepsi "sounded a little bit fishy to me," Hertzfeld recalled, but he and Susan Kare created a screen of Pepsi caps and cans that danced around with the Apple logo. Hertzfeld was so excited he began waving his arms around during the demo, but Sculley seemed underwhelmed. "He asked a few questions, but he didn't seem all that interested," Hertzfeld recalled. He never ended up warming to Sculley. "He was incredibly phony, a complete poseur," he later said. "He pretended to be interested in technology, but he wasn't. He was a marketing guy, and that is what marketing guys are: paid poseurs."


Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.






December 8, 2012

"It Isn't What You Know that Counts--It Is How Efficiently You Can Refresh"



HalfLifeOfFactsBK2012-12-01.jpg












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







(p. A17) Knowledge, then, is less a canon than a consensus in a state of constant disruption. Part of the disruption has to do with error and its correction, but another part with simple newness--outright discoveries or new modes of classification and analysis, often enabled by technology.


. . .


In some cases, the facts themselves are variable.  . . .


. . .


More commonly, however, changes in scientific facts reflect the way that science is done. Mr. Arbesman describes the "Decline Effect"--the tendency of an original scientific publication to present results that seem far more compelling than those of later studies. Such a tendency has been documented in the medical literature over the past decade by John Ioannidis, a researcher at Stanford, in areas as diverse as HIV therapy, angioplasty and stroke treatment. The cause of the decline may well be a potent combination of random chance (generating an excessively impressive result) and publication bias (leading positive results to get preferentially published).

If shaky claims enter the realm of science too quickly, firmer ones often meet resistance. As Mr. Arbesman notes, scientists struggle to let go of long-held beliefs, something that Daniel Kahneman has described as "theory-induced blindness." Had the Austrian medical community in the 1840s accepted the controversial conclusions of Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis that physicians were responsible for the spread of childbed fever--and heeded his hand-washing recommendations--a devastating outbreak of the disease might have been averted.

Science, Mr. Arbesman observes, is a "terribly human endeavor." Knowledge grows but carries with it uncertainty and error; today's scientific doctrine may become tomorrow's cautionary tale. What is to be done? The right response, according to Mr. Arbesman, is to embrace change rather than fight it. "Far better than learning facts is learning how to adapt to changing facts," he says. "Stop memorizing things . . . memories can be outsourced to the cloud." In other words: In a world of information flux, it isn't what you know that counts--it is how efficiently you can refresh.



For the full review, see:

DAVID A. SHAYWITZ. "BOOKSHELF; The Scientific Blind Spot." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., November 19, 2012): A17.

(Note: ellipses added, except for the one internal to the last paragraph, which was in the original.)

(Note: the online version of the article was dated November 18, 2012.)


The book under review, is:

Arbesman, Samuel. The Half-Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date. New York: Current, 2012.






December 4, 2012

Isaacson's "Steve Jobs" Tells Us Much About the Innovative Project Entrepreneur



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Source of book image: http://www.internetmonk.com/wp-content/uploads/walter-isaacson-steve-jobs1.png






Steve Jobs is one of my favorite examples of what I call the "project entrepreneur." Walter Isaacson has written a fascinating biography of Jobs, full of memorable examples for any student of the innovative entrepreneur.

During the next few weeks, I will occasionally add entries that quote some of the more important or thought-provoking passages.



The book under review is:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.






November 29, 2012

Personal DNA Data, Smart Phones, and the Social Network Can Democratize Medicine



(p. 236) With the personal montage of your DNA, your cell phone, your social network---aggregated with your lifelong health information and physiological and anatomic data---you are positioned to reboot the future of medicine. Who could possibly be more interested and more vested in your data? For the first time, the medical world is getting democratized. Think of the priests before the Gutenberg printing press. Now, nearly six hundred years later, think of physicians and the creative destruction of medicine.


Source:

Topol, Eric. The Creative Destruction of Medicine: How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Health Care. New York: Basic Books, 2012.






November 26, 2012

American Innovators Created Synergies and Interchangeable Parts



TheDawnOfInnovationBK2012-11-20.jpg











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








(p. A13) . . . the post-Civil War industrialization had an important and largely overlooked predecessor in the first decades of the 19th century, when, as Charles Morris writes in "The Dawn of Innovation," "the American penchant for mechanized, large-scale production spread throughout industry, presaging the world's first mass-consumption economy." It is a story well worth telling, and Mr. Morris tells it well.


. . .


