Main


August 17, 2018

Union Slows UPS Automation



(p. B1) As UPS tries to satisfy America's 21st-century shopping-and-shipping mania, parts of its network are stuck in the 20th century. The company still relies on some outdated equipment and manual processes of the type rival FedEx Corp. discarded or that newer entrants, including Amazon.com Inc., never had.

UPS says about half its packages are processed through automated facilities today. At FedEx, 96% of ground packages move through automated sites. UPS workers are unionized; FedEx's ground-operations workers aren't.


. . .


(p. B2) UPS is negotiating with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters to renew a five-year contract, which expires July 31. Representing 260,000 UPS drivers, sorters and other workers, the union wants UPS to hire more full-time workers to help handle the surge in packages. It has opposed technology such as autonomous vehicles and drones and is wary of projects that do work with fewer employees.

"The problem with technology is that it does ultimately streamline jobs," says Sean O'Brien, a Teamsters leader in Boston. "It does eliminate jobs. And once they're replaced, it's pretty tough to get them back."

FedEx, with no unionized workforce in its ground network, doesn't have to worry as much about labor strife. And because it built its ground network more recently, it hasn't had to retrofit older facilities with automation. "For an older hub, automating is like heart surgery," says Ted Dengel, FedEx Ground's managing director of operations technology. "We can drop automation in before a package hits a facility."



For the full story, see:

Paul Ziobro. "UPS is Running Late." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, June 16, 2018): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 15, 2018, and has the title "UPS's $20 Billion Problem: Operations Stuck in the 20th Century.")






August 13, 2018

Zuckerberg Calls Musk "Pretty Irresponsible" on A.I. "Doomsday" Fears



(p. 1) SAN FRANCISCO -- Mark Zuckerberg thought his fellow Silicon Valley billionaire Elon Musk was behaving like an alarmist.

Mr. Musk, the entrepreneur behind SpaceX and the electric-car maker Tesla, had taken it upon himself to warn the world that artificial intelligence was "potentially more dangerous than nukes" in television interviews and on social media.

So, on Nov. 19, 2014, Mr. Zuckerberg, Facebook's chief executive, invited Mr. Musk to dinner at his home in Palo Alto, Calif. Two top researchers from Facebook's new artificial intelligence lab and two other Facebook executives joined them.

As they ate, the Facebook contingent tried to convince Mr. Musk that he was wrong. But he wasn't budging. "I genuinely believe this is dangerous," Mr. Musk told the table, according to one of the dinner's attendees, Yann LeCun, the researcher who led Facebook's A.I. lab.

Mr. Musk's fears of A.I., distilled to their essence, were simple: If we create machines that are smarter than humans, they could turn against us. (See: "The Terminator," "The Matrix," and "2001: A Space Odyssey.") Let's for once, he was saying to the rest of the tech industry, consider the unintended consequences of what we are creating before we unleash it on the world.


. . .


(p. 6) Since their dinner three years ago, the debate between Mr. Zuckerberg and Mr. Musk has turned sour. Last summer, in a live Facebook video streamed from his backyard as he and his wife barbecued, Mr. Zuckerberg called Mr. Musk's views on A.I. "pretty irresponsible."

Panicking about A.I. now, so early in its development, could threaten the many benefits that come from things like self-driving cars and A.I. health care, he said.

"With A.I. especially, I'm really optimistic," Mr. Zuckerberg said. "People who are naysayers and kind of try to drum up these doomsday scenarios -- I just, I don't understand it."



For the full story, see:

Cade Metz. "Moguls and Killer Robots." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sunday, June 10, 2018): 1 & 6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 9, 2018, and has the title "Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk and the Feud Over Killer Robots.")






August 12, 2018

Chinese Communists Plan to Dominate Memory Chips by Stealing Micron Innovations



(p. B1) JINJIANG, China -- With a dragnet closing in, engineers at a Taiwanese chip maker holding American secrets did their best to conceal a daring case of corporate espionage.

As the police raided their offices, human resources workers gave the engineers a warning to scramble and get rid of the evidence. USB drives, laptops and documents were handed to a lower-level employee, who hid them in her locker. Then she walked one engineer's phone out the front door.

What those devices contained was more valuable than gold or jewels: designs from an American company, Micron Technology, for microchips that have helped power the global digital revolution. According to the Taiwanese authorities, the designs were bound for China, where they would help a new, $5.7 billion microchip factory the size of several airplane hangars rumble into production.

China has ambitious plans to overhaul its economy and compete head to head with the United States and other nations in the technology of tomorrow. The heist of the designs two years ago and the raids last year, which were described by Micron in court filings and the police in Taiwan, represent the dark side of that effort -- and explain in part why the United States is starting a trade war with China.

A plan known as Made in China 2025 calls for the country to become a global competitor in an ar-(p. B2)ray of industries, including semiconductors, robotics and electric vehicles. China is spending heavily to both innovate and buy up technology from abroad.

Politicians in Washington and American companies accuse China of veering into intimidation and outright theft to get there. And they see Micron, an Idaho company whose memory chips give phones and computers the critical ability to store and quickly retrieve information, as a prime example of that aggression.



For the full story, see:


Paul Mozur. "Darker Side Of Tech Bid By China." The New York Times (Saturday, June 23, 2018): B1-B2.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 22, 2018, and has the title "Inside a Heist of American Chip Designs, as China Bids for Tech Power.")






August 11, 2018

How Precision Metalwork Was Required for Industrial Revolution



(p. 16) In "The Perfectionists," Simon Winchester celebrates the unsung breed of engineers who through the ages have designed ever more creative and intricate machines. He takes us on a journey through the evolution of "precision," which in his view is the major driver of what we experience as modern life.


. . .


This expert working of metal is traced back to James Watt and his development of the steam engine. The first prototypes leaked copious amounts of steam and weren't very efficient. The problem was that the piston didn't fit exactly in its cylinder -- small imperfections in the surfaces of both allowed pockets of air to escape. Watt enlisted the help of John "Iron Mad" Wilkinson, so called because of his expertise (even obsession) with metal. Wilkinson had previously patented a way to bore out precise cylinders for more accurate cannons, and he suggested the same method be applied to Watt's ill-fitting system. It worked, and the improved engine allowed the conversion of energy to movement on an unprecedented scale. The Industrial Revolution, Winchester declares, could now begin.



For the full review, see:

Roma Agrawal. "Perfect Fit." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, June 17, 2018): 16.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May [sic] 14, 2018, and has the title "Under Modernity's Hood: Precision Engineering.")


The book under review, is:

Winchester, Simon. The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2018.






August 10, 2018

Widely-Used HireVue Algorithm Can Lock-In Hiring Biases



(p. A23) The products of a company called HireVue, which are used by over 600 companies including Nike, Unilever and even Atlanta Public Schools, allow employers to interview job applicants on camera, using A.I. to rate videos of each candidate according to verbal and nonverbal cues. The company's aim is to reduce bias in hiring.

But there's a catch: The system's ratings, according to a Business Insider reporter who tested the software and discussed the results with HireVue's chief technology officer, reflect the previous preferences of hiring managers. So if more white males with generally homogeneous mannerisms have been hired in the past, it's possible that algorithms will be trained to favorably rate predominantly fair-skinned, male candidates while penalizing women and people of color who do not exhibit the same verbal and nonverbal cues.



For the full story, see:


Joy Buolamwini. "The Hidden Dangers Of Facial Analysis." The New York Times (Friday, June 22, 2018): A23.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 21, 2018, and has the title "When the Robot Doesn't See Dark Skin.")






August 5, 2018

Drones "Stifled" by Stringent Regulations



(p. B5) The commercial drone industry is being stifled by unnecessarily stringent federal safety rules enforced by regulators who frequently pay only lip service to easing restrictions or streamlining decision-making, according to a report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

The unusually strongly worded report released Monday [June 11, 2018] urges "top-to-bottom" changes in how the Federal Aviation Administration assesses and manages risks from drones.


. . .

. . . minimal but persistent levels of risk already are accepted by the public,according to the report. A fundamental issue is "what are we going to compare [drone] safety to?" said consultant George Ligler, who served as chairman of the committee that drafted the document.

"We do not ground airplanes because birds fly in the airspace, although we know birds can and do bring down aircraft," the report said.



For the full story, see:

Andy Pasztor. "FAA's Safety Rules for Commercial Drones Are Overly Strict, Report Says." The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, June 12, 2018): B5.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 11, 2018, and has the title "FAA's Safety Rules for Commercial Drones Are Overly Strict, Report Says.")






August 3, 2018

History of Energy Shows Power of Human Ingenuity to Solve Problems



(p. 16) In this meticulously researched work, Rhodes brings his fascination with engineers, scientists and inventors along as he presents an often underappreciated history: four centuries through the evolution of energy and how we use it. He focuses on the introduction of each new energy source, and the discovery and gradual refinement of technologies that eventually made them dominant. The result is a book that is as much about innovation and ingenuity as it is about wood, coal, kerosene or oil.


. . .


Moreover, there is a familiar pattern when one energy source supplants another: As each obstacle is cleared, a new one appears. The distillation of Pennsylvania "rock oil," for instance, established that itt offered a superior mode of lighting, a discovery that immediately presented the challenge of producing such oil -- then collected from places where it bubbled to the surface -- in sufficient quantities. Similarly, the invention of the petroleum-fueled internal combustion engine required Charles F. Kettering and Thomas Midgely Jr. to resolve the pressing problem of "engine knock" that resulted from small, damaging explosions in the cylinders.


. . .


. . . , by the end one gets a sense of boosted confidence about the ability of technology and human ingenuity to solve even those problems that at first seem insurmountable.



For the full review, see:

Meghan L. O'sullivan. "Power On." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, June 24, 2018): 16.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 18, 2018, and has the title "A History of the Energy We Have Consumed.")


The book under review, is:

Rhodes, Richard. Energy: A Human History. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018.






August 2, 2018

Regulations Support Car Incumbents and Undermine Tesla Profitability



(p. A13) . . . governments everywhere have decided, perversely, that electric cars will not be profitable. In every major market--the U.S., Europe, China--the same political dispensation now applies: Established auto makers effectively will be required to make and sell electric cars at a loss in order to continue profiting from gas-powered vehicles.

This has rapidly become the institutional structure of the electric-car industry world-wide, for the benefit of the incumbents, whether GM in the U.S. or Daimler in Germany. Let's face it, the political class always had a bigger investment in these incumbents than it ever did in Tesla.

Tesla has a great brand, great technology and great vehicles. To survive, it also needs to mate itself to a nonelectric pickup truck business. . . .

We'll save for another day the relating of this phenomenon to Mr. Musk's recently erratic behavior and pronouncements. . . . Keep your eye on the bigger picture--the bigger picture is the global regulatory capture of the electric car moment by the status quo. And note the irony that Tesla's home state of California was the original pioneer of this insiders' regulatory bargain with its so-called zero-emissions-vehicle mandate.

Electric cars were going to remain a niche in any case, but public policy is quickly ruling out the possibility (which Tesla needed) of them at least being a profitable niche.



For the full commentary, see:

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. "BUSINESS WORLD; A Tesla Crackup Foretold; The real problem is that governments everywhere have ordained that electric cars will be sold at a loss." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, June 23, 2018): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 22, 2018.)







July 31, 2018

Libertarian Peter Thiel Predicts Communist China's Tech Success (What?)



(p. B1) The Trump administration gave ZTE, which employs 75,000 people and is the world's No. 4 maker of telecom gear, a stay of execution on Thursday. ZTE, which had violated American sanctions, agreed to pay a $1 billion fine and to allow monitors to set up shop in its headquarters. In return, the company -- once a symbol of China's progress and engineering know-how -- will be allowed to buy the American-made microchips, software and other tools it needs to survive.

China's technology boom, it turns out, has been largely built on top of Western technology.

The ZTE incident, as it is called in China, may be the country's Sputnik moment. Like the United States in 1957, watching helplessly as the Soviet Union launched the first human-made satellite, many people in China now see how far the country still has to go.

"We realized," said Dong Jielin, an adjunct professor at the Research Center for Technological Innovation at Tsinghua University in Beijing, "that China's prosperity was built on sand."


. . .


(p. B3) . . . many in China -- and many cheerleaders of the Chinese tech scene -- . . . found themselves in a feedback loop of their own making. The powerful propaganda machine flooded out rational voices, said Ms. Dong of Tsinghua University. The tech boom fits perfectly into Beijing's grand narrative of a national rejuvenation. Innovation and entrepreneurship are top national policies, with enormous financial backing from the government. Even now, some articles critical of China's lagging semiconductor industry have disappeared from the internet there.

And it wasn't just Chinese people. Michael Moritz, the American venture capital investor, warned that China "is leaving Donald Trump's America behind." Peter Thiel, a PayPal co-founder, wondered how long it would take for China to overtake the United States. Three to four years, he concluded.

The boom kept many from asking hard questions. They promoted China's surge in patent filings without looking at whether the patents were any good. They didn't ask why China still imports 90 percent of its semiconductor components even though the industry became a national priority in 2000.



For the full commentary, see:

Li Yuan. "China's Sputnik Moment." The New York Times (Monday, June 11, 2018): B1 & B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 10, 2018, and has the title "THE NEW NEW WORLD; ZTE's Near-Collapse May Be China's Sputnik Moment.")






July 29, 2018

A.I. Assists, but Does Not Replace, Humans



(p. B4) Some Phoenix-area residents have been hailing rides in minivans with no drivers and no human safety operators inside. But that doesn't mean they're on their own if trouble arises.

From a command center, employees at Alphabet Inc.'s Waymo driverless-car unit monitor the test vehicles on computer screens, able to wirelessly peer in through the minivan's cameras. If the robot brain maneuvering the vehicle gets confused by a situation--say, a car unexpectedly stalled in front of it or closed lanes of traffic--it will stop the vehicle and ask the command center to verify what it is seeing. If the human confirms the situation, the robot will calculate how it should navigate around the hazard.



For the full story, see:

Tim Higgins. "Driverless Autos Get Help From Humans Watching Remotely." The Wall Street Journal (Monday, June 7, 2018): B4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 5, 2018, and has the title "Driverless Cars Still Handled by Humans--From Afar.")






July 20, 2018

Human Intelligence Helps A.I. Work Better



(p. B3) A recent study at the M.I.T. Media Lab showed how biases in the real world could seep into artificial intelligence. Commercial software is nearly flawless at telling the gender of white men, researchers found, but not so for darker-skinned women.

And Google had to apologize in 2015 after its image-recognition photo app mistakenly labeled photos of black people as "gorillas."

Professor Nourbakhsh said that A.I.-enhanced security systems could struggle to determine whether a nonwhite person was arriving as a guest, a worker or an intruder.

One way to parse the system's bias is to make sure humans are still verifying the images before responding.

"When you take the human out of the loop, you lose the empathetic component," Professor Nourbakhsh said. "If you keep humans in the loop and use these systems, you get the best of all worlds."



For the full story, see:

Paul Sullivan. "WEALTH MATTERS; Can Artificial Intelligence Keep Your Home Secure?" The New York Times (Saturday, June 30, 2018): B3.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 29, 2018.)


The "recent study" mentioned above, is:

Buolamwini, Joy, and Timnit Gebru. "Gender Shades: Intersectional Accuracy Disparities in Commercial Gender Classification." Proceedings of Machine Learning Research 81 (2018): 1-15.







July 13, 2018

Collaborative Robots (Cobots) Fall in Price and Rise in Ease of Programming



(p. B4) Robots are moving off the assembly line.

Collaborative robots that work alongside humans--"cobots"--are getting cheaper and easier to program. That is encouraging businesses to put them to work at new tasks in bars, restaurants and clinics.

In the Netherlands, a cobot scales a 26-foot-high bar to tap bottles of homemade gin, whiskey and limoncello so that bartenders don't need to climb ladders. In Japan, a cobot boxes takeout dumplings. In Singapore, robots give soft-tissue massages.

Cobots made up just 5% of the $14 billion industrial-robot market in 2017, according to research by Minneapolis-based venture-capital firm Loup Ventures. Loup estimates sales will jump to 27% of a $33 billion market by 2025 as demand for the robotic arms rises. About 20 manufacturers around the world have started selling such robots in the past decade.



For the full story, see:

Natasha Khan. "Robots Shift From Factories to New Jobs." The Wall Street Journal (Monday, June 11, 2018): B4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 9, 2018, and has the title "Your Next Robot Encounter: Dinner, Drinks and a Massage.")






July 12, 2018

China Will Fail to Corner the Lithium Market



(p. B12) Since emerging as an industrial superpower in the 2000s, China has repeatedly tried to lock up essential resources like iron ore and so-called rare earths. The latest example is lithium, a key battery element: . . . .


. . .


The reality is more mundane.


. . .


. . . it will take just $13 billion in investment to satisfy annual lithium consumption as of 2030, against more $100 billion for nickel and copper.

Even if only a relatively small amount of mining capital spending migrates from mainstays like iron ore into lithium over the next decade, supply probably won't be a huge problem.



For the full story, see:

Nathaniel Taplin. "China Won't Be Able to Dominate Lithium Mining Forever." The Wall Street Journal (Friday, May 18, 2018): B12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 17, 2018, and has the title "China Won't Dominate Lithium Forever." The last sentence quoted above appeared in the online, but not in the print, version of the article.)






July 6, 2018

Assigning Property Rights to Internet Data Creators



(p. C3) Congress has stepped up talk of new privacy regulations in the wake of the scandal involving Cambridge Analytica, which improperly gained access to the data of as many as 87 million Facebook users. Even Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg testified that he thought new federal rules were "inevitable." But to understand what regulation is appropriate, we need to understand the source of the problem: the absence of a real market in data, with true property rights for data creators. Once that market is in place, implementing privacy protections will be easy.

We often think of ourselves as consumers of Facebook, Google, Instagram and other internet services. In reality, we are also their suppliers--or more accurately, their workers. When we post and label photos on Facebook or Instagram, use Google maps while driving, chat in multiple languages on Skype or upload videos to YouTube, we are generating data about human behavior that the companies then feed into machine-learning programs.

These programs use our personal data to learn patterns that allow them to imitate human behavior and understanding. With that information, computers can recognize images, translate languages, help viewers choose among shows and offer the speediest route to the mall. Companies such as Facebook, Google and Microsoft (where one of us works) sell these tools to other companies. They also use our data to match advertisers with consumers.

Defenders of the current system often say that we don't give away our personal data for free. Rather, we're paid in the form of the services that we receive. But this exchange is bad for users, bad for society and probably not ideal even for the tech companies. In a real market, consumers would have far more power over the exchange: Here's my data. What are you willing to pay for it?

An internet user today probably would earn only a few hundred dollars a year if companies paid for data. But that amount could grow substantially in the coming years. If the economic reach of AI systems continues to expand--into drafting legal contracts, diagnosing diseases, performing surgery, making investments, driving trucks, managing businesses--they will need vast amounts of data to function.

And if these systems displace human jobs, people will have plenty of time to supply that data. Tech executives fearful that AI will cause mass unemployment have advocated a universal basic income funded by increased taxes. But the pressure for such policies would abate if users were simply compensated for their data.



For the full commentary, see:

Eric A. Posner and E. Glen Weyl. "Want Our Personal Data? Pay for It." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, April 21, 2018): C3.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 20, 2018.)


The commentary quoted above, is based on:

Posner, Eric A., and E. Glen Weyl. Radical Markets: Uprooting Capitalism and Democracy for a Just Society. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2018.






July 1, 2018

Stornetta and Nakamoto Invented Bitcoin



(p. C18) In 1990, the physicist Scott Stornetta had a eureka moment while getting ice cream with his family at a Friendly's restaurant in Morristown, N.J. He and his cryptographer colleague, Stuart Haber, had been thinking about the proliferation of digital files that accompanied the rise of personal computing and the ease with which files could be altered. They wondered how we might know for certain what was true about the past. What would prevent tampering with the historical record--and would it be possible to protect such information for future generations?

The sticking point was the need to trust a central authority. But at Friendly's, an answer came to Dr. Stornetta: He realized that instead of a central record-keeper, the system could have many dispersed but interconnected copies of a shared ledger. The truth could never be typed over if there were too many linked ledgers to alter.

Drs. Haber and Stornetta were working at the time at Bellcore, a research center descended from the legendary Bell Labs. The pair set out to build a cryptographically secure archive--a way to verify records without revealing their contents.


. . .


. . . there is no mistaking their crucial contribution. When the founding document of bitcoin was published in 2008 under the name " Satoshi Nakamoto "--a pseudonym for one or more scientists--it had just eight citations of previous works. Three of them were papers co-authored by Drs. Haber and Stornetta.


, , ,


The Nakamoto paper revolutionized the foundational work of Drs. Stornetta and Haber by adding the concept of "mining" cryptocurrencies. It created financial incentives for participation in retaining and verifying parts of the blockchain ledger.



For the full commentary, see:

Amy Whitaker. "The Eureka Moment That Made Bitcoin Possible; A key insight for the technology came to a physicist almost three decades ago at a Friendly's restaurant in New Jersey." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, May 26, 2018): C18.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 25, 2018.)






June 29, 2018

"Infatuation with Deep Learning May Well Breed Myopia . . . Overinvestment . . . and Disillusionment"



(p. B1) For the past five years, the hottest thing in artificial intelligence has been a branch known as deep learning. The grandly named statistical technique, put simply, gives computers a way to learn by processing vast amounts of data.


. . .


But now some scientists are asking whether deep learning is really so deep after all.

In recent conversations, online comments and a few lengthy essays, a growing number of A.I. experts are warning that the infatuation with deep learning may well breed myopia and overinvestment now -- and disillusionment later.

"There is no real intelligence there," said Michael I. Jordan, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of an essay published in April intended to temper the lofty expectations surrounding A.I. "And I think that trusting these brute force algorithms too much is a faith misplaced."

The danger, some experts warn, is (p. B4) that A.I. will run into a technical wall and eventually face a popular backlash -- a familiar pattern in artificial intelligence since that term was coined in the 1950s. With deep learning in particular, researchers said, the concerns are being fueled by the technology's limits.

Deep learning algorithms train on a batch of related data -- like pictures of human faces -- and are then fed more and more data, which steadily improve the software's pattern-matching accuracy. Although the technique has spawned successes, the results are largely confined to fields where those huge data sets are available and the tasks are well defined, like labeling images or translating speech to text.

The technology struggles in the more open terrains of intelligence -- that is, meaning, reasoning and common-sense knowledge. While deep learning software can instantly identify millions of words, it has no understanding of a concept like "justice," "democracy" or "meddling."

Researchers have shown that deep learning can be easily fooled. Scramble a relative handful of pixels, and the technology can mistake a turtle for a rifle or a parking sign for a refrigerator.

In a widely read article published early this year on arXiv.org, a site for scientific papers, Gary Marcus, a professor at New York University, posed the question: "Is deep learning approaching a wall?" He wrote, "As is so often the case, the patterns extracted by deep learning are more superficial than they initially appear."



For the full story, see:

Steve Lohr. "Researchers Seek Smarter Paths to A.I." The New York Times (Thursday, June 21, 2018): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 20, 2018, and has the title "Is There a Smarter Path to Artificial Intelligence? Some Experts Hope So." The June 21st date is the publication date in my copy of the National Edition.)


The essay by Jordan, mentioned above, is:

Jordan, Michael I. "Artificial Intelligence -- the Revolution Hasn't Happened Yet." Medium.com, April 18, 2018.


The manuscript by Marcus, mentioned above, is:


Marcus, Gary. "Deep Learning: A Critical Appraisal." Jan. 2, 2018.








June 28, 2018

We Underestimate How Entrepreneurial the Americans Were in the 1800s



(p. C6) Jim DeFelice's "West Like Lightning," a history of the Pony Express, begins with an anxious young rider waiting to take the news to California that Abraham Lincoln had been elected president. The delivery service lasted only about 18 months, but its revolutionary speed left an indelible mark on the country. Many, including Mark Twain, marveled at riders' courage and the spectacle of their switching horses every 10 miles or so for a fresh burst of speed.


. . .


In what way is the book you wrote different from the book you set out to write?

Historians, God bless them, they do a lot of debunking of legends. They can sometimes come off as schoolmarms. The reality is, those legends are fun. They're the exciting part. I separate fact and fiction, but I love those stories -- and underneath them, there's a much deeper truth. There's a reason we value these 19- and 20-year-old kids pushing themselves against the elements.

I knew there would be some debunking involved. What I didn't know was how true a lot of those stories turned out to be. If I were a Pony Express rider, I'd be bragging about how fast I made it. These guys didn't brag about that -- they bragged about how far they went. They were bragging about endurance and dealing with the elements. That impressed me, the resilience.

I also think sometimes we underestimate -- and I'm guilty of this -- just how entrepreneurial and into technology people were in the past. We think we're cool because we can fly somewhere and be there tomorrow. But for these guys, 10 days was huge. If you gave them something in downtown New York, it would be in San Francisco two weeks later. At the time, that would be like going from dial-up to the fastest speeds we have today.



For the full interview, see:

John Williams, interviewer, " Making Good Time and Even Better Tales." The New York Times (Monday, May 21, 2018): C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date May 20, 2018, and has the title "Tell Us 5 Things About Your Book: Making Good Time With the Pony Express." The first paragraph and the bold question are John Williams. The paragraphs following the bold question, are Jim DeFelice's answer.)


The book discussed in the interview quoted above, is:

DeFelice, Jim. West Like Lightning: The Brief, Legendary Ride of the Pony Express. New York: William Morrow, 2018.






June 21, 2018

Silicon Valley Venture Capitalists "Fantasize about Relocating" to "Detroit and South Bend"



(p. B1) It was pitched as a kind of Rust Belt safari -- a chance for Silicon Valley investors to meet local officials and look for promising start-ups in overlooked areas of the country.

But a funny thing happened: By the end of the tour, the coastal elites had caught the heartland bug. Several used Zillow, the real estate app, to gawk at the availability of cheap homes in cities like Detroit and South Bend and fantasize about relocating there. They marveled at how even old-line manufacturing cities now offer a convincing simulacrum of coastal life, complete with artisanal soap stores and farm-to-table restaurants.


. . .


(p. B4) Mr. McKenna, who owns a house in Miami in addition to his home in San Francisco, told me that his travels outside the Bay Area had opened his eyes to a world beyond the tech bubble.

"Every single person in San Francisco is talking about the same things, whether it's 'I hate Trump' or 'I'm going to do blockchain and Bitcoin,'" he said. "It's the worst part of the social network."


. . .


Recently, Peter Thiel, the President Trump-supporting billionaire investor and Facebook board member, became Silicon Valley's highest-profile defector when he reportedly told people close to him that he was moving to Los Angeles full-time, and relocating his personal investment funds there. (Founders Fund and Mithril Capital, two other firms started by Mr. Thiel, will remain in the Bay Area.) Mr. Thiel reportedly considered San Francisco's progressive culture "toxic," and sought out a city with more intellectual diversity.

Mr. Thiel's criticisms were echoed by Michael Moritz, the billionaire founder of Sequoia Capital. In a recent Financial Times op-ed, Mr. Moritz argued that Silicon Valley had become slow and spoiled by its success, and that "soul-sapping discussions" about politics and social injustice had distracted tech companies from the work of innovation.

Complaints about Silicon Valley insularity are as old as the Valley itself. Jim Clark, the co-founder of Netscape, famously decamped for Florida during the first dot-com era, complaining about high taxes and expensive real estate. Steve Case, the founder of AOL, has pledged to invest mostly in start-ups outside the Bay Area, saying that "we've probably hit peak Silicon Valley."


. . .


This isn't a full-blown exodus yet. But in the last three months of 2017, San Francisco lost more residents to outward migration than any other city in the country, according to data from Redfin, the real estate website. A recent survey by Edelman, the public relations firm, found that 49 percent of Bay Area residents, and 58 percent of Bay Area millennials, were considering moving away. And a sharp increase in people moving out of the Bay Area has led to a shortage of moving vans. (According to local news reports, renting a U-Haul for a one-way trip from San Jose to Las Vegas now costs roughly $2,000, compared with just $100 for a truck going the other direction.)



For the full commentary, see:

Kevin Roose. "THE SHIFT; Silicon Valley Toured the Heartland and Fell in Love." The New York Times (Monday, March 5, 2018): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 4, 2018, and has the title "THE SHIFT; Silicon Valley Is Over, Says Silicon Valley.")






June 19, 2018

Blockchain May Enable "Consent-Based Ad Models"



(p. A13) Internet advertising started simply, but over time organically evolved a mess of middle players and congealed into a surveillance economy. Today, between end users, publishers and advertisers stand a throng of agencies, trading desks, demand side platforms, network exchanges and yield optimizers. Intermediaries track users in an attempt to improve revenue.

It's an inevitable consequence of such a system that users end up treated as a resource to be exploited. When you visit the celebrity website TMZ, for instance, you face as many as 124 trackers, according to a Crownpeak test. Your data is stored and profiled to retarget promotions that shadow you around the Internet. You become the product. Some claim your data is not "sold," but access is certainly rented out.


. . .


For a solution, look to blockchain technology. More than a word peppering earnings calls, it can deliver the change brands, publishers and users need. Put simply, it's an immutable database that records transactions and produces trustworthy data.

In advertising, blockchain's reliable data can radically shrink the ad-tech blob and provide the foundation for consent-based ad models. Improved blockchain reporting and transparency would obviate much of the need for companies focused on measurement, verification and even some data suppliers. Companies like Brave are using blockchain to build software that allows for more-direct relationships between advertisers and publishers, as it was before the blob. (Earlier this month Brave announced a partnership with Dow Jones Media Group, a division of this newspaper's parent company.) Anonymous data on the blockchain or on a device can even replace the need for the mining of individual user data. Users should be compensated for their attention and seen as customers again.

The internet need not be characterized by predation and parasitism. It can once again be a place of infinite possibility. Innovation got us into this situation; it can get us out.



For the full commentary, see:

Brendan Eichand and Brian Brown. "The Internet's 'Original Sin' Endangers More Than Privacy." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, April 28, 2018): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 27, 2018.)






June 17, 2018

Jeff Bezos Is "Exploring Strange New Worlds"



(p. A15) Jeff Bezos is the world's richest person. Amazon is on a tear--sales grew 43% last quarter--and may soon pass Apple as the world's most valuable company. Amazon has ruptured retail, floated in the cloud, and even made superhero TV shows like "The Tick." But what makes Mr. Bezos tick?


. . .


. . . , Mr. Bezos is now channeling pioneers, be they Columbus or James T. Kirk, exploring strange new worlds. His strategy is that he doesn't let business models get in his way while exploring on the edge.


. . .


I'm convinced the real secret to Mr. Bezos's success is that he hates PowerPoint slides. He insists instead on six-page narratives at meetings. Stories codify exploration. Here's one: Put Alexa in every doctor's office to listen and correctly fill in medical records automatically from the transcripts, freeing doctors to actually care for patients! Business model to come (but pretty obvious).



For the full commentary, see:

Andy Kessler. " INSIDE VIEW; Columbus Discovers the Amazon." The Wall Street Journal (Monday, May 7, 2018): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 6, 2018.)






June 15, 2018

Paying Consumers for Their Data



(p. B4) WASHINGTON--For every link you click, every photo you post, every word you search, somebody markets the data to advertisers seeking to target you. Consumer data is a valuable commodity, and that is one reason Google, Facebook and others let you use their platforms at no cost.

An Australian app maker called Unlockd thinks it has a better idea: The consumer should get a cut of this mobile-data business, in the form of rewards or other incentives. Other newcomers and smaller firms are taking a similar tack. Should this approach take off, some see it becoming a viable alternative to the ad model driving big platforms like Alphabet Inc.'s Google.



For the full story, see:

McKinnon, John D. "Startup Wants to Reward Your Clicking." The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, May 10, 2018): B4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 9, 2018, and has the title "Startup Takes on Google With a New Approach: Rewards for Users.")






June 13, 2018

China's "Double Whammy for Prospective Entrepreneurs"



(p. B12) China's past attempts to stoke indigenous innovation have a checkered history. A flood of cheap capital and high, state-set solar power rates in the mid-2000s secured China's place as the world's number one solar cell manufacturer. But it also led to enormous overcapacity, which sank prices and pushed debt burdens higher, making investment in real R&D more difficult. For investors, China's solar champions have been a losing proposition--American depositary receipts of top firms such as JinkoSolar are worth less than half of their peak in 2010. Robotics, a key element of Beijing's "Made in China 2025" plan to dominate high-tech manufacturing, is exhibiting similar tendencies.

The state-centric nature of China's financial system--and its weak intellectual property protection--represents a double whammy for prospective entrepreneurs. Small private-sector firms often only have access to capital through expensive shadow banking channels, and face the risk that some better connected, state-backed firm will make off with their designs--with very little recourse.



For the full story, see:

Nour Malas and Paul Overberg. "'Chinese Innovation Won't Come Easily Without U.S. Tech." The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, March 23, 2018): B12.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 22, 2018, and has the title "Can China's Red Capital Really Innovate?")






June 11, 2018

San Francisco Suffers Net Loss of People as Tech Booms



(p. A3) San Francisco is such a boomtown that people are leaving in droves.

In 2016 and 2017, more people moved out of the San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward metropolitan area--an urban core of 4.7 million people in a broader region known as the Bay Area--than moved into it from other parts of California or the U.S., according to U.S. census data.

In the year that ended July 1, the region showed a net loss of nearly 24,000 residents to the rest of the country, roughly double the loss of the previous year and a sharp reversal from net annual gains of about 15,000 as recently as 2013-14.

Economists said the outflow is being driven by the high cost of housing in the area, where the average home value in several counties surpasses $1 million.



For the full story, see:

Nour Malas and Paul Overberg. "'San Francisco's Boom Leads to an Exodus." The Wall Street Journal (Friday, March 23, 2018): A3.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 22, 2018, and has the title "San Francisco Has a People Problem.")






June 7, 2018

California Regulation Adds $9,500 to Average Home Cost



(p. A1) The California Energy Commission voted 5-0 to approve a mandate that residential buildings up to three stories high, including single-family homes and condos, be built with solar installations starting in 2020.

The commission estimates that the move, along with other (p. A2) energy-efficiency requirements, would add $9,500 to the average cost of building a home in California. The state is already one of the most expensive housing markets in the country, with a median price of nearly $565,000 for a single-family home, according to the California Association of Realtors.



For the full story, see:

Erin Ailworth. "Solar Panel Mandate Jols Housing Industry." The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, May 10, 2018): A1-A2.

(Note: the online version of the story was updated May 9, 2018, and has the title "California Takes Big Step to Require Solar on New Homes.")






June 6, 2018

Hundreds of Years of CO2 Emissions Could Be Stored Forever in Oman's Rocks



(p. A10) IBRA, Oman -- In the arid vastness of this corner of the Arabian Peninsula, out where goats and the occasional camel roam, rocks form the backdrop practically every way you look.

But the stark outcrops and craggy ridges are more than just scenery. Some of these rocks are hard at work, naturally reacting with carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and turning it into stone.

Veins of white carbonate minerals run through slabs of dark rock like fat marbling a steak. Carbonate surrounds pebbles and cobbles, turning ordinary gravel into natural mosaics.

Even pooled spring water that has bubbled up through the rocks reacts with CO2 to produce an ice-like crust of carbonate that, if broken, re-forms within days.

Scientists say that if this natural process, called carbon mineralization, could be harnessed, accelerated and applied inexpensively on a huge scale -- admittedly some very big "ifs" -- it could help fight climate change. Rocks could remove some of the billions of tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide that humans have pumped into the air since the beginning of the Industrial Age.

And by turning that CO2 into stone, the rocks in Oman -- or in a number of other places around the world that have similar geological formations -- would ensure that the gas stayed out of the atmosphere forever.

"Solid carbonate minerals aren't going anyplace," said Peter B. Kelemen, a geologist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory who has been studying the rocks here for more than two decades.

Capturing and storing carbon dioxide is drawing increased interest. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that deploying such technology is essential to efforts to rein in global warming.


. . .


The rocks are so extensive, Dr. Kelemen said, that if it was somehow possible to fully use them they could store hundreds of years of CO2 emissions. More realistically, he said, Oman could store at least a billion tons of CO2 annually. (Current yearly worldwide emissions are close to 40 billion tons.)



For the full story, see:


Henry Fountain. "How Oman's Rocks Could Help Save the Planet." The New York Times (Saturday, APRIL 28, 2018: A10-A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 26, 2018.)






June 4, 2018

Robots Free Humans for More and Better Jobs



(p. A8) For companies, choosing the appropriate tasks to automate is important. Auto maker BMW AG automated some of the physical labor at the Spartanburg plant in South Carolina while retaining tasks involving judgment and quality control for workers.

Robots fit black, soundproofing rubber tubes to the inner rim of car doors, a task once done entirely by hand, on the more than 5,000 or so car doors that pass through the production line each day. Human workers do final checks on the tube's placement. The division of labor speeds up the process.

Since BMW introduced this and other automated processes over the past decade, it has more than doubled its annual car production at Spartanburg to more than 400,000. The workforce has risen from 4,200 workers to 10,000, and they handle vastly more complex autos--cars that once had 3,000 parts now have 15,000.

Being spared strenuous activities gives workers the time and energy to tackle more demanding and creative tasks, BMW said in a statement.

James Bessen, an economist who teaches at Boston University School of Law, said automation like that at the Spartanburg plant has enabled a huge increase in the quality and variety of products, which help spur consumer demand. BMW's share of luxury-car sales in the U.S. has risen sharply, with over 300,000 cars sold last year compared with just over 120,000 in 1997, company figures show.

Tesla Inc., by contrast, has struggled with production of the Model 3 car at its Fremont, Calif., plant after its use of robots got out of balance. Undetected errors in parts built by robots caused bottlenecks in production, meaning it could build only 2,020 cars a week compared with the 5,000 it originally promised, according to the company.

Analysts at investment research firm Bernstein said Tesla automated welding, paint and body work processes, as other manufacturers have done, but also automated final assembly work, in which parts, seats and the engine are installed in the car's painted shell. Errors in this work caused production bottlenecks. "Automation in final assembly doesn't work," said analyst Max Warburton.

"Yes, excessive automation at Tesla was a mistake...Humans are underrated," wrote Tesla CEO Elon Musk in a tweet last month.


. . .


At an aggregate level, however, the jobs created by automation outnumber those that are being destroyed, according to analysis by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's David Autor and Utrecht University's Anna Salomons.



For the full story, see:

William Wilkes. "Big Companies Fine-Tune The Robot Revolution." The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, May 15, 2018): A1 & A8.

(Note: ellipsis between paragraphs, added; ellipsis internal to paragraph, in original.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 14, 2018, and has the title "How the World's Biggest Companies Are Fine-Tuning the Robot Revolution.")


More of James Bessen's views on these issues, can be found in his discussion of ATMs in:

Bessen, James. Learning by Doing: The Real Connection between Innovation, Wages, and Wealth. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015.


The analysis by Autor and Salomons, mentioned above, appears in:

Autor, David, and Anna Salomons. "Is Automation Labor-Displacing? Productivity Growth, Employment, and the Labor Share." In Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Feb. 27, 2018.






June 2, 2018

Spreadsheets Created More and Better Jobs Than They Destroyed



BookkeepingVersusAnalystJobsGraph2018-05-19.jpgSource of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.




(p. A2) Whether truck drivers or marketing executives, all workers consider intelligence intrinsic to how they do their jobs. No wonder the rise of "artificial intelligence" is uniquely terrifying. From Stephen Hawking to Elon Musk, we are told almost daily our jobs will soon be done more cheaply by AI.


. . .


Until the 1980s, manipulating large quantities of data--for example, calculating how higher interest rates changed a company's future profits--was time-consuming and error-prone. Then along came personal computers and spreadsheet programs VisiCalc in 1979, Lotus 1-2-3 in 1983 and Microsoft Excel a few years later. Suddenly, you could change one number--say, this year's rent--and instantly recalculate costs, revenues and profits years into the future. This simplified routine bookkeeping while making many tasks possible, such as modeling alternate scenarios.


. . .


The new technology pummeled demand for bookkeepers: their ranks have shrunk 44% from two million in 1985, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Yet people who could run numbers on the new software became hot commodities. Since 1985, the ranks of accountants and auditors have grown 41%, to 1.8 million, while financial managers and management analysts, which the BLS didn't even track before 1983, have nearly quadrupled to 2.1 million.



For the full commentary, see:

Greg Ip. "CAPITAL ACCOUNT; We Survived Spreadsheets; We'll Survive AI." The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, August 3, 2017): A2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated Aug. 2, 2017, and has the title "CAPITAL ACCOUNT; We Survived Spreadsheets, and We'll Survive AI.")






June 1, 2018

AI "Will Never Match the Creativity of Human Beings or the Fluidity of the Real World"



(p. A21) If you read Google's public statement about Google Duplex, you'll discover that the initial scope of the project is surprisingly limited. It encompasses just three tasks: helping users "make restaurant reservations, schedule hair salon appointments, and get holiday hours."

Schedule hair salon appointments? The dream of artificial intelligence was supposed to be grander than this -- to help revolutionize medicine, say, or to produce trustworthy robot helpers for the home.

The reason Google Duplex is so narrow in scope isn't that it represents a small but important first step toward such goals. The reason is that the field of A.I. doesn't yet have a clue how to do any better.


. . .


The narrower the scope of a conversation, the easier it is to have. If your interlocutor is more or less following a script, it is not hard to build a computer program that, with the help of simple phrase-book-like templates, can recognize a few variations on a theme. ("What time does your establishment close?" "I would like a reservation for four people at 7 p.m.") But mastering a Berlitz phrase book doesn't make you a fluent speaker of a foreign language. Sooner or later the non sequiturs start flowing.


. . .


To be fair, Google Duplex doesn't literally use phrase-book-like templates. It uses "machine learning" techniques to extract a range of possible phrases drawn from an enormous data set of recordings of human conversations. But the basic problem remains the same: No matter how much data you have and how many patterns you discern, your data will never match the creativity of human beings or the fluidity of the real world. The universe of possible sentences is too complex. There is no end to the variety of life -- or to the ways in which we can talk about that variety.


. . .


Today's dominant approach to A.I. has not worked out. Yes, some remarkable applications have been built from it, including Google Translate and Google Duplex. But the limitations of these applications as a form of intelligence should be a wake-up call. If machine learning and big data can't get us any further than a restaurant reservation, even in the hands of the world's most capable A.I. company, it is time to reconsider that strategy.



For the full commentary, see:

Gary Marcus and Ernest Davis. "A.I. Is Harder Than You Think." The New York Times (Saturday, May 19, 2018): A21.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 18, 2018.)






May 30, 2018

Plenty of Good Blue-Collar Jobs



(p. A1) ELKHART, Ind.--The self-proclaimed RV capital of the world gives a glimpse of what the American economy looks like when operating at full tilt.

High-school students around here skip college for factory jobs that offer great pay and benefits. For-hire signs sprout like roadside weeds. And workers are so flush that car dealers can't keep new pickups on the lot.

At the same time, the strains are showing. Employers can't hang on to employees, and house prices are zooming. The worker shortage prompted a local Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant to offer $150 signing bonuses. A McDonald's failed to open for lunch last fall because managers couldn't corral enough hands at $8 an hour to serve the lines waiting at the door.

No place in the U.S. has seen a labor-market turnaround like this metropolitan region of 110,000 workers, a mix of blue-collar whites, Mexican immigrants and Amish. "It's like 1955," said Michael Hicks, a Ball State University economist. "If you show up and have minimal literacy skills, you can find a job here."



For the full story, see:

Bob Davis. "Economy's Future Plays Out in Rust Belt." The Wall Street Journal (Friday, April 6, 2018): A1 & A9.

(Note: the online version of the story was updated April 13 [sic], 2018, and has the title "The Future of America's Economy Looks a Lot Like Elkhart, Indiana.")






May 29, 2018

Google Further Reduces Small Payments to Content Creators



YouTube is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Google.


(p. A15) SAN FRANCISCO -- The authorities believe a woman who shot three people at YouTube's headquarters before killing herself on Tuesday [April 3, 2018] was angered by the social media outlet's policies.

While the police did not specifically say what those policies were, they likely had to do with a concept called "demonetization."


. . .


One of those creators was Nasim Najafi Aghdam, the woman the police said had shot YouTube employees in San Bruno, Calif. She frequently posted videos to several YouTube channels and had become increasingly angry over the money she was making from them.

"My Revenue For 300,000 Views Is $0.10?????" Ms. Aghdam wrote on her website, while calling YouTube "a dictatorship."


. . .


Video creators take a share of the money from ads running before or alongside their videos. But YouTube has been raising the bar on qualifications for running ads.

Last April, the company said it would set a requirement for 10,000 cumulative lifetime views before allowing videos to gain ads. In January, the company raised that requirement to 4,000 hours of watch time in the past year and 1,000 subscribers.



For the full story, see:

NELLIE BOWLES and JACK NICAS. "YouTube Complaints From Attacker Echoed Fight Over Ad Dollars." The New York Times (Thursday, April 5, 2018): A15.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 4, 2018, and has the title "YouTube Attacker's Complaints Echoed Fight Over Ad Dollars.")






May 16, 2018

Silicon Valley Warms to Trumps Lower Taxes and Deregulation



(p. B1) SAN FRANCISCO -- Two days after Donald J. Trump won the 2016 election, executives at Google consoled their employees in an all-staff meeting broadcast around the world.

"There is a lot of fear within Google," said Sundar Pichai, the company's chief executive, according to a video of the meeting viewed by The New York Times. When asked by an employee if there was any silver lining to Mr. Trump's election, the Google co-founder Sergey Brin said, "Boy, that's a really tough one right now." Ruth Porat, the finance chief, said Mr. Trump's victory felt "like a ton of bricks dropped on my chest." Then she instructed members of the audience to hug the person next to them.

Sixteen months later, Google's parent company, Alphabet, has most likely saved billions of dollars in taxes on its overseas cash under a new tax law signed by Mr. Trump. Alphabet also stands to benefit from the Trump administration's looser regulations for self-driving cars and delivery drones, as well as from proposed changes to the trade pact with Mexico and Canada that would limit Google's liability for user content on its sites.

Once one of Mr. Trump's most vocal opponents, Silicon Valley's technology industry has increasingly found common ground with the White House. When Mr. Trump was elected, tech executives were largely up in arms over a leader who espoused policies on immigration and other issues that were antithetical to their companies' values. Now, many of the industry's executives are growing more comfortable with the president and how his (p. B5) economic agenda furthers their business interests, even as many of their employees continue to disagree with Mr. Trump on social issues.


. . .


. . . quietly, the tech industry has warmed to the White House, especially as companies including Alphabet, Apple and Intel have benefited from the Trump administration's policies.

Those include lowering corporate taxes, encouraging development of new wireless technology like 5G and, so far, ignoring calls to break up the tech giants. Mr. Trump's tougher stance on China may also help ward off industry rivals, with the president squashing a hostile bid to acquire the chip maker Qualcomm this month. And Mr. Trump let die an Obama-era rule that required many tech start-ups to give some workers more overtime pay.

Mr. Trump "has been great for business and really, really good for tech," said Gary Shapiro, who leads the Consumer Technology Association, the largest American tech trade group, with more than 2,200 members including Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook.

Mr. Shapiro said that he had voted for Hillary Clinton, Mr. Trump's opponent, in 2016, but that he and many tech executives had come around on Mr. Trump. While they disagree with him on immigration and the environment, they have found areas where their interests align, like deregulation and investment in internet infrastructure.

"This isn't Hitler or Mussolini here," Mr. Shapiro said. And even though the president's new tariffs on steel and aluminum could hurt American businesses and consumers, "disagreement in one area does not mean we cannot work together in others," Mr. Shapiro said. "Everyone who is married knows that."



For the full story, see:


JACK NICAS. "Silicon Valley, Wary of Trump, Warms to Him." The New York Times (Saturday, March 31, 2018): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 30, 2018, and has the title "Silicon Valley Warms to Trump After a Chilly Start.")






May 12, 2018

Amazon Hires Thousands of Low-Tech Workers



(p. B1) TROMEOVILLE, Ill. -- Brandon Williams arrived at an Amazon fulfillment center here, about an hour outside of Chicago, around 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday [August 2, 2017], one of thousands across the country who turned up for the company's first Jobs Day. While he appeared to wilt slightly during the five hours he waited before an M.C. summoned him for a tour, his enthusiasm did not wane.

"What's not great about a company that keeps building?" he said, seated in a huge tent the company erected in the parking lot as a kind of makeshift waiting room.

The event was a vivid illustration of the ascendance of Amazon, the online retail company that, to a far greater extent than others in the tech industry, has a seemingly insatiable need for human labor to fuel its explosive growth.

Like other tech giants, Amazon is recruiting thousands of people with engineering and business degrees for high-paying jobs. But the vast majority of Amazon's hiring is for what the company calls its "fulfillment network" -- the armies of people who pick and pack orders in warehouses and unload and drive delivery trucks, and who take home considerably smaller incomes.

The event on Wednesday, held at a dozen locations including Romeoville, Ill., was intended to help fill 50,000 of those lower-paying positions, 40,000 of them full-time jobs.

Those high-low distinctions did not seem to bother the attendees of the jobs fair, many of them united in the conviction that Amazon represented untapped opportunity -- that a foot in the door could lead to a career of better-compensated, more satisfying work, whether in fulfillment, I.T., marketing or even fashion.

Mr. Williams, a military veteran studying computer network security at a nearby community college, said he hoped to eventually work his way up to an I.T. job with Amazon. But even those whose ambitions were more in line (p. B7) with the vast majority of available jobs could not hide their excitement.


. . .


Arun Sundararajan, a professor of information, operations and management sciences at New York University's Stern School of Business, said Amazon's employment needs are unique among tech companies.


. . .


"While the digital disruption is destroying the traditional retail business model," Dr. Sundararajan said, "the Amazon model that replaces it will continue to live in the physical world and require human labor for the foreseeable future."



For the full story, see:

NOAM SCHEIBER and NICK WINGFIELD. "Amazon's Clear Message: Hiring." The New York Times (Thursday, August 3, 2017): B1 & B7.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date AUG. 2, 2017, and has the title "Amazon's Jobs Fair Sends Clear Message: Now Hiring Thousands.")






May 10, 2018

Blockchain Could Give People "Ownership of Their Own Data"



(p. B1) The first blockchain was created in 2009 as a new kind of database for the virtual currency Bitcoin, where all transactions could be stored without any banks or governments involved.

Now, countless entrepreneurs, companies and governments are looking to use similar databases -- often independent of Bitcoin -- to solve some of the most intractable issues facing society.

"People feel the need to move away from something like Facebook and toward something that allows them to have ownership of their own data," said Ryan Shea, a co-founder of Blockstack, a New York company working with blockchain technology.

The creator of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, has said the blockchain could help reduce the big internet companies' influence and return the web to his original vision.


. . .


(p. B4) Blockstack has built a way to record the basic details about your identity on a blockchain database and then use that identity to set up accounts with other online projects that are built on top of it.

The animating force behind the project is that users -- rather than Blockstack or any other company -- would end up in control of all the data they generate with any online service.

Blockstack is one of several blockchain-based projects hoping to create a new generation of online services that don't rely on having unfettered access to our personal information.

The idea has gained enough steam that in the days after news of Facebook's relationship with Cambridge Analytica broke, Twitter was filled with people calling for blockchain-based alternatives.



For the full story, see:


NATHANIEL POPPER. "Tech's Answer For Security: Blockchain." The New York Times (Monday, April 2, 2018): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 1, 2018, and has the title "Tech Thinks It Has a Fix for the Problems It Created: Blockchain.")






May 8, 2018

Dockless Scooter Startups Follow Uber in Asking Regulators for Forgiveness Instead of Permission



(p. B1) Electric scooters have arrived en masse in cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, with companies competing to offer the dockless and rechargeable vehicles. Leading the pack is Mr. VanderZanden's Bird, with rivals including Spin and LimeBike. The start-ups are buoyed with more than $250 million in venture capital and a firm belief that electric scooters are the future of transportation, at least for a few speedy blocks.

The premise of the start-ups is simple: People can rent the electric scooters for about a $1, plus 10 cents to 15 cents a minute to use, for so-called last-mile transportation. To recharge the scooters, (p. B5) the companies have "chargers," or people who roam the streets looking to plug in the scooters at night, for which they get paid $5 to $20 per scooter.

The problem is that cities have been shocked to discover that thousands of electric scooters have been dropped onto their sidewalks seemingly overnight. Often, the companies ignored all the usual avenues of getting city approval to set up shop. And since the scooters are dockless, riders can just grab one, go a few blocks and leave it wherever they want, causing a commotion on sidewalks and scenes of scooters strewn across wheelchair ramps and in doorways.

So officials in cities like San Francisco and Santa Monica, Calif., have been sending cease-and-desist notices and holding emergency meetings. Some even filed charges against the scooter companies.

"They just appeared," said Mohammed Nuru, director of the San Francisco Public Works, which has been confiscating the scooters. "I don't know who comes up with these ideas or where these people come from."