Whole industries sprang up as the country's population boomed and spilled over into the Middle West. The rich agricultural lands there produced huge surpluses of grain and meat, especially pork. The city of Cincinnati--whose population grew to 160,000 in 1860, from 2,500 in 1810--became known as "Porkopolis" because of the number of hogs its slaughterhouses processed annually.

Mr. Morris does a particularly good job of explaining the crucial importance of synergy in economic development, how one development leads to another and to increased growth. The lard (or pig fat) from the slaughterhouses, he notes, served as the basis for the country's first chemical industry. Lard had always been used for more than pie crust and frying. It was a principal ingredient in soap, which farm wives made themselves, a disagreeable and even dangerous task thanks to the lye used in the process.

But when lard processing was industrialized to make soap, it led to an array of byproducts such as glycerin, used in tanning and in pharmaceuticals. Stearine, another byproduct, made superior candles. Just in the decade from the mid-1840s to the mid-1850s, Cincinnati soap exports increased 20-fold, as did the export of other lard-based products. Procter & Gamble, founded in Cincinnati in 1837 by an Irish soap maker and an English candle maker who had married sisters, grew into a giant company as the fast-rising middle class sought gentility.

Mr. Morris goes into great detail on the development of interchangeable parts--the system of making the components of a manufactured product so nearly identical that they can be easily substituted and replaced.



For the full review, see:

John Steele Gordon. "BOOKSHELF; The Days Of Porkopolis." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., November 20, 2012): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article was updated November 19, 2012.)



The book under review, is:

Morris, Charles R. The Dawn of Innovation: The First American Industrial Revolution. Philadelphia, PA: PublicAffairs, 2012.






November 25, 2012

Progress Will Slow If Consumers Wait for Doctors to Creatively Destroy Medicine



(p. 195) . . . it remains unclear whether there is adequate plasticity of a plurality of physicians to embrace the digital world and acknowledge that the era of paternalism is passé. My sense is that young physicians who are digital natives will be likely to assimilate but that it will be quite difficult for the vast majority who are in practice and inculcated with an older idea of how medical care should be rendered. Eventually there will be enough digital native physicians to take charge, but that will take decades to be accomplished. In the meantime, consumers are fully capable of leading the movement and contributing to medicine's creative destruction. And so they must.


Source:

Topol, Eric. The Creative Destruction of Medicine: How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Health Care. New York: Basic Books, 2012.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






November 22, 2012

"Highly Leveraged Economies, . . . , Seldom Survive"



ThisTimeIsDifferentBK2012-11-14.jpg











Source of book image: http://si.wsj.net/public/resources/images/ED-AK313_book10_DV_20091008170122.jpg





(p. 762) Every once in a while, a work comes along whose key points ought to be part of the information set of every literate economist. Carmen M. Reinhart and Kenneth S. Rogoff's This Time is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly is such a work. It describes and analyzes a long international history of several types of financial crises.


. . .


The authors resist giving too much structural interpretation to their analysis. Most would agree with their conclusion that " . . . highly leveraged economies, particularly those in which continual rollover of short-term debt is sustained only by confidence in relatively illiquid underlying assets, seldom survive" (p. 292).



For the full review, see:

Boskin, Michael J. "Review of: This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly." Journal of Economic Literature 48, no. 3 (September 2010): 762-66.

(Note: ellipsis internal to the final quotation, and the italics, are in the original; ellipsis between paragraphs is added.)

(Note: the "p. 292" refers to a page in the book, and not a page of the review.)(


The book being reviewed, is:

Reinhart, Carmen M., and Kenneth Rogoff. This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009.






November 21, 2012

Sclerotic Doctors Resist Change



(p. 177) Atherosclerosis, referring to a progressive and degenerative process of artery walls, is typically translated for a lay audience as "hardening of the arteries." We've never needed a similar word to describe the medical community. It came with sclerosis built in. Of all the professions represented on the planet, perhaps none is more resistant to change than physicians. If there were ever a group defined by lacking plasticity, it would first apply to doctors.

(p. 178) The inherent "hardness" of physicians and the medical community suggests they will have a difficult time adapting to the digital world. Before the emergence of the Internet, physicians were high priests, holding all the knowledge and expertise, not to be challenged or questioned by the lowly consumer patient. "Doctor knows best" was the pervasive sentiment, shared by patients and especially physicians.



Source:

Topol, Eric. The Creative Destruction of Medicine: How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Health Care. New York: Basic Books, 2012.






November 14, 2012

Entrepreneurs of Coffee, the Battlefield, and Missing Minerals



InventionOfEnterpriseBK2012-11-04.jpg














Source of book image: http://img.qbd.com.au/product/l/9780691143705.jpg



[p. 167] The book . . . contains a variety of entertaining stories and colorful facts about entrepreneurship that could potentially be used for teaching. [p. 168] Murray, for instance, explains that the word "entrepreneur" was borrowed from the French language in the late Middle Ages, a time when it was used to describe a battlefield commander (p. 88). Kuran describes how Middle Eastern coffee entrepreneurs originally faced harsh resistance from many clerics who believed that "coffee drinkers reap hell-fire" (pp. 71-72). Hudson traces early merchant activity and entrepreneurship all the way back to Sumerian cities in Mesopotamia in the third millennium BC (pp. 11-17). These cities, made rich by their fertile alluvial soil, still needed to acquire other important minerals, missing in their own ground, from the distant Iranian plateau or Anatolia. Since military conquest proved too expensive and because the Sumerian cities really needed these resources, they pioneered international import-export activities in their temples and palaces.


For the full review, see:

Bikard, Michael, and Scott Stern. "The Invention of Enterprise: Entrepreneurship from Ancient Mesopotamia to Modern Times." Journal of Economic Literature 49, no. 1 (March 2011): 164-68.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the page numbers in square parentheses refer to the review; the page numbers in curved parentheses refer to the book under review.)


Book being reviewed:

Landes, David S., Joel Mokyr, and William J. Baumol, eds. Invention of Enterprise: Entrepreneurship from Ancient Mesopotamia to Modern Times. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010.






November 10, 2012

The Case for More Climate Adaptations and Fewer Climate Mitigations



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Source of book image: http://perseuspromos.com/images/covers/200/9780465019267.jpg



(p. 777) Climatopolis begins with the assumption that our future will bring some combination of higher temperatures, sea level rise, more intense natural disasters, and changes in precipitation and drought conditions. The forecast is considered inevitable because of humanity's deep and (p. 778) growing dependence on energy from fossil fuels, the burning of which generates emissions that cause climate change. In a way that some readers are likely to find overly pessimistic, dismissive, or both, Kahn asserts that we are unlikely to invent a "magical" technology that allows us to live well without producing greenhouse gases. He is equally skeptical about whether geo-engineering will help stabilize the climate. So when it comes to facing a future that includes climate change, Kahn has concluded as soon as page 5 that "unlike a ship, we cannot turn away."

Economics is, after all, the dismal science, but early pessimism in Climatopolis quickly gives way to an overall optimistic theme. It is first encountered, somewhat surprisingly, in a chapter titled "What We've Done When Our Cities Have Blown Up." With examples that range from fires and floods to wars and terrorist attacks, Kahn makes the case that we humans are a surprisingly resilient species. Among the lessons he draws are that destruction often triggers economic booms, people learn from their mistakes, cities are shaped by the accumulation of small decisions by millions of self-interested people, and when conditions are bad in one location people migrate to where it is better.

Kahn gets traction out of the notion that people "vote with their feet," and he describes how climate change will affect where people want to go. Rising temperatures will cause Sun Belt cities in the United States to suffer, for example, while northern cities such as Minneapolis and Detroit will become more attractive places to live.


. . .


Climatopolis . . . cautions against maladaptive policies, and the recommendation here will be familiar to economists: prices should be left undistorted to reflect real costs and risks. Kahn is critical of a policy in Los Angeles under which people who demand more water pay a lower marginal price, and thereby face exactly the wrong incentive for conservation as water becomes increasingly scarce. He also points to the problems of subsidized insurance or caps on premiums for residents in climate-vulnerable areas, as these policies only promote greater vulnerability. What is more, Kahn would like us to stop treating people who move into harm's way as victims in need of a bailout when natural disasters strike. He writes that, "Ironically, to allow capitalism to help us adapt to climate change, the government must precommit to not protect 'the victims'."



For the full review, see:

Kotchen, Matthew J. "Review of Kahn's Climatopolis." Journal of Economic Literature 49, no. 3 (September 2011): 777-79.

(Note: ellipses added.)


Book under review:

Kahn, Matthew E. Climatopolis: How Our Cities Will Thrive in the Hotter Future. New York: Basic Books, 2010.






November 9, 2012

"The Resistance from the Priesthood of Medicine Is at Its Height"



(p. 77) In December 2010 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Nicholas Volker, a five-year-old boy with a gastrointestinal condition that had not previously been seen, who had undergone over a hundred surgical operations and was almost constantly hospitalized and intermittently septic, was virtually on death's door. But when his DNA sequence was determined, his doctors found the culprit mutation. That discovery led to the proper treatment, and now Nicholas is healthy and thriving. Even though this was only the first clearly documented case of the life-saving power of human genomics in medicine, (p. 78) few could now deny that the field was going to have a vital role in the future of medicine. Some would argue that the treatment led to an even bigger breakthrough: health insurance coverage of sequencing costs for select cases.