Dennis Herrera, the San Francisco city attorney who sent cease-and-desist letters to Bird and others, described the chaos as "a free for all."

Mr. VanderZanden said given how enormous a social shift he believes his scooters are, he was not surprised it ruffled some feathers. But people would eventually adjust, he said.

"Go back to the early 1900s, and people would have a similar reaction to cars because they were used to horses," he said. "They had to figure out where to park all the dockless cars."

If there is something familiar about these scooter companies' strategy of just showing up in cities without permission, that's because that has now become a tried-and-true playbook for many start-ups. In its early days, Uber, the ride-hailing giant, also barreled into towns overnight to launch its service and only asked for forgiveness later.

"Cities don't know what it is," Caen Contee, the head of marketing for LimeBike, said of the arrival of electric scooters. "They don't know how to permit it until they've seen it."


. . .


"My brother and sister legislators from Santa Monica warned me that that phenomenon has hit their cities," said Aaron Peskin, who is on San Francisco's board of supervisors, the city's legislative branch. Referring to the scooter start-ups, he added, "These people are out of their minds."



For the full story, see:

Nellie Bowles and David Streitfeld. "Charged Up Over Scooters Despite Uproar." The New York Times (Sat., April 21, 2018): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 20, 2018, and has the title "Electric Scooters Are Causing Havoc. This Man Is Shrugging It Off.")






May 4, 2018

Workers Rejecting Big-Rig Trucking Jobs



(p. B1) Trucking companies eager to hire more drivers but facing a slim pipeline of new recruits aren't finding much to encourage them at the James Rumsey Technical Institute in Martinsburg, W.Va.

Enrollment in commercial-driving courses at the school dropped to its lowest point in about 15 years this winter, a signal that the industry's efforts to sell workers on truck driving haven't gained much traction. "Recruiters said all the schools were down this winter," said instructor Michael Timmer, although he added that more students are trickling in as the weather warms.

Freight volumes in the U.S. are surging on the back of strong economic growth, as retailers and manufacturers hire more trucks to haul imports from seaports to distribution centers and raw materials to factories. But the flow of new truck drivers is lagging far behind the roaring freight market.

With unemployment at a nearly two-decade low, the downsides of life behind the wheel are making recruitment tough. Many workers are opting for construction or energy jobs that offer more time at home or better pay.



For the full story, see:

Jennifer Smith. "Trucking's Big-Rig Life Stays a Tough Sell." The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, April 4, 2018): B1-B2.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 3, 2018, and has the title "Trucking Companies Are Struggling to Attract Drivers to the Big-Rig Life.")






May 2, 2018

Debt-Free, Focused Year of Tech Ed Yields Good Jobs for High School Grads



(p. A3) As a high-school senior in Hampton, Va., Aidan Cary applied last year to prestigious universities like Dartmouth, Vanderbilt and the University of Virginia.

Then he clicked on the website for a one-year-old school called MissionU and quickly decided that's where he wanted to go.

Mr. Cary, 19 years old, is enrolled in a one-year, data-science program. He studies between 40 and 50 hours a week, visits high-tech, Bay Area companies as part of his education, and will pay the San Francisco-based school a percentage of his income for three years after he graduates.

This new type of postsecondary education is proving a hit: The school says it has received more than 10,000 applications for 50 spots.

"I think people feel backed into a corner by the cost of college," Mr. Cary said. "They've been waiting for something like this so when it finally came around they could instantly see the value proposition."

MissionU, which enrolled its first class in September [2017], is part of new breed of institutions that bill themselves as college alternatives for the digital age. The schools--whose admission rates hover in the single digits--comparable to the Ivy League, according to the schools--offer a debt-free way to attain skills in hot areas and guaranteed apprenticeships with high-tech companies. Together those create a pipeline to well-paying high-tech jobs.



For the full story, see:

Douglas Belkin. "One-Year Alternatives to College Pop Up." The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, April 10, 2018): A3.

(Note: bracketed year added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 9, 2018, and has the title "One Year of 'College' With No Degree, But No Debt And a Job at the End." In the penultimate paragraph quoted above, the print version has "value" where the online version has "value proposition." I use the online version.)






April 26, 2018

Blockchain Tested to Speed Property Transfers



(p. B8) The blockchain technology that underpins cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin could change the way property deals are done and recorded more than any other new technology, real-estate and technology experts say.

And Sweden's nearly 400-year-old land mapping and registration authority is likely to become one of the first government agencies to test using blockchain technology for conducting property sales.

The Lantmäteriet expects to conduct the first such transaction in the next few months and is shortlisting volunteers who want to buy or sell a property using the blockchain system. "From the technology point of view, we are quite ready," said Mats Snäll, Lantmäteriet's chief digital officer.

Proponents of blockchain say the technology would make recording and transferring titles faster and much more efficient. Transactions that today take months to complete could take days or even hours, they say.

Blockchain technology also is practically bulletproof when it comes to fraudulent transactions, experts say.



For the full story, see:

Shefali Anand. "Test of Blockchain for Real Estate Is Readied." The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, March 7, 2018): B8.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 6, 2018, and has the title "A Pioneer in Real Estate Blockchain Emerges in Europe.")






April 25, 2018

Mackenzie Was Wrong in Thinking He Was a Failure, but Was Right About the Northwest Passage



(p. 10) In the summer of 1789, a young fur trader named Alexander Mackenzie led an expedition in search of a Northwest Passage. He and his voyageurs and Chipewyan guides were attempting, 14 years before Lewis and Clark, to cross North America, paddling birch bark canoes down a river they hoped would pierce the Rocky Mountains. Mackenzie was a businessman who wanted to speed the pace of trade by connecting New York and China via an interior passage through the continent. He did find such a route, without knowing it. Mackenzie died thinking he was a failure, when he was really just 200 years early.

Some ideas are fantastically ahead of their time. In 1636, René Descartes created contact lenses, using glass tubes filled with water; unfortunately, the wearer was unable to blink. Charles Babbage invented digital "difference engines" -- essentially modern programmable computers but powered by steam -- in the 1820s. And Kodak developed digital cameras in 1974 but discarded the product idea because it thought no one wanted to look at photos on televisions.

In a particularly ill-timed episode, Giovanni Caselli invented the fax machine in 1856. Letter writers could scribble a message onto electrically charged foil, and the portions covered by ink would block the flow of current. The stylus of Caselli's device then scanned each line of text, transmitting the signal via telegraph lines to a second machine, which would scrawl out a "fac simile" of the letter.

To be practical, the system required a coordinated investment throughout a region, and Napoleon III had plans to modernize all of France with Caselli's pantelegraph, more than a decade before Alexander Graham Bell's telephone. But before it could be installed, Napoleon III lost the Franco-Prussian War, his government fell, and Paris descended into the brutal anarchy of the Commune. Caselli faded into obscurity, and his technology was forgotten for a century.

Like the fax machine and computer, Alexander Mackenzie's Northwest Passage was too forward-looking to be practical or useful. Today the melting Northwest Passage -- along the North Slope of Alaska, through the maze of Canadian Arctic islands, then back down along Greenland's west coast, to the Atlantic -- is regularly in the news. A holy grail for generations of explorers is now finally open, because of climate change. Giant cargo and oil tankers regularly ply those seas, and even the Crystal Serenity cruise ship, with 1,700 people onboard (many in black tie), has made the journey the past two summers.


. . .


Ideas do not exist only on their own merits. Timing matters.



For the full commentary, see:

Brian Castner. "The Northwest Passage That Might Have Been." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sunday, March 11, 2018): 10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 10, 2018.)


Castner's commentary is related to his book:

Castner, Brian. Disappointment River: Finding and Losing the Northwest Passage. New York: Doubleday, 2018.






April 20, 2018

Government Obstacles Slow 5G Innovation



(p. A13) . . . , governmental obstacles threaten to block a new wave of wireless innovation, known as fifth generation or "5G." It will multiply download speeds by at least 10 times, allowing wireless carriers to compete with cable companies for high-speed internet access. With superfast speeds and low lag times, 5G will enable advances in everything from driverless cars to the "tactile internet," in which surgeons can perform operations and builders operate construction equipment remotely, and entertainment can include sensations beyond the audiovisual.


. . .


In some places, outdated local requirements prohibit carriers from placing small cells in local rights-of-way and on government-owned utility poles. Zoning ordinances designed for much larger towers often require local zoning boards to approve small cells. Some localities refuse altogether to negotiate right-of-way access, while others impose prohibitive fees and other unreasonable conditions.



For the full story, see:

Robert McDowell. "Local Laws Imperil 5G Innovation; Misapplied zoning rules and huge fees block antennas the size of pizza boxes." The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, April 3, 2018): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 2, 2018.)






April 19, 2018

"Overblown" Worries that A.I. Will Make Humans Obsolete



(p. B3) SAN FRANCISCO -- Apple has hired Google's chief of search and artificial intelligence, John Giannandrea, a major coup in its bid to catch up to the artificial intelligence technology of its rivals.


. . .


Mr. Giannandrea, a 53-year-old native of Scotland known to colleagues as J.G., helped lead the push to integrate A.I. throughout Google's products, including internet search, Gmail and its own digital assistant, Google Assistant.

He joined Google in 2010 when it purchased Metaweb, a start-up where he served as chief technology officer. Metaweb was building what it described as a "database of the world's knowledge," which Google eventually rolled into its search engine to deliver direct answers to users' queries. (Try googling "How old is Steph Curry?") During Mr. Giannandrea's tenure, A.I. research became increasingly important inside Google, with its primary A.I. lab, Google Brain, moving into a space beside the chief executive, Sundar Pichai.


. . .


On the debate over whether humanity should be worried about the rapidly accelerating improvements in A.I., Mr. Giannandrea told MIT Technology Review in an interview last year that the concerns were overblown.

"What I object to is this assumption that we will leap to some kind of superintelligent system that will then make humans obsolete," he said. "I understand why people are concerned about it but I think it's gotten way too much airtime. I just see no technological basis as to why this is imminent at all."



For the full story, see:

JACK NICAS and CADE METZ. "Lagging Rivals in A.I., Apple Adds A Top Google Executive to Its Team." The New York Times (Wednesday, April 4, 2018): B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 3, 2018, and has the title "Apple Hires Google's A.I. Chief.")






April 14, 2018

Xerox Will Cease to Exist as Independent Firm



(p. A1) When Xerox introduced its popular copying machines in 1959, their wizardry was considered as high tech as the iPhone when Steve Jobs presented it to the world almost 50 years later.

But just as Xerox made carbon paper obsolete, the iPhone, Google Docs and the cloud made Xerox a company of the past.

On Wednesday [January 31, 2018], Xerox said that, after 115 years as an independent business, it would combine operations with Fujifilm Holdings of Japan. The deal signaled the end of a company that was once an American corporate powerhouse.

"Xerox is the poster child for monopoly technology businesses that cannot make the transition to a new generation of technology," said David B. Yoffie, a professor at the Harvard Business School.

The move offers a stark reminder that no matter how high a company may fly, it is still vulnerable to the next big breakthrough. Xerox joins once formidable tech companies like Kodak and BlackBerry that lost the innovation footrace.

Under the deal, Fujifilm will own just over 50 percent of the Xerox business. There are plans to cut $1.7 billion in costs in coming (p. A11) years. Fujifilm said its joint venture with Xerox would cut its payroll by 10,000 workers worldwide.

How Xerox fell so far is a case study in what management experts call the "competency trap" -- an organization becomes so good at one thing, it can't learn to do anything new.

Xerox traces its origins to the founding in 1903 of the M. H. Kuhn Company. But it was an invention dreamed up in a makeshift Queens lab in the 1930s -- a forerunner of the Silicon Valley garages used by the likes of Mr. Jobs -- that changed Xerox's trajectory.

That invention, by Chester Carlson, a patent lawyer, led to the creation of the modern copy machine. He even came up with a term for the process: "xerography." In 1959, Xerox, which had won the right to explore the technology, offered the office copier that went mainstream.



For the full story, see:

STEVE LOHR and CARLOS TEJADA, "Xerox, Tech Icon That Became a Verb, Is Suddenly Past Tense." The New York Times (Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018): A1 & A11.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date JAN. 31, 2018, and has the title "After Era That Made It a Verb, Xerox, in a Sale, Is Past Tense." The online version says that the New York edition also had title "After Era That Made It a Verb, Xerox, in a Sale, Is Past Tense." My copy was the "National Edition.")






April 13, 2018

Upward Mobility from Moving to the Robust Redundant Labor Markets of Open Boomtowns



(p. B3) Chicago in 1850 was a muddy frontier town of barely 30,000 people. Within two decades, it was 10 times that size. Within another two decades, that number had tripled. By 1910, Chicago -- hog butcher for the world, headquarters of Montgomery Ward, the nerve center of the nation's rail network -- had more than two million residents.

"You see these numbers, and they just look fake," said David Schleicher, a law professor at Yale who writes on urban development and land use. Chicago heading into the 20th century was the fastest-growing city America has ever seen. It was a classic metropolitan magnet, attracting anyone in need of a job or a raise.

But while other cities have played this role through history -- enabling people who were geographically mobile to become economically mobile, too -- migration patterns like the one that fed Chicago have broken down in today's America. Interstate mobility nationwide has slowed over the last 30 years. But, more specifically and of greater concern, migration has stalled in the very places with the most opportunity.

As Mr. Schleicher puts it, local economic booms no longer create boomtowns in America.


. . .


Some people aren't moving into wealthy regions because they're stuck in struggling ones. They have houses they can't sell or government benefits they don't want to lose. But the larger problem is that they're blocked from moving to prosperous places by the shortage and cost of housing there. And that's a deliberate decision these wealthy regions have made in opposing more housing construction, a prerequisite to make room for more people.

Compare that with most of American history. The country's economic growth has long "gone hand in hand with enormous reallocation of population," write the economists Kyle Herkenhoff, Lee Ohanian and Edward Prescott in a recent study of what's hobbling similar population flows now.


. . .


Were it not for all the restrictions on housing in the most productive places -- if workers were able to more freely migrate to them -- Mr. Herkenhoff and his co-authors and the economists Enrico Moretti and Chang-Tai Hsieh have estimated that the nation's G.D.P. would be substantially higher. By their calculations, there are millions of workers missing from the Bay Area and metropolitan New York today.


The population growth that is occurring in these metro areas is fueled almost entirely by immigration, as Ryan Avent points out in "The Gated City," where he makes a similar argument to Mr. Schleicher. If we consider only domestic moves, about 900,000 more people have moved away from New York than to it since 2010. On net, about 47,000 have left both San Jose and Washington, D.C., while Boston has lost a net 36,000.



For the full commentary, see:

Emily Badger. "Why New York and the Bay Area Are Missing Millions of Workers." The New York Times (Friday, Dec. 8, 2017): B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 6, 2017, and has the title "What Happened to the American Boomtown?")


The Herkenhoff et al. paper mentioned above, is:

Herkenhoff, Kyle F., Lee E. Ohanian, and Edward C. Prescott. "Tarnishing the Golden and Empire States: Land-Use Restrictions and the U.S. Economic Slowdown." Journal of Monetary Economics 93 (Jan. 2018): 89-109.


The Moretti and Hsieh paper mentioned above, is:

Hsieh, Chang-Tai, and Enrico Moretti. "Housing Constraints and Spatial Misallocation." Working paper, May 18, 2017.


The book by Ryan Avent, mentioned above, is:

Avent, Ryan. The Gated City. Amazon Digital Services LLC, 2011.






April 12, 2018

Millions of Dollars and 30 Years Later, A.I. Still Has Lacks Crucial Common Sense



(p. B6) SAN FRANCISCO -- Microsoft's co-founder Paul Allen said Wednesday [February 28, 2018] that he was pumping an additional $125 million into his nonprofit computer research lab for an ambitious new effort to teach machines "common sense."


. . .


"To make real progress in A.I., we have to overcome the big challenges in the area of common sense," said Mr. Allen, who founded the software giant Microsoft in the 1970s with Bill Gates.


. . .


In the mid-1980s, Doug Lenat, a former Stanford University professor, with backing from the government and several of the country's largest tech companies, started a project called Cyc. He and his team of researchers worked to codify all the simple truths that we learn as children, from "you can't be in two places at the same time" to "when drinking from a cup, hold the open end up."

Thirty years later, Mr. Lenat and his team are still at work on this "common sense engine" -- with no end in sight.

Mr. Allen helped fund Cyc, and he believes it is time to take a fresh approach, he said, because modern technologies make it easier to build this kind of system.

Mr. Lenat welcomed the new project. But he also warned of challenges: Cyc has burned through hundreds of millions of dollars in funding, running into countless problems that were not evident when the project began. He called them "buzz saws."



For the full story, see:

CADE METZ, "A.I.'s Greatest Challenge: Digitizing Common Sense." The New York Times (Thursday, March 1, 2018): B6.

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

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Feb. 28, 2018, and has the title "Paul Allen Wants to Teach Machines Common Sense.")






April 5, 2018

Independent Snapchat Entrepreneurs Turned Down Facebook's Three Billion Dollars



(p. A17) Snap Inc. provides a remarkable story, not only because it has accumulated so many users so rapidly but also because it has remained an independent company in the shadow of Facebook, which in 2012 acquired Instagram, also photo-centered, for $1 billion. A year later, noticing Snapchat's power to attract young users, Facebook offered Snap's founders $3 billion for the company, a figure that the book's publisher has rounded down for the title. Mr. Spiegel, the chief executive, said "no," and Snap's current market capitalization, around $23 billion, would seem to be sweet vindication. But Snap has yet to figure out how to convert its many users into net profits, and Instagram has shown no compunction about copying Snapchat features and has grown even faster.


. . .


In Mr. Spiegel's view, sharing snaps--of anything--was enjoyable because the images were ephemeral and didn't have to be composed for posterity. "It seems odd that at the beginning of the internet everyone decided everything should stick around forever," he said.



For the full review, see:

Randall Stross. "BOOKSHELF; A Startup in Focus; Snapchat was born when casual photos replaced text messages among Stanford students. It now boasts 187 million daily users." The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Feb. 12, 2018): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 11, 2018, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Review: A Startup in Focus; Snapchat was born when casual photos replaced text messages among Stanford students. It now boasts 187 million daily users.")


The book under review, is:

Gallagher, Billy. How to Turn Down a Billion Dollars: The Snapchat Story. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2018.






March 29, 2018

Blockchain May Bring Property Rights to the Poor



(p. A15) The great economic divide in the world today is between the 2.5 billion people who can register property rights and the five billion who are impoverished, in part because they can't. Consider what happens without a formal system of property rights: Values are reduced for privately owned assets; wages are devalued for workers using these assets; owners are denied the ability to use their assets as collateral to obtain credit or as a credential to claim public services; and society loses the benefits that accrue when assets are employed for their highest and best purpose.


. . .


Fortunately there is a new technology that could make a global property-rights registration system feasible. Patrick Byrne, an e-commerce pioneer and the CEO of Overstock.com, has committed a professional staff and significant resources to modernizing the collection and maintenance of property-rights records on a global scale. Blockchain is an especially promising technology because of its record-keeping capacity, its ability to provide access to millions of users, and the fact that it can be constantly updated as property ownership changes hands.

If Blockchain technology can empower public and private efforts to register property rights on a single computer platform, we can share the blessings of private-property registration with the whole world. Instead of destroying private property to promote a Marxist equality in poverty, perhaps we can bring property rights to all mankind. Where property rights are ensured, so are the prosperity, freedom and ownership of wealth that brings real stability and peace.



For the full commentary, see:

Phil Gramm and Hernando de Soto. "How Blockchain Can End Poverty; Two-thirds of the world's population lacks access to a formal system of property rights." The Wall Street Journal (Friday, Jan. 26, 2018): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 25, 2018.)






March 24, 2018

Virtual Reality Was Intended as a Complement to Physical Reality, Not as a Substitute



(p. A17) The illusion of presence is what drove Mr. Lanier from the start. He envisioned VR not as an alternative to physical reality but as an enhancement--a way to more fully appreciate the wonder of existence. More conventional individuals, their senses dulled by the day-to-day, may be drawn to virtual reality because it seems realer than real; he considered it a new form of communication. "I longed to see what was inside the heads of other people," he writes. "I wanted to show them what I explored in dreams. I imagined virtual worlds that would never grow stale because people would bring surprises to each other. I felt trapped without this tool. Why, why wasn't it around already?"

"Dawn of the New Everything" is full of such self-revelatory moments. The author grew up an only child in odd corners of the Southwest, first on the Texas-Mexico border, then in the desert near White Sands Missile Range. When he was nine, his mother, a Holocaust survivor, was killed in a car crash on the way home from getting her driver's license. The tract house they'd bought burned down the day after construction was completed. The insurance money never came, so Jaron and his father lived in tents in the desert until they could afford to build a real home--which turned out to be a mad concoction of geodesic domes of Jaron's own design. They called it Earth Station Lanier.


. . .


Lacking a degree from high school, never mind college, he nonetheless parlayed his virtual-reality obsession into a company, VPL Research, that for a few years in the late '80s made VR seem real, if only in a lab setting. Then came board fights and bankruptcy, and VR disappeared from public view for more than 20 years.

What went wrong at VPL? Unfortunately, you won't find out here. Mr. Lanier warns us he isn't going to deliver a blow-by-blow; instead we get a disjointed sequence of half-remembered anecdotes. What does come through is his ambivalence about going into business at all, and his even deeper ambivalence toward writing about it.



For the full review, see:

Frank Rose. "BOOKSHELF; The Promise of Virtual Reality; The story of VR, the most immersive communications technology to come along since cinema, as told by two of its pioneers." The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, February 6, 2018): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 5, 2018, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Review: The Promise of Virtual Reality; The story of VR, the most immersive communications technology to come along since cinema, as told by two of its pioneers.")


The book under review, is:

Lanier, Jaron. Dawn of the New Everything: Encounters with Reality and Virtual Reality. New York: Henry Holt & Company, 2017.






March 21, 2018

Entrepreneur Claims Intel Is Not "Doing What Comes Next"



(p. B3) SAN FRANCISCO -- Over 28 years at the giant computer chip maker Intel, Renée James climbed to its No. 2 position, becoming one of Silicon Valley's prominent female leaders.

Now she is taking aim at Intel's most lucrative business, one that she helped build.

Ms. James, who announced in 2015 that she would resign from Intel, on Monday revealed a start-up backed by the private equity firm Carlyle Group to sell chips to handle calculations in servers. Those computers run most internet services and corporate back-office operations.


. . .


Ms. James emphasized her respect for her former employer and played down potential competition. She said her new company, Ampere, was designing chips for new, specialized jobs at cloud services that aren't Intel's primary focus.

"I think they're the best in the world at what they do," Ms. James said of Intel. "I just don't think they're doing what comes next."


. . .


Ms. James learned management skills from Andrew Grove, the acclaimed former Intel chief. Before he died in 2016, she said, Mr. Grove encouraged her to follow her dream of a chip start-up -- a plan with parallels to the 1968 founding of Intel as a breakaway from a chip pioneer, Fairchild Semiconductor.

"He said, 'I just want you to know, this is a really hard job,'" Ms. James recalled. "I said: 'I know. But it's so much fun.'"

Her venture is the latest in a series of largely unsuccessful attempts, dating back more than seven years, to shake up the server market with technology licensed by ARM Holdings that is used as a mainstay of smartphones. One selling point is reduced power consumption, a hot topic in data centers.



For the full story, see:

DON CLARK. "Intel's Former No. 2 Aims At Lucrative Chip Market." The New York Times (Tuesday, February 6, 2018): B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 5, 2018, and has the title "She Was No. 2 at Intel. Now She's Taking Aim at the Chip Maker.")






March 20, 2018

Obstacles and Conflicts Were Too Much for Lanier's "VPL Research" Startup



(p. 11) Lanier's book is, . . . , intimate and idiosyncratic. He carries us through his quirky and fascinating life story, with periodic nerdy side trips through his early thinking on more technical aspects of virtual reality. If you liked Richard Feynman's autobiographical "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman" but thought it was rather self-indulgent, this book will prompt similar reactions. You could almost say that Lanier's vivid and creative imagination is a distinct character in this book, he discusses it so much. Midway through, Feynman himself makes an appearance, and it seems as if we're meeting an old friend.

Lanier has been credited with inventing the term "virtual reality," and he founded one of the original companies to produce it, VPL Research. He goes over the technology's history in detail, outlining not only the obstacles to getting consistent hardware but some personalities and interpersonal conflicts that ultimately led to his company's breaking up. He also demonstrates the role personal connections and interactions play in Silicon Valley.



For the full review, see:

CATHY O'NEIL. "Enter the Holodeck." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, February 4, 2018): 11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JAN. 30, 2018.)


The book under review, is:

Lanier, Jaron. Dawn of the New Everything: Encounters with Reality and Virtual Reality. New York: Henry Holt & Company, 2017.






March 19, 2018

Technology Increases Time at Home, Reducing Energy Use



(p. A15) A new study in the journal Joule suggests that the spread of technologies enabling Americans to spend more time working remotely, shopping online -- and, yes, watching Netflix and chilling -- has a side benefit of reducing energy use, and, by extension, greenhouse gas emissions.


. . .


Researchers found that, on average, Americans spent 7.8 more days at home in 2012, compared to 2003. They calculated that this reduced national energy demand by 1,700 trillion BTUs in 2012, or 1.8 percent of the nation's total energy use.


. . .


"Energy intensity when you're traveling is actually 20 times per minute than when spent at home," said Ashok Sekar, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas at Austin and lead author on the story.

One of his co-authors, Eric Williams, an associate professor of sustainability at the Rochester Institute of Technology, made the point a different way. "This is a little tongue in cheek, but you know in 'The Matrix' everyone lives in those little pods? For energy, that's great," he said, because living in little pods would be pretty efficient. "In the Jetsons, where everyone is running around in their jet cars, that's terrible for energy."


. . .


. . . , the study suggests that workers are spending less time at work because faster and better online services make it easier for us to work from home. As a result, we're spending less time in office buildings, which use more energy than our homes, and employers are consolidating office space.



For the full story, see:

Kendra Pierre-Louis. "Tech Creates Homebodies, And Energy Use Declines." The New York Times (Tuesday, January 30, 2018): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date January 29, 2018, and has the title "Americans Are Staying Home More. That's Saving Energy.")


The "in press" version of the article mentioned above, is:

Sekar, Ashok, Eric Williams, and Roger Chen. "Changes in Time Use and Their Effect on Energy Consumption in the United States." Joule (2018).






March 16, 2018

Serial Breakthrough Innovators Have "Almost Maniacal Focus"



(p. C4) It's 6 a.m., and I'm rushing around my apartment getting ready to fly to California to teach an innovation workshop, when my 10-year-old son looks at me with sad eyes and asks, "Why are you always busy?" My heart pounds, and that familiar knife of guilt and pain twists in my stomach. Then a thought flickers through my head: Does Jeff Bezos go through this?

I recently finished writing a book about innovators who achieved multiple breakthroughs in science and technology over the past two centuries. Of the eight individuals I wrote cases about, only one, Marie Curie, is a woman. I tried to find more, even though I knew in my scientist's heart that deliberately looking for women would bias my selection process. But I didn't find other women who met the criteria I had laid out at the beginning of the project.


. . .


The politically correct thing to say at this point is that expanding the roster of future innovators to include more women will require certain obvious changes in how we handle family life: Men and women should have more equal child-care responsibilities, and businesses (or governments) should make affordable, quality child care more accessible. But I don't think it is as simple as that.

In my own case, I can afford more child care, but I don't want to relinquish more of my caregiving to others. From the moment I first gave birth, I felt a deep, primal need to hold my children, nurture them and meet their needs. Nature is extremely clever, and she has crafted an intoxicating cocktail of oxytocin and other neurochemicals to rivet the attention of parents on their children.

The research on whether this response is stronger for mothers than for fathers is inconclusive. It is tough to compare the two, because there are strong gender differences in how hormones work. Historically, however, women have taken on a larger share of the caregiving responsibilities for children, and many (myself included) would not have it any other way.

Is such a view hopelessly retrograde, a rejection of hard-won feminist achievements? I don't think so.

The need to connect with our children does not prevent women from being successful. There are many extremely successful women with very close relationships with their children. But it might get in the way of having the almost maniacal focus that the most famous serial breakthrough innovators exhibit.

I'm no Marie Curie, but I do have obsessive tendencies. If I did not have a family, I would routinely work until 4 a.m. if I had an interesting problem to chase down. But now I have children, and so at 5 p.m., I need to dial it back and try to refocus my attention on things like homework and making dinner. I cannot single-mindedly focus on my work; part of my mind must belong to the children.

This doesn't mean that mothers cannot be important innovators, but it might mean that their careers play out differently. Their years of intense focus might start later, or they might ebb and surge over time. The more we can do to enable people to have nonlinear career paths, the more we will increase innovation among women--and productivity more generally.



For the full commentary, see:

Melissa Schilling. "Why Women Are Rarely Serial Innovators; A single-minded life of invention is hard to combine with family obligations. One solution: 'nonlinear' careers." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018): C4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has a date of Feb. 2, 2018.)


Schilling's commentary is related to his book:

Schilling, Melissa A. Quirky: The Remarkable Story of the Traits, Foibles, and Genius of Breakthrough Innovators Who Changed the World. New York: PublicAffairs, 2018.






March 15, 2018

Regulating A.I. "Is a Recipe for Poor Laws and Even Worse Technology"



(p. A27) "Artificial intelligence" is all too frequently used as a shorthand for software that simply does what humans used to do. But replacing human activity is precisely what new technologies accomplish -- spears replaced clubs, wheels replaced feet, the printing press replaced scribes, and so on. What's new about A.I. is that this technology isn't simply replacing human activities, external to our bodies; it's also replacing human decision-making, inside our minds.

The challenges created by this novelty should not obscure the fact that A.I. itself is not one technology, or even one singular development. Regulating an assemblage of technology we can't clearly define is a recipe for poor laws and even worse technology.



For the full commentary, see:


ANDREW BURT. "Leave Artificial Intelligence Alone" The New York Times (Friday, January 5, 2018): A27.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JAN. 4, 2018, and has the title "Leave A.I. Alone.")






March 14, 2018

Musk's Slow Hunch May Be Undone by Smaller Satellites



(p. B3) SpaceX 's long-delayed Falcon Heavy rocket, slated for its maiden flight on Tuesday [February 6, 2018], faces uncertain commercial prospects and lacks a clear role in efforts to send U.S. astronauts back to the moon or deeper into the solar system.

The company conceived the rocket at the beginning of the decade, when SpaceX was an underdog fighting to increase its share of launches and needed a beefed-up alternative to a fleet of underpowered boosters. But after spending some $1 billion and grappling with five years of delays and huge technical challenges related to reliably harnessing power from 27 engines, the company is contending with significantly eroded commercial demand for such a potent heavy-lift booster.

The primary reason for the weakened demand is that both national security and corporate satellites continue to get smaller and lighter. So now, even if it performs as advertised, the Falcon Heavy might be Elon Musk's biggest contrarian bet since he founded SpaceX over 15 years ago.



For the full story, see:

Andy Pasztor. "SpaceX Launch to Test Contrarian Bet." The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Feb. 5, 2018): B3.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has a date of Feb. 4, 2018, and has the title "New Falcon Heavy Rocket Represents a Major Bet for SpaceX.")






March 3, 2018

Musk Poured PayPal Money into SpaceX and Tesla



(p. A15) Mr. Musk's first success was X.com, an email payment company. It merged with Peter Thiel's Confinity to form PayPal--and avoid competition. They had the market to themselves for a long time because fraud, especially from Eastern Europe, was so rampant on early internet payment platforms. They solved the fraud problem and enjoyed an uncontested market, eventually selling for $1.5 billion to eBay .

Then Mr. Musk headed further into the future. He took the nine-figure payout from PayPal and pushed ahead with SpaceX, Tesla and Solar City. Literally his last $20 million went to Tesla in 2008. "I was tapped out. I had to borrow money for rent after that," he later recalled.


. . .


[Google's Larry] Page reportedly once told a venture capitalist, "You know, if I were to get hit by a bus today, I should leave all of it to Elon Musk." He later explained to Charlie Rose he liked Mr. Musk's idea of going to Mars "to back up humanity." Good luck with that. But then again, I would love to see them try.



For the full commentary, see:

Andy Kessler. ''Elon Musk's Uncontested 3-Pointers; What does the Tesla and SpaceX founder have in common with Stephen Curry?" The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Feb. 26, 2018): A15.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 25, 2018.)






March 2, 2018

Stronger Labor Market May Increase Productivity



(p. B3) . . . the provocative conclusion of new research from the McKinsey Global Institute, the in-house think tank of the consulting giant, . . . suggests we should change how we think about the advancements that make society richer over time. It implies that as the economy returns to full employment, an outburst of faster growth in productivity -- and hence economic growth -- is a real possibility.


. . .


For years, McKinsey researchers have tried to understand what drives productivity growth from the ground up. They've studied how innovations that enable a company to make more goods and services per hour of labor spread across the economy.

The latest wrinkle is that the researchers now believe that productivity growth depends not just on the supply side of the economy -- what companies produce and what technologies they use to do it -- but also significantly on the demand side. That is to say, productivity advancements don't happen in a vacuum just because technology is available. They also happen because companies need to increase production to match demand for their goods, and a shortage, either of workers or of materials, forces them to think creatively about how to do so.


. . .


. . . consider how this dynamic might apply in the restaurant industry (or retail, or tourism).

The basic technology for self-serve kiosks has been around for years. But when the unemployment rate was at its post-crisis highs, employers could have their pick of good workers at relatively low prices. Now, with the jobless rate at 4.1 percent, good workers are harder to find. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, companies have been more open to installing technology that may have a significant upfront cost and require reworking how a restaurant is organized, but allow more sales without hiring more workers.



For the full commentary, see:

Neil Irwin. "Why Researchers Believe a Productivity Boom Is Now a Real Possibility." The New York Times (Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018): B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has a date of Feb. 21, 2018, and has the title "The Economy Is Getting Hotter. Is a Productivity Boom Next?")


The McKinsey report discussed above, is:

Remes, Jaana, James Manyika, Jacques Bughin, Jonathan Woetzel, Jan Mischke, and Mekala Krishnan. "Solving the Productivity Puzzle." Report McKinsey Global Institute, Feb. 2018.






February 23, 2018

Innovations Make Internal Combustion Engines Much More Efficient



(p. B4) . . . gas- and diesel-powered engines are not done yet. Just as electrified cars -- whether hybrids or pure battery-powered models -- seem headed for market dominance, Mazda announced a breakthrough in gasoline engines that could make them far more efficient. It is the latest plot twist in a century of improvements for internal combustion engines, a power source pronounced dead many times that has persisted nevertheless.


. . .


Mazda said it had made a big advance in a combustion method commonly known as homogeneous charge compression ignition, which would result in gasoline engines that are 20 to 30 percent more efficient than the company's best existing engines. Researchers around the world have tried to crack this process for years, but it has never really left the laboratory.

Mazda, which now markets no hybrid vehicles, calls the engine Skyactiv-X and says it is scheduled for a 2019 introduction. In simplest terms, the big difference with the new engine is that under certain running conditions, the gasoline is ignited without the use of spark plugs. Instead, combustion is set off by the extreme heat in the cylinder that results from the piston inside the engine traveling upward and compressing air trapped inside, the same method diesel engines use. The efficiency gains come with the ability to operate using a very lean mixture -- very little gas for the amount of air -- that a typical spark-ignition engine cannot burn cleanly.



For the full story, see:

NORMAN MAYERSOHN. "Advances Mean Plenty of Life Left for Internal Combustion Engine." The New York Times (Fri., August 18, 2017): B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date AUG. 17, 2017, and has the title "WHEELS; The Internal Combustion Engine Is Not Dead Yet.")






February 15, 2018

Farmers Buy Inputs Cheaper Online



(p. B4) Brandon Sinclair spent $26,000 on herbicides for his corn and soybean fields last year, roughly half what he says he used to pay at his local co-operative.

The savings came from a source many U.S. farmers have been slow to tap: the internet.

Farmers have long made pilgrimages to farm stores and co-operatives to purchase seeds, fertilizer and weed and pest killers. Now, with a commodity glut pressuring crop prices and pushing farm incomes to an eight-year low, farmers are scouring the web for better deals on the products they use to grow their crops.

The shift could upend a decades-old system built around small-town suppliers that also offer farming advice and sell services such as spraying for weeds. Mr. Sinclair says the math is simple: Using savings found online, the 31-year old Illinois farmer was able to spring for a helicopter to wrangle his herd of cattle. Now he is urging his neighbors to shop online, too.

"I've always been kind of a tech guru and a tight-ass," Mr. Sinclair said.



For the full story, see:

Jesse Newman and Jacob Bunge. "U.S. Farmers Buy in Bulk Online."The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Feb. 17, 2017): B4.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 16, 2017, and has the title "E-Commerce for Farmers: Shopping Online for $26,000 of Herbicides.")






February 13, 2018

Musk "Could Be Completely Delusional"



(p. B2) Tesla Inc. on Tuesday [January 23, 2018] unleashed a bold pay package for Chief Executive Elon Musk that again ties his compensation entirely to key performance benchmarks. This time, the goals take the electric-car maker to cosmic heights, including an ultimate aim of hitting $650 billion in market value.


. . .


Mr. Musk could net billions of dollars by hitting only a few of the milestones. Tesla said in a proxy filing the 20.26 million stock options today would have a preliminary value of about $2.62 billion. But if Tesla were to reach the audacious market value of $650 billion--as much as Amazon.com Inc. is worth today--the company said Mr. Musk's stock award would reap him as much as $55.8 billion fully vested.

That total, however, assumes the company's shares outstanding won't be diluted. Tesla has added tens of millions of shares over the past several years, so that total dollar figure is unlikely.


. . .


Mr. Musk is saying, "I want to set an audacious goal, and then if I achieve it, then pay me audaciously," said John Challenger, a longtime expert in corporate compensation as chief executive of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. "He is in some ways capturing the spirit of Silicon Valley."


. . .


Mr. Musk had previously committed the company to reaching a market cap of $700 billion, something he reiterated last year. "I could be completely delusional, but I think I see a clear path to that outcome," he told analysts in May.



For the full story, see:

Higgins, Tim. "Tesla Primes Musk's Pay for Blastoff." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., January 24, 2018): B2.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 23, 2018, and has the title "Elon Musk Could Net Billions by Hitting Tesla's New Milestones." Where the wording of the two versions differs, the passages quoted above follow the wording of the online version.)






February 8, 2018

Innovation Skeptics Fail to See Its Broad Benefits



(p. B11) Professor Juma died on Dec. 15 [2017] at his home in Cambridge, Mass. He was 64. His wife said the cause was cancer. At his death he was widely credited as having been an important force in ensuring that biotechnology would play a critical role in improving economic life in many developing countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

"Calestous understood that people often resist the changes that come with innovation, and that overcoming this resistance can be very important in enabling societies to move ahead," said Douglas W. Elmendorf, dean of the Kennedy School. "So he tried to understand why people resist innovation, and what can be done to make them feel comfortable with change."

Professor Juma's latest book, "Innovation and Its Enemies" (2016), described how technological change is often greeted with public skepticism. Beneath such opposition, he argued, is the belief that only a small segment of society will benefit from potential progress, while the much broader society bears the greatest risk.


. . .


Professor Juma could be lighthearted in the classroom or in public in order to make his points. With more than 100,000 followers on Twitter, he shared with them cartoons that teased skeptics of science and innovation. One of his last posts featured a game show called "Facts Don't Matter." In it, a contestant is told: "I'm sorry, Jeannie, your answer was correct, but Kevin shouted his incorrect answer over yours, so he gets the points."



For the full obituary, see:

ADEEL HASSAN. "Calestous Juma, 64, Advocate of African Progress, Dies." The New York Times (Tues., January 2, 2018): B11.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date JAN. 1, 2018, and has the title "Calestous Juma, 64, Dies; Sought Innovation in African Agriculture.")


The most recent book by Juma, mentioned above, is:

Juma, Calestous. Innovation and Its Enemies: Why People Resist New Technologies. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.






February 7, 2018

Incentive Packages to Big Incumbent Firms Hurt Local Start-Ups



(p. A1) When New Jersey announced a $7 billion package of tax incentives to try to lure Amazon's second headquarters to Newark, local officials saw a chance to jump-start a city that has long struggled with poverty and joblessness.

Many economists, however, saw something else: a failed development strategy that they had hoped was falling out of favor.


. . .


(p. A15) Gina Schaefer, who owns a dozen hardware stores in the Washington area, said she did not mind paying taxes, and had learned to deal with the bureaucratic hurdles that come with running a small business in the area. But she said it was frustrating to watch local governments -- three of the 20 finalists for the Amazon project are in the Washington area -- roll out the red carpet for a multibillion-dollar corporation. Suddenly, she said, her tax dollars could be flowing to one of her most daunting competitors.

"There are no incentives for those of us who are already here," Ms. Schaefer said. Alluding to Amazon's chief executive, Jeff Bezos, she added, "Why should the richest man in the history of the world get money to open his business?"

Indeed, tax incentives tend to flow overwhelmingly to big, established companies, rather than to the local start-ups that research has shown are a more significant source of job growth. And some who have studied the issue say incentives rarely work: Companies will play cities and states off one another to save money, but ultimately base site-selection decisions mostly on other factors.



For the full story, see:

BEN CASSELMAN. "Risks for Cities In Sweetening Amazon's Pot." The New York Times (Sat., JAN. 27, 2018): A1 & A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 26, 2018, and has the title "Promising Billions to Amazon: Is It a Good Deal for Cities?")






February 6, 2018

45 Start-Ups Working on New Processor Chips



(p. B1) SAN FRANCISCO -- For years, tech industry financiers showed little interest in start-up companies that made computer chips.

How on earth could a start-up compete with a goliath like Intel, which made the chips that ran more than 80 percent of the world's personal computers? Even in the areas where Intel didn't dominate, like smartphones and gaming devices, there were companies like Qualcomm and Nvidia that could squash an upstart.

But then came the tech industry's latest big thing -- artificial intelligence. A.I., it turned out, works better with new kinds of computer chips. Suddenly, venture capitalists forgot all those forbidding roadblocks to success for a young chip company.

Today, at least 45 start-ups are working on chips that can power tasks like speech and self-driving cars, and at least five of them have raised more than $100 million from investors. Venture capitalists invested more than $1.5 billion in chip start-ups last year, nearly doubling the investments made two years ago, according to the research firm CB Insights.

The explosion is akin to the sudden proliferation of PC and hard-drive makers in the 1980s. While these are small companies, and not all will survive, they have the power to fuel a period of rapid technological change.



For the full story, see:

CADE METZ. "Bets on A.I. Open a New Chip Frontier." The New York Times (Mon., January 15, 2018): B1 & B3.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 14, 2018, and has the title "Big Bets on A.I. Open a New Frontier for Chip Start-Ups, Too.")






February 2, 2018

Tinkerers Create Cheap Prosthetic Hands with 3-D Printers



(p. D1) The proliferation of 3-D printers has had an unexpected benefit: The devices, it turns out, are perfect for creating cheap prosthetics. Surprising numbers of children need them: One in 1,000 infants is born with missing fingers, and others lose fingers and hands to injury. Each year, about 450 children receive amputations as a result of lawn mower accidents, according to a study in Pedatrics..

State-of-the-art prosthetic replacements are complicated medical devices, powered by batteries and electronic motors, and they can cost thousands of dollars. Even if children are able to manage the equipment, they grow too quickly to make the investment practical. So most do without, fighting to do with one hand what most of us do with two.

E-nable, an online volunteer organization, aims to change that. Founded in 2013 by Jon Schull, the group matches children like Dawson in need of prosthetic hands and fingers with volunteers able to make them on 3-D printers. Designs may be downloaded into the machines at no charge, and members who create new models share their software plans freely with others.

The materials for a 3-D-printed prosthetic hand can cost as little as $20 to $50, and some experts say they work just as well, if not better, than much costlier devices. Best of all, boys and girls usually love their D.I.Y. prosthetics.



For the full story, see:

Mroz, Jacqueline. "Hand of a Superhero." The New York Times (Tues., Feb. 17, 2015): D1 & D6..

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 16, 2015. I do not have the print version, so I cannot confirm if there are differences between the online and print versions, and am not sure if the whole passage quoted above appears on p. D1, or if some or all of it is from p. D6.)






January 30, 2018

Kodak Using Blockchain to Manage Digital Photo Property Rights



(p. B1) Shares of Eastman Kodak more than doubled after the company waded into the digital-currency world with plans to launch an initial coin offering.

Kodak on Tuesday [January 9, 2018] said the coin, KodakCoin, would be the backbone of a new platform that will help photographers license their work and track the unlicensed use of their images. The coin uses the technology behind bitcoin, called blockchain, to keep a digital ledger of the photographs.


. . .


"For many in the tech industry, 'blockchain' and 'cryptocurrency' are hot buzzwords, but for photographers who've long struggled to assert control over their work and how it's used, these buzzwords are the keys to solving what felt like an unsolvable problem," said Kodak CEO Jeff Clarke in a statement.

For the past several years, people have been experimenting with ways to use blockchain. At its essence, blockchain is an open record of transactions, maintained in an online ledger that is distributed across a network of computers, that cannot be tampered with. That makes it like an indelible time stamp, which could be useful in a case of copyright and digital-rights management.



For the full story, see:


Erik Holm and Paul Vigna. "Kodak Snaps Is Crypto-Moment."The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Jan 10, 2018): B1-B2.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Jan 9, 2018, and has the title "Kodak Catches Crypto Fever." The online version has two additional paragraphs between the last two paragraphs quoted above.)






January 29, 2018

"Without Amazon, We Wouldn't Be Here"



(p. B1) KANATA, Ontario -- Truth be told, the headquarters of Instant Pot don't look much like a church.

But inside this sterile, gray office building on the outskirts of Ottawa, behind a door marked only by a small metal sign, a new religion has been born.

Its deity is the Instant Pot, a line of electric multicookers that has become an internet phenomenon and inspired a legion of passionate foodies and home cooks. These devotees -- they call themselves "Potheads" -- use their Instant Pots for virtually every kitchen task imaginable: sautéing, pressure-cooking, steaming, even making yogurt and cheesecakes. Then, they evangelize on the internet, using social media to sing the gadget's praises to the unconverted.


. . .


(p. B5) I went to Kanata to get a peek behind the scenes of the Instant Pot phenomenon and meet its creator: Robert Wang, who invented the device and serves as chief executive of Double Insight, its parent company. What I found was a remarkable example of a new breed of 21st-century start-up -- a homegrown hardware business with only around 50 employees that raised no venture capital funding, spent almost nothing on advertising, and achieved enormous size primarily through online word-of-mouth. It is also a testament to the enormous power of Amazon, and its ability to turn small businesses into major empires nearly overnight.


. . .


In 2010, after several months of sluggish sales in and around Ontario, Mr. Wang listed the Instant Pot on Amazon, where a community of food writers eventually took notice. Vegetarians and paleo dieters, in particular, were drawn to the device's pressure-cooking function, which shaved hours off the time needed to cook pots of beans or large cuts of meat.

Sensing viral potential, Instant Pot sent test units to about 200 influential chefs, cooking instructors and food bloggers. Reviews and recipes appeared online, and sales began to climb.


. . .


Mr. Wang credits the device's technological advances -- most notably, a group of sensors that keep the cooker from overheating or exploding under pressure.

Instant Pot's internet fandom also gives it a leg up. The food bloggers behind popular recipe sites like Nom Nom Paleo were early converts to electric pressure-cooking, and cookbook authors took note of the device's cult appeal. Mr. Wang says that more than 1,500 Instant Pot cookbooks have been written, including several of Amazon's current best-sellers.

Amazon has played a particularly large role in Instant Pot's rise. Early on, Instant Pot joined the "Fulfillment by Amazon" program, in which Amazon handles the packing and shipping of a seller's products in exchange for a cut of each item sold. Eventually, Instant Pot sent Amazon wholesale shipments directly from factories in China, and Amazon began promoting the machines in its major annual sales. At one point, more than 90 percent of Instant Pot's sales came through Amazon.

"Without Amazon, we wouldn't be here," Mr. Wang said.



For the full story, see:

KEVIN ROOSE. "The Shift; Instant Pot's Inner Sanctum." The New York Times (Mon., December 18, 2017): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 17, 2017, and has the title "The Shift; Inside the Home of Instant Pot, the Kitchen Gadget That Spawned a Religion.")






January 28, 2018

Trying to Explain Low AI Productivity Gains as Due to Slow Adapting and Old Habits



(p. A2) In a recent paper Erik Brynjolfsson and Daniel Rock of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Chad Syverson of the University of Chicago note electric motors based on alternating current were introduced in the late 1800s but even by 1919 half of U.S. factories still weren't electrified. The integrated circuit was commercialized in the 1960s yet 25 years later computers still represented just 5% of the value of all business equipment. Indeed, since the introduction of computers labor productivity has behaved much as it did after the introduction of electric motors and the internal combustion engine.

The authors blame these lags on the cost and time it takes for businesses to adapt to new technologies, obstacles they see at work today. Online shopping came along in the 1990s but retailers struggled to adapt business processes to the internet. They needed to build complementary infrastructure such as fulfillment centers, and, the authors note, customers had to adapt their habits, as well.


. . .


. . . perhaps the U.S. is at a point when technology and an economy growing solidly with low unemployment become mutually reinforcing. "Entrepreneurs are more willing to take risks, including investments in new technologies and new business models when the economy is running hotter," says Mr. Brynjolfsson. "This will speed up the adoption of the kinds of conventions needed to take full advantage of artificial intelligence and other new technologies," he said.



For the full commentary, see:

Greg Ip. ''CAPITAL ACCOUNT; Technology-Driven Boom Is Finally Coming." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., December 28, 2017): A2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 27, 2017, and has the title ''CAPITAL ACCOUNT; A Tech-Driven Boom Is Coming; Please Be Patient.")


The Brynjolfsson, Rock and Syverson paper, mentioned above, is:

Brynjolfsson, Erik, Daniel Rock, and Chad Syverson. "Artificial Intelligence and the Modern Productivity Paradox: A Clash of Expectations and Statistics." NBER Working Papers # 24001. National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc., Nov. 2017.






January 24, 2018

Automation Is "About Doing More with the People We've Got"



(p. A1) Mr. Persson, 35, sits in front of four computer screens, one displaying the loader he steers as it lifts freshly blasted rock containing silver, zinc and lead. If he were down in the mine shaft operating the loader manually, he would be inhaling dust and exhaust fumes. Instead, he reclines in an office chair while using a joystick to control the machine.

He is cognizant that robots are evolving by the day. Boliden is testing self-driving vehicles to replace truck drivers. But Mr. Persson assumes people will always be needed to keep the machines running. He has faith in the Swedish economic model and its protections against the torment of joblessness.

"I'm not really worried," he says. "There are so many jobs in this mine that even if this job disappears, they will have another one. The company will take care of us."


. . .


(p. A8) The Garpenberg mine has been in operation more or less since 1257. More than a decade ago, Boliden teamed up with Ericsson, the Swedish telecommunications company, to put in wireless internet. That has allowed miners to talk to one another to fix problems as they emerge. Miners now carry tablet computers that allow them to keep tabs on production all along the 60 miles of roads running through the mine.

"For us, automation is something good," says Fredrik Hases, 41, who heads the local union chapter representing technicians. "No one feels like they are taking jobs away. It's about doing more with the people we've got."



For the full story, see:

PETER S. GOODMAN. "Sweden Adds Human Touch to a Robotic Future." The New York Times (Thurs., December 28, 2017): A1 & A8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 27, 2017, and has the title "The Robots Are Coming, and Sweden Is Fine.")






January 20, 2018

Health Info from Apple Watches Will Allow Patients to "Take More Control"



(p. B1) SAN FRANCISCO -- In the last months of Steve Jobs's life, the Apple co-founder fought cancer while managing diabetes.

Because he hated pricking his finger to draw blood, Mr. Jobs authorized an Apple research team to develop a noninvasive glucose reader with technology that could potentially be incorporated into a wristwatch, according to people familiar with the events, who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak on behalf of the company.


. . .


In September [2017], Apple announced that the Apple Watch would no longer need to be tethered to a smartphone and would become more of a stand-alone device. Since then, a wave of device manufacturers have tapped into the watch's new features like cellular connectivity to develop medical accessories -- such as an electrocardiogram for monitoring heart activity -- so people can manage chronic conditions straight from their wrist.


. . .


(p. B4) A digital health revolution has been predicted for years, of course, and so far has been more hype than progress. But the hope is that artificial intelligence systems will sift through the vast amounts of data that medical accessories will collect from the Apple Watch and find patterns that can lead to changes in treatment and detection, enabling people to take more control of how they manage their conditions instead of relying solely on doctors.

Vic Gundotra, chief executive of AliveCor, a start-up that makes portable electrocardiograms, said this would put patients on a more equal footing with doctors because they would have more information on their own conditions.

"It's changing the nature of the relationship between patient and doctor," he said, adding that doctors will no longer be "high priests."


. . .


Apple is also looking at potentially building an electrocardiogram into future models of the Apple Watch, according to a person familiar with the project, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the details were confidential. It is unclear whether the EKG development, earlier reported by Bloomberg, would be introduced; such a product would most likely require F.D.A. clearance.

Separately, Apple is continuing research on a noninvasive continuous glucose reader, according to two people with knowledge of the project. The technology is still considered to be years away, industry experts said.

The current solution used by many diabetics is also coming to the Apple Watch. Dexcom, a maker of devices measuring blood sugar levels for diabetics, said it was awaiting F.D.A. approval for a continuous glucose monitor to work directly with the Apple Watch. Continuous glucose monitors use small sensors to pierce the skin to track blood sugar levels and relay those readings through a wireless transmitter.



For the full story, see:

DAISUKE WAKABAYASHI. "As Wearable Devices Evolve, The Apple Watch Offers an EKG." The New York Times (Weds., December 27, 2017): B1 & B4.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 26, 2017, and has the title "Freed From the iPhone, the Apple Watch Finds a Medical Purpose.")






January 18, 2018

"Reject the Dark Side: Free the Net!"



(p. C5) HEALY Matt, what's a culture/politics tidbit most people don't know?

FLEGENHEIMER Washington's most prolific consumer of pop culture is very likely ... Ted Cruz. Amateur "S.N.L." historian, '80s movie buff and instigator of a Twitter feud with Mark Hamill over net neutrality. He explained the meaning of "Star Wars" to Luke Skywalker. It was very Cruz: @HammillHimself Luke, I know Hollywood can be confusing, but it was Vader who supported govt power over everything said & done on the Internet. That's why giant corps (Google, Facebook, Netflix) supported the FCC power grab of net neutrality. Reject the dark side: Free the net! Ted Cruz 12:25 PM - Dec 17, 2017

ROGERS '80s movie buff?

FLEGENHEIMER "The Princess Bride"! Life on the campaign trail with Ted Cruz was basically months of "Princess Bride" imitations with an occasional discussion of Obamacare.



For the full commentary, see:

MATT FLEGENHEIMER and KATIE ROGERS. "'S.N.L.' Kimmel. Covfefe." The New York Times (Weds., December 27, 2017): C1 & C5.

(Note: ellipsis, bold and caps, in original.).

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date DEC. 26, 2017, and has the title "Kimmel, Covfefe, 'Wonder Woman': Washington on Pop Culture in 2017." The commentary/discussion is credited to Flegenheimer and Rogers, but Patrick Healy also participated. There are a few minor differences in how the print and online versions present the Cruz tweet. The quote above, follows the print version.)






January 12, 2018

DeepMind Mastered "Go" Only After It Was Told the Score



(p. C3) To function well outside controlled settings, robots must be able to approximate such human capacities as social intelligence and hand-eye coordination. But how to distill them into code?

"It turns out those things are really hard," said Cynthia Breazeal, a roboticist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab.


. . .


Even today's state-of-the-art AI has serious practical limits. In a recent paper, for example, researchers at MIT described how their AI software misidentified a 3-D printed turtle as a rifle after the team subtly altered the coloring and lighting for the reptile. The experiment showed the ease of fooling AI and raised safety concerns over its use in real-world applications such as self-driving cars and facial-recognition software.

Current systems also aren't great at applying what they have learned to new situations. A recent paper by the AI startup Vicarious showed that a proficient Atari-playing AI lost its prowess when researchers moved around familiar features of the game.


. . .


Google's DeepMind subsidiary used a technique known as reinforcement learning to build software that has repeatedly beat the best human players in Go. While learning the classic Chinese game, the machine got positive feedback for making moves that increased the area it walled off from its competitor. Its quest for a higher score spurred the AI to develop territory-taking tactics until it mastered the game.

The problem is that "the real world doesn't have a score," said Brown University roboticist Stefanie Tellex. Engineers need to code into AI programs so-called "reward functions"--mathematical ways of telling a machine it has acted correctly. Beyond the finite scenario of a game, amid the complexity of real-life interactions, it's difficult to determine what results to reinforce. How, and how often, should engineers reward machines to guide them to perform a certain task? "The reward signal is so important to making these algorithms work," Dr. Tellex added.


. . .


If a robot needs thousands of examples to learn, "it's not clear that's particularly useful," said Ingmar Posner, the deputy director of the Oxford Robotics Institute in the U.K. "You want that machine to pick up pretty quickly what it's meant to do."



For the full commentary, see:

Daniela Hernandez. "'Can Robots Learn to Improvise?" The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Dec. 16, 2017): C3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 15, 2017.)


The paper by the researchers at Vicarious, is:

Kansky, Ken, Tom Silver, David A. Mely, Mohamed Eldawy, Miguel Lázaro-Gredilla, Xinghua Lou, Nimrod Dorfman, Szymon Sidor, Scott Phoenix, and Dileep George. "Schema Networks: Zero-Shot Transfer with a Generative Causal Model of Intuitive Physics." Manuscript, 2017.


The paper, mentioned above, from the MIT Media Lab, is:

Athalye, Anish, Logan Engstrom, Andrew Ilyas, and Kevin Kwok. "Synthesizing Robust Adversarial Examples." Working paper, Oct. 30, 2017.






January 10, 2018

Rise in Cobalt Price Will Increase Quantity Supplied, and Increase Search for Substitutes



(p. B14) . . . the dreaded shortage of cobalt, which is used in the cathode of the batteries, is a bit more complicated than industry projections would suggest.


. . .


Like cobalt, rare earths aren't so rare. China's move to restrict exports in 2010 exacerbated the perceived shortage, sending the prices of some varieties up 10-fold. Companies such as Molycorp, Rare Element Resources Ltd. and Quest Rare Mineral Ltd., which all had some connection to reserves, saw their shares surge based on supposedly rosy prospects. Since then, all have lost nearly all of their value.

Already, Mr. Heppel explains, other users of the metal, for example in the pigments industry, are searching for alternatives. Meanwhile, some batteries, such as a design by Tesla, use less of the metal. Lower-performing batteries use none at all, and those batteries' capabilities may improve with technological tweaks.

Supply will react too. Companies that operate copper and nickel mines, where cobalt is co-produced, are targeting expansion, and there are some pure-play cobalt mines being planned that could start producing shortly after the projected shortage hits.

For electric vehicles, this looks more like a speed bump than a cliff.



For the full commentary, see:

Spencer Jakab. "Will a Shortage of Cobalt Kill Electric-Vehicle Makers?" The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Nov. 30, 2017): B14.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Nov. 28, 2017, and has the title "Will Tesla Die for Lack of Cobalt?.")






January 9, 2018

Only 5% of Jobs at Risk of Total Automation



(p. B6) About 15% of all hours worked globally could be automated by 2030 using technology that is currently available, McKinsey estimates. The new report builds on McKinsey's earlier research, published in January [2017], which found that 60% of all occupations could be at least partially automated with current tools, though fewer than 5% are at risk of total automation.

Like prior waves of technological change, the adoption of new tools like machine learning and artificial intelligence will likely create more jobs than it destroys, says the Institute, the think-tank arm of consulting firm McKinsey & Co.



For the full story, see:

Lauren Weber. "Forget Robots: Bad Public Policies Can Kill More Jobs." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Nov. 30, 2017): B6.

(Note: bracketed year added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 28, 2017, and has the title "Forget Robots: Bad Public Policies Could Be Bigger Job Killers.")






January 8, 2018

Supersonic Technology Constrained by Regulators



(p. B5) Japan Airlines Co. 9201 -0.09% has become the first carrier to invest in Boom Technology Inc., a U.S. startup seeking to build a faster-than-sound airliner capable of flying more than four dozen premium passengers to Tokyo from the West Coast in roughly five hours.


. . .


With a one-third scale version now scheduled to start flight tests in late 2018--nearly a year later than initially planned--JAL's involvement is expected to influence cabin design and various operational issues. Blake Scholl, Boom's founder and chief executive, said such cooperation is intended "to determine whether airlines will really be happy to have this airliner in their fleets," including from a maintenance perspective.


. . .


Boom's project has initial support from several venture funds and is taking an unusual approach by adopting various technologies already certified by regulators.



For the full story, see:

Andy Pasztor. "Supersonic Jet Gets Boost." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Dec. 6, 2017): B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 5, 2017, and has the title "Japan Airlines Invests in Fledgling Supersonic Aircraft Company." The online version differs significantly in wording from the print version. Where different, the passages quoted above, follow the online wording.)






January 7, 2018

Kid Paid $100,000 to Skip College and Mine Asteroids



(p. 18) As I sat down for lunch at a restaurant in Los Angeles, I placed a copy of "Valley of the Gods," by Alexandra Wolfe, on the table, and a waitress walking by stopped to peer at the cover. . . .

"It's about Silicon Valley," I began. "It follows this young kid, John Burnham, who gets paid $100,000 by this weird billionaire guy, Peter Thiel, whom you've probably heard of; he's a big Trump supporter and spoke at the Republican National Convention?" -- a blank stare from the waitress. "Anyway, Thiel pays him (and a bunch of other kids) to forgo college so Burnham can mine asteroids, but he doesn't actually end up mining the asteroids and. . . ."


. . .


The book begins with the protagonist, Burnham (or antagonist, depending whose side you're on), who isn't old enough to drink yet but is debating dropping out of college to follow the Pied Piper of libertarian and contrarian thinking, Peter Thiel, to Silicon Valley. As Wolfe chronicles, Thiel, who has a degree from Stanford University and largely credits where he is today (a billionaire) to his time at that school, started the Thiel Fellowship, in 2011, which awards $100,000 to 20 people under 20 years old to say no to M.I.T., Stanford or, in Burnham's case, the University of Massachusetts, to pursue an Ayn Randian dream of disrupting archetypal norms.

It won't be giving away the ending by pointing out that it doesn't end well for Burnham.



For the full review, see:

NICK BILTON. "Denting the Universe." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, FEB. 19, 2017): 18.

(Note: ellipsis at end of second paragraph, in original; other two, added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date FEB. 14, 2017, and has the title "Pet Projects of the New Billionaires.")


The book under review, is:

Wolfe, Alexandria. Valley of the Gods: A Silicon Valley Story. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017.






December 31, 2017

Robots May Be a Threat After They Learn How to Open a Door



(p. A1) Robots may enslave us all someday. In the meantime, if one of them goes berserk, here's a useful tactic: Shut the door behind you.

One after another, robots in a government-sponsored contest were stumped by an unlocked door that blocked their path at an outdoor obstacle course. One bipedal machine managed to wrap a claw around the door handle and open it but was flummoxed by a breeze that kept blowing the door shut before it could pass through.

Robots excel at many tasks, as long as they don't involve too much hand-eye coordination or common sense. Like some gifted children, they can perform impressive feats of mental arithmetic but are profoundly klutzy on the playground.

The machines stumble over tasks requiring even toddler-level balance, like kicking a ball, getting out of a car or (p. A9) climbing stairs. Grasping objects of varying size and weight is also perplexing.



For the full story, see:

Daniela Hernandez. "If the Robot Apocalypse Comes, Try Closing the Door." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Nov. 11, 2017): A1 & A9.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 10, 2017, and has the title "How to Survive a Robot Apocalypse: Just Close the Door.")






December 24, 2017

Steel Mills Repurposed as Online Warehouses



(p. A1) BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- Ellen Gaugler remembers driving her father to the Bethlehem Steel mill, where he spent his working years hauling beams off the assembly line and onto rail cars.

When the Pennsylvania plant shut down about two decades ago, Ms. Gaugler thought it was the last time she or anyone in Bethlehem would come to its gates to find a job that paid a decent wage for a physical day of work.

But she saw an ad in the paper last year for a position at a local warehouse that changed her mind. She'd never heard of Zulily, the online retailer doing the hiring, but she knew the address: It was on the old mill site, steps from where her father worked.

"When I came for the interviews I looked up and said, 'Oh, my God, I feel like I am at home,'" Ms. Gaugler said. She got the job.

As shopping has shifted from conventional stores to online marketplaces, many retail workers have been left in the cold, but Ms. Gaugler is coming out ahead. Sellers like Zulily, Amazon and Walmart are competing to get goods to the buyer's doorstep as quickly as possible, giving rise to a constellation of vast warehouses that have fueled a boom for workers without college degrees and breathed new life into pockets of the country that had fallen economically behind.



For the full story, see:

NATALIE KITROEFF. " Idle Steel Mills Rumble to Life As Online Sellers' Warehouses." The New York Times (Mon., OCT. 23, 2017): A1 & A13.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 22, 2017, and has the title "Where Internet Orders Mean Real Jobs, and New Life for Communities.")






December 17, 2017

Can Incremental Oil Innovations Preserve Combustion Engines?



(p. A10) Big oil companies and giant auto makers are teaming up to preserve the internal combustion engine, as tough regulation and electric vehicles put the car industry's century-old technology at risk. Their secret weapon: high-tech engine oil.

Exxon Mobil Corp., BP PLC, Royal Dutch Shell PLC and other oil companies are spending millions of dollars a year in concert with auto makers such as Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV to create the next generation of super-slick engine lubricants. They are betting that the new, thinner oils will help them squeeze even more efficiency out of traditional car engines, allowing them to comply with stricter environmental rules and remain relevant as new technologies such as zero-emission electric vehicles gain traction.



For the full story, see:

Sarah Kent and Chester Dawson. "Combustion Engines Catch New Spark." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., NOV. 20, 2017): A10.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 18, 2017, and has the title "Big Oil and Auto Makers Throw a Lifeline to the Combustion Engine.")






December 5, 2017

Firms Compete in Product Market and Cooperate in Parts Market



(p. B1) When the iPhone X goes on sale next month, Apple Inc.'s rival, Samsung Electronics Co., has good reason to hope it is a roaring success.

The South Korean company's giant components division stands to make $110 from for each top-of-the-line, $1,000 iPhone X that Apple sells.

The fact reflects a love-hate dynamic between the phone makers that is one of the more unusual relationships in business. While each company vies to get consumers to buy its gadgets, Samsung's parts operation stands to make billions of dollars supplying screens and memory chips for the new iPhone--parts that Apple relies on for its most important product.



For the full story, see:

Timothy W. Martin and Tripp Mickle. "Samsung To Benefit If iPhone X Is a Success." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Oct. 3, 2017): B1 & B5.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Oct. 2, 2017, and has the title "Why Apple Rival Samsung Also Wins If iPhone X Is a Hit.")






December 2, 2017

FCC Spectrum Regulations Drive Innovators to Bankruptcy



(p. A17) In 2004 the FCC moved to relax L-Band rules, permitting deployment of a terrestrial mobile network. Satellite calls would continue, but few were being made, and sharing frequencies with cellular devices made eminent sense. By 2010, L-Band licensee LightSquared was ready to build a state-of-the-art 4G network, and the FCC announced that the 40 MHz bandwidth would become available. LightSquared quickly spent about $4 billion of its planned $14 billion infrastructure rollout. Americans would soon enjoy a fifth nationwide wireless choice.

But in 2012 the FCC yanked LightSquared's licenses. Various interests, from commercial airlines to the Pentagon, complained that freeing up the L Band could cause interference with Global Positioning System devices, since they are tuned to adjacent frequencies. Yet cheap remedies--such as a gradual roll-out of new services while existing networks improved reception with better radio chips--were available. In reality, the costliest spectrum conflicts emanate from overprotecting old services at the expense of the new. With its licenses snatched away, LightSquared instantly plunged into bankruptcy.


. . .


. . . regulatory impediments continue to block progress. Years after the L-Band spectrum was slated for productive use in 4G, it lies fallow--now delaying upgrades to 5G.



For the full commentary, see:

Thomas W. Hazlett. "How Politics Stalls Wireless Innovation; The FCC unveiled its National Broadband Plan in 2010--but couldn't stick to it." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Oct. 2, 2017): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Oct. 1, 2017.)


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

Hazlett, Thomas W. The Political Spectrum: The Tumultuous Liberation of Wireless Technology, from Herbert Hoover to the Smartphone. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017.






December 1, 2017

Musk Fires Under-Performing Workers to Speed Output of Mass-Market Electric Sedans



(p. B4) DETROIT -- The electric-car maker Tesla fired hundreds of workers this week after a series of performance reviews conducted during the biggest expansion in the company's history.

Tesla said Friday [Oct. 13, 2017] that the dismissals were not out of the ordinary, even though they came as the automaker tries to increase the production of its first mass-market vehicle, the Model 3 sedan.

The company has been criticized for the slow pace of its early production of the new model, which has generated hundreds of thousands of deposits from prospective buyers.

Tesla built about 25,000 vehicles in the three months that ended Sept. 30, but only 260 of those were Model 3s -- considerably fewer than the 1,500 it had projected. The automaker has attributed the low production rate of the new car to unexpected bottlenecks in its manufacturing system.



For the full story, see:

BILL VLASIC. "Tesla Fires Hundreds of Workers." The New York Times (Sat., OCT. 14, 2017): B4.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 13, 2017, and has the title "Tesla Fires Hundreds as It Tries to Speed Production of an Electric Sedan.")






November 21, 2017

The Ship that Held the Antikythera Mechanism Was Greek, Not Roman



(p. A12) A bronze statue's orphaned arm. A corroded disc adorned with a bull. Preserved wooden planks. These are among the latest treasures that date back to the dawn of the Roman Empire, discovered amid the ruins of the Antikythera shipwreck, a sunken bounty off the coast of a tiny island in Greece.


. . .


For decades people referred to it as a Roman shipwreck, like in Jacques Cousteau's documentary "Diving for Roman Plunder," but the team's findings since 2012 -- such as a chemical analysis of lead on the ship's equipment that trace it back to northern Greece and the personal possessions they found with Greek names etched on them -- are changing that narrative, Dr. Foley said. "It's starting to look an awful lot like a Greek-built, Greek-crewed ship, not a Roman-Italian vessel."



For the full story, see:

NICHOLAS ST. FLEUR. "A Bronze Arm Points to More Treasure Below." The New York Times (Sat., OCT. 7, 2017): A12.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 5, 2017, and has the title "Bronze Arm Found in Famous Shipwreck Points to More Treasure Below.")






November 17, 2017

On Private Property, Innovator "Can Try New Ideas Without as Much Red Tape"



(p. B1) SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Molly Jackson, an 82-year-old retired nurse, was sitting in the back seat of a self-driving taxi when the vehicle jerked to a halt at a crossing as its computer vision spotted an approaching golf cart.

When the vehicle, a modified Ford Fusion developed by a start-up named Voyage, started to inch forward, it abruptly stopped again as the golfers pressed ahead and cut in front of the car.

Ms. Jackson seemed unfazed by the bumpy ride. As a longtime resident of the Villages Golf and Country Club, a retirement community in San Jose, Calif., she knew all about aggressive golf cart drivers.

"I like that; we made a good stop there," Ms. Jackson said. "I stop for them. They say we don't have to, but I do."


. . .


The speed limit, just 25 miles an hour, helps reduce the risk if something goes wrong. And because it is private property, the company does not have to share ride information with regulators and it can try new ideas without as much red tape.

(p. B6) Cars that can drive themselves could be a great benefit to older people. Residents at the Villages say that once people stop driving, they often pull back from activities and interacting with friends.



For the full story, see:

DAISUKE WAKABAYASHI. "Where Cars Brake for Golf Carts." The New York Times (Thurs., OCT. 5, 2017): B1 & B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 4, 2017, and has the title "Where Driverless Cars Brake for Golf Carts.")






November 12, 2017

Gig Workers Have More Control Over Retirement Savings



(p. 2D) "There's this myth that the Gig Economy equals Uber driver," said Diane Mulcahy, who recently wrote a book on the subject. "If you are not a full-time employee in a full-time job, you are part of the Gig Economy."

While gig workers have been around as long as there have been handymen, tutors, writers and musicians, what's new about the Gig Economy is how quickly it has infiltrated white-collar professions and industries such as health care, finance, the law and technology, Mulcahy said. She is a private equity adviser for the Kauffman Foundation, which studies and supports entrepreneurship. As proof, she said, look at the growth of national online placement services like Toptal for tech and finance workers and Axiom for lawyers.


. . .


Managing volatile income can come down to ongoing business development and networking. Gig workers must make sure to keep business flowing through the development pipeline and writing contracts in a way that ensures ongoing cash flow, Mulcahy said.

Saving for retirement is one of the few areas where the independent contractor has an advantage because through IRAs and 401(k)s for the self-employed, they can save more quickly and at higher levels than their full-time brethren, she said.

This all comes as the economy has fundamentally changed.

"This is the future of work," Mulcahy said. "The full-time employee is getting to be the worker of last resort."



For the full story, see:

Miami Herald. "As full-time jobs slip away, Gig Economy movement leverages skills and passions into multiple jobs." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Sept. 6, 2017): 1D-2D.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the title, "As full-time jobs slip away, Gig Economy movement leverages skills and passions into multiple jobs.")


The Mulcahy book, mentioned above, is:

Mulcahy, Diane. The Gig Economy: The Complete Guide to Getting Better Work, Taking More Time Off, and Financing the Life You Want. New York: AMACOM, 2016.







November 8, 2017

Has Jeff Bezos Given Up on Well-Paying Jobs for Average Citizens?





I have not read Scott Galloway's new book, but suspect that there will be much in it to disagree with. But he makes a thought-provoking, and plausible, point, in the passage below, quoted from a Galloway op-ed piece.



(p. C3) I recently spoke at a conference the day after Jeff Bezos. During his talk, he made the case for a universal guaranteed income for all Americans. It is tempting to admire his progressive values and concern for the public welfare, but there is a dark implication here too. It appears that the most insightful mind in the business world has given up on the notion that our economy, or his firm, can support that pillar of American identity: a well-paying job.


For the full commentary, see:

Scott Galloway. "Amazon Takes Over the World." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Sept. 23, 2017): C3.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 22, 2017.)


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

Galloway, Scott. The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. New York: Portfolio, 2017.






November 6, 2017

Baseball Immigrants Learn English by Watching "Friends"



(p. D1) When he returns home from the stadium, Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Freddy Galvis often gets into bed and watches reruns of "Friends."


. . .


For at least one generation of Americans, "Friends" endures as a cultural touchstone, a glowing chunk of 1990s amber. But its runaway popularity stretched far beyond the United States, and for some Latino baseball players it is something more: a language guide, a Rosetta Stone disguised as six 20-somethings commingling in a Manhattan apartment.

And also just a funny show.

"Now that it's on Netflix, I always put it on and watch it," said Mets infielder Wilmer Flores, 26, who is from Venezuela. "When I get up in the morning, I turn on the TV, and whatever episode is there I'll watch and keep watching. I stop it when I come to the stadium. When I come home from the stadium, I pick up where I left off."

What has the sitcom done for his English proficiency?

"It's near perfect," said Flores's teammate, Jerry Blevins, who is from Tennessee. "When he doesn't know something, it's surprising."


. . .


(p. D2) For Galvis, the English-language broadcast with Spanish subtitles on Venezuelan television, was an excellent learning tool. "You can compare what's going on that way," he said. "If they say 'happy,' you see he's happy and the subtitle says 'feliz', then you can learn. You might not learn 100 percent, but you'll learn to associate."


. . .


Like Flores, Galvis is evangelical about "Friends." He tells young Spanish-speaking players that he is living proof that consuming popular culture in English can help. And although he is now a capable English speaker, he still watches "Friends" with subtitles in Spanish so that his wife can learn English.

Marta Kauffman, one of the creators of the show, said she was delighted to hear about its unlikely and unintended impact on certain players. She compared the phenomenon to how Viagra was originally designed to treat heart problems but later was embraced for a very different purpose.



For the full story, see:

JAMES WAGNER. "For Some Major Leaguers, It's Always Great to See 'Friends'." The New York Times (Mon., SEPT. 18, 2017): D1-D2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the title "'Friends,' the Sitcom That's Still a Hit in Major League Baseball.")






November 5, 2017

For Innovators to Seek the Way to San Jose, City's Bureaucrats Should "Get Out of the Way"





The passages quoted below are authored by the Democratic mayor of the city of San Jose, California.



(p. A17) Recently, states and cities have been luring companies with subsidies. . . . The commonwealth of Massachusetts and city of Boston brought General Electric headquarters to Beantown with a $145 million incentive deal.


. . .


But my city won't be offering incentives to Amazon. Why? Because they are a bad deal for taxpayers. With many subsidies, the jobs a company brings to an area don't generate revenues commensurate with public expenditures. The GE deal will cost taxpayers more than $181,000 for every job created in Boston. Most experts insist that other factors--particularly the presence of a skilled workforce--play a far larger role in determining boardrooms' corporate location decisions. Moreover, some 95% of Silicon Valley's job growth comes from new small-business formation and when those homegrown companies develop into larger firms.


. . .


A healthy economic ecosystem that supports innovation and growth is what makes a community attractive to a company like Amazon.


. . .


As elected officials, we would do well to resist ribbon-cutting and take the longer view. To attract innovative employers, let's all stay in our lanes, create safe and attractive cities for talented people to live in, and clear bureaucratic red tape. In other words: Get out of the way.



For the full commentary, see:


Sam Liccardo. "Why I'm Not Bidding for Amazon's HQ; San Jose won't offer subsidies for favored corporations, which are a bad deal for city taxpayers." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Oct. 5, 2017): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Oct. 4, 2017.)






October 25, 2017

Silicon Valley Firm Defies Disruption



(p. A1) LOS GATOS, Calif.--Companies that resist change don't tend to last long in the caldron of innovation called Silicon Valley.

Then there's the Z.A. Macabee Gopher Trap Co.

Founded in 1900 by local barber and inventor Zephyr Albert Macabee to manufacture his patented metal gopher traps, the company is a stickler for tradition.

The traps' design has remained exactly the same, including their forest green color--despite complaints that the hue makes them hard to spot. Some customers gripe of hitting them with mowers, and have repainted them bright red or other colors. Still, the company doesn't waver.

Macabee operates out of the same small Victorian house where "Zeph" Macabee started it all on a quiet residential street. Even the packaging---Spartan white boxes of 24--remain unchanged since the postearthquake edition of 1906.

"We have a strong product identity," says Ronald Fink, the company's cheerful septuagenarian general manager, who grew up on a nearby apricot farm.

But existential questions loom. The company's patent expired in 1917. The threat of cheap Asian knockoffs led the company in (p. A10) 2008 to shift all production to China and lay off the eight Cambodian refugees who built traps in the basement on decades-old machines.

Another new competitor has popped up: a pest exterminator named Steve Albano, founder of Trapline Products in Redwood City, who used and studied Macabee traps and came up with what he considers a better design. "I think they just work better," says Mr. Albano.


. . .


As the owners sort out their differences, copycat traps are flooding the market. Most retail for about a third less than the roughly $9 a Macabee commands, including several that even mimic the forest color.

"But people still buy us, because they know they're getting quality," says Mr. Fink.



For the full story, see:

Timothy Aeppel. "Old Time Rodent-Trap Company Doesn't Gopher Change; At one firm in Silicon Valley, disruption is a dirty word; existential fears after 100 years." The New York Times (Fri., June 19, 2015): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the title "Macabee, an Old Time Maker of Rodent Traps, Doesn't Gopher Change; At one firm in Silicon Valley, disruption is a dirty word; existential fears after 100 years.")






October 21, 2017

"Vinyl Rose from the Ashes"



(p. A10) LODENICE, Czech Republic -- He was a businessman, not a clairvoyant. Zdenek Pelc did not really foresee, a generation ago, that vinyl records would one day make a return from near extinction.

But he was smart enough to keep a vinyl record factory here, a relic of the Communist era, through all those years when albums gave way to CDs and then to iTunes and streaming, and to be ready when vinyl suddenly got hot again.

And that is why this village of 1,800, nestled in a lush furl of the Bohemian hills, improbably finds itself a world leader in the production of vinyl albums.

"I realized when I came to the company 33 years ago that vinyl would be finished one day," said Mr. Pelc, 64, who now owns GZ Media and serves as president. "But I wanted our company to be the last one to stop making them."

The trajectory of the company -- and the village it once dominated -- traces the Czech Republic's transition to quirky capitalist colt from cranky Communist nag, all played to the kind of rock soundtrack that accompanies many modern Czech tales.

Instead of getting rid of the old equipment and moving CD-making machines into their space -- as most music production companies around the world did in the late 1980s and early '90s -- Mr. Pelc kept only enough machines running to meet the dwindling demand, moving the rest into storage and cannibalizing their parts as needed.

"Frankly, if someone had told me back then that vinyl would return, I wouldn't have believed it," he said.


. . .


"Vinyl rose from the ashes," Mr. Pelc said happily.


. . .


"From around 2005, the demand for vinyl grew steadily," said Michael Sterba, GZ Media's chief executive. "Then, it really took off in the last two or three years, like, whoosh."


. . .


"Only an idiot thinks this can go on forever," Mr. Sterba said. "Maybe making vinyl is a fashion that will disappear in a few years. Who knows? No one predicted this."



For the full story, see:

RICK LYMAN. "LODENICE JOURNAL; Long-Playing Czech Company Rides a Resurgence to the Top." The New York Times (Fri., AUG. 7, 2015): A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date AUG. 6, 2015, and has the title "LODENICE JOURNAL; Czech Company, Pressing Hits for Years on Vinyl, Finds It Has Become One.")






October 17, 2017

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


. . .


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

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

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

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



For the full story, see:

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

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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






October 4, 2017

Dubai Central Planners Subsidize Driverless Drones



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

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

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

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



For the full story, see:

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

(Note: bracketed dates added.)

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






October 1, 2017

Simple App Takes Entrepreneur from Rags to Riches



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

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

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


. . .


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

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

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



For the full commentary, see:

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

(Note: eilipsis added.)

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






September 27, 2017

Factory Workers Collaborate with Robots



(p. B1) MARION, Ohio--A new worker is charming the staff at Whirlpool Corp.'s plant here: a robot called Chappy.

Employees at the dryer factory say they have taken a shine to one-armed, programmable robots that have assumed some repetitive tasks, working in concert with their human colleagues. One, nicknamed after a worker whose rote duties it has inherited, snaps photographs to scan for defects.

"If I can get some help doing my job, I'm all for that," said Karen "Chappy" Beidler, who is now free to focus on checking and fixing wiring connections. "It's technology helping manpower--you can't beat it."



For the full story, see:

Andrew Tangel. "Latest Robots Lend an Arm." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Nov. 9, 2016): B1 & B4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 8, 2016, and has the title "Latest Robots Lend a Helping Arm at Factories.")






September 12, 2017

Warren Buffett: High-Tech Especially Hard to Predict



(p. 1D) Turns out that Warren Buffett spoke out in IBM's favor, sort of, 37 years ago when the government accused "Big Blue" of illegal
anti-competitive practices.


. . .


But Buffett was one of 87 witnesses who testified on behalf of the International Business Machines Corp. during the federal government's antitrust trial.


. . .


In his testimony, Buffett said he asked the Price, Waterhouse accounting firm to calculate the debt levels of 104 other computer-oriented companies that, according to federal prosecutors, were harmed by IBM's low prices and other alleged anti-competitive actions.

Buffett said his hypothesis was that the competing companies had trouble raising money to finance their growth because they had too much debt. The accounting analy-(p. 2D)sis, Buffett said in court, "bore that hypothesis out in a very conclusive manner."

So why didn't he buy IBM stock in 1980?

Because, he told the court, with high-tech companies it's "particularly difficult to have a clear view of a long-term future. ... High-technology companies are ones where both the product and the customer's use of it are (areas in which) I don't feel I have a full understanding."



For the full commentary, see:

Steve Jordon. "WARREN WATCH; What Buffett said in court about IBM in 1980." Omaha World-Herald (Sun., Jan 22, 2017): 1D-2D.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the title "WARREN WATCH; What Warren Buffett said in court about IBM in 1980.")






September 7, 2017

More Workers Benefit from Driverless Cars, Than Are Hurt



(p. A2) Self-driving vehicles have the potential to reshape a wide range of occupations held by roughly one in nine American workers, according to a new U.S. government report.

About 3.8 million people drive taxis, trucks, ambulances and other vehicles for a living. An additional 11.7 million workers drive as part of their work, including personal care aides, police officers, real-estate agents and plumbers. In all, that's roughly 11.3% of total U.S. employment based on 2015 occupational data, according to the analysis by three Commerce Department economists.

If businesses embrace autonomous vehicles on a large scale, workers in the first category are "more likely to be displaced" from their jobs, while workers in the latter group "may be more likely to benefit from greater productivity and better working conditions," wrote David Beede, Regina Powers and Cassandra Ingram in the report, released Friday.



For the full story, see:

Ben Leubsdorf. "Driverless Cars May Alter 1 in 9 Jobs." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Aug 15, 2017): A2.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug 14, 2017, and has the title "Self-Driving Cars Could Transform Jobs Held by 1 in 9 U.S. Workers.")


The report summarized in the passages quoted above, is:

Beede, David, Regina Powers, and Cassandra Ingram. "The Employment Impact of Autonomous Vehicles." ESA Issue Brief, #05-17, Aug. 11, 2017.






September 3, 2017

3-D Printing Promises Goods Quicker, Cheaper, More Local, and More Customized



(p. B3) With the rise of new technologies like smartphones and 3-D printers, fashion start-ups like Feetz are changing the ways goods are ordered, made and sold.

Like Ms. Beard, several founders of these companies don't have fashion backgrounds. Instead, they consider technology the answer to off-the rack, mass-produced goods, which are increasingly shunned by millennials. Consumers with hard-to-find sizes -- like petite, or big and tall -- will find shopping simpler.

Traditionally, manufacturing is the most expensive part of the retail supply chain. Creating goods in small batches is difficult and costly. Most are manufactured overseas, and shipping goods to the United States adds time and cost to the process. So even "fast fashion" can take about six weeks to hit store shelves.

The beauty of instant, customized fashion, experts say, is that goods can be made at a lower cost and more quickly -- yet in a personalized style.


. . .


These are still early days for 3-D printing, said Uli Becker, the former chief executive of Reebok and an investor in Feetz. The offerings are not very diversified, and they are limited to basic goods. And fabric cannot yet be printed.

But he sees great potential for 3-D printing. "You can start producing in America, for America," he said. "Production facilities can be in the same place where you sell products, which creates jobs."


. . .


"We're a technology company that creates T-shirts," said Walker Williams, 27, chief executive of Teespring, who started the company with Evan Stites-Clayton, a friend from Brown University. "The future of fashion is in smaller brands that have relationships with customers."



For the full story, see:

CONSTANCE GUSTKE. "ENTREPRENEURSHIP; With Analytics and 3-D Printers, a Faster Fashion Just for You." The New York Times (Thurs., SEPT. 15, 2016): B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 14, 2016, and has the title "ENTREPRENEURSHIP; Your Next Pair of Shoes Could Come From a 3-D Printer.")






August 28, 2017

"Splendid Tutorial" of Bitcoin, Distributed Ledgers, and Smart Contracts



(p. A13) 'The future is already here--it's just not very evenly distributed." The aphorism coined by novelist William Gibson explains why Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson's tour of the technologies that are shaping the future of business, "Machine, Platform, Crowd: Harnessing Our Digital Future," contains sights that are already familiar and others that are not. This