It took the better part of a decade from the completion of the first draft of the Human Genome Project for genomics to reach the clinic in such a dramatic way. To make treatment like Volker's common will likely take more time still. Even if that's the ultimate prize, the creative destruction of medicine still has various other, less comprehensive, genomic tools for us to use, based on investigations of things like single-nucleotide polymorphisms, the exome, and more. The material can be a bit heady, but it's worth pushing through: these tools could effect not just dramatic corrections of faulty genes but a better, more scientific understanding of disease susceptibility and what drugs to take. Moreover, as they empower patients and democratize medicine, they make medical knowledge available to all and deep knowledge of ourselves available to each of us. Nevertheless, at this level, perhaps more than anywhere else in this ongoing medical revolution, the resistance from the priesthood of medicine is at its height. The fight might be tougher than the material, but in neither case can we afford to give up.



Source:

Topol, Eric. The Creative Destruction of Medicine: How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Health Care. New York: Basic Books, 2012.






November 6, 2012

When Trade Is a Matter of Life and Death (and the Progress of Knowledge)



BataviasGraveyardBK2012-11-01.jpg
















Source of book image: http://www.mikedash.com/assets/images/Batavia-l.jpg



(p. 236) In Mike Dash's book, Batavia's Graveyard, the mutineers on the ship Batavia get stranded on a parched sand bar with the liquor and foodstuffs, but no fresh water. A few hundred watery yards away are the remnants of the loyal crew, stuck on another islet without liquor or provisions, but with plentiful fresh water. Trade proves impossible. The analog of this breakdown is the current relationship between history and the social sciences.


Source:

Clark, Gregory. "The Ends of Life: Roads to Fulfillment in Early Modern England." Journal of Economic History 71, no. 1 (March 2011): 236-37.

(Note: italics in original.)


Dash's book that Clark mentions:

Dash, Mike. Batavia's Graveyard: The True Story of the Mad Heretic Who Led History's Bloodiest Mutiny. New York: Crown, 2002.






November 5, 2012

When Bibliometrics Are a Matter of Life and Death



(p. 51) . . . it is essential, if at all possible, to have a go-to physician expert and authority when one has a newly diagnosed, serious condition, such as a brain or, neurologic conditions like multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease, heart valve abnormality. How do you find that individual doctor?

In order to leverage the Internet and gain access to state-of-the-art expertise, you need to identify the physician who conducts the leading research in the field. Let's pick pancreatic cancer as an example of a serious condition that often proves to be rapidly fatal. The first step is to go to Google Scholar and find the top-cited articles for that condition by typing in "pancreatic cancer." They are generally listed in order by descending number of citations. Look for the senior, last author of the articles. The last author of the top-listed paper in the Journal of Clinical Oncology from 1997 is Daniel D. Von Hoff, with over 2,000 citations ("cited by ... " appears at the end of each hit). Now you may have identified an expert. Enter "Daniel Von Hoff" into PubMed (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/pubmed) to see how many papers he has published: 567. Most are related to pancreatic cancer or cancer research.

(p. 52) Now go back to Google Scholar and enter his name, and you'll see over 24,000 hits--this number includes papers that cite his work. There are some problems with these websites, since getting citations by other peer-reviewed publications takes time; if a breakthrough paper is published, it will be years to accumulate hundreds, if not thousands, of citations. Thus, the lag time or incubation phase of citations may result in missing a rising star. If it is a common name, there may be admixture of citations of different researchers with the same name, albeit different topics, so it is useful to enter in all elements including the middle initial and to scan the topic list to alleviate that problem. For perspective, a paper that has been cited 1,000 times by others is rare and would be considered a classic. In this example, the top paper by Von Hoff in 1997 is a long time ago, and he is no longer at the University of Texas, San Antonio-he moved to Phoenix, Arizona. How would you find that out? Look for Daniel D. Von Hoff using a search engine such as Google or Bing, and look up his profile on Wikipedia. Without any help from any doctor, you will have found the country's leading authority on pancreatic cancer. And you will have also identified some backups at Johns Hopkins using the same methodology.




Source:

Topol, Eric. The Creative Destruction of Medicine: How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Health Care. New York: Basic Books, 2012.

(Note: initial ellipsis added; parenthetical ellipsis in original.)






November 3, 2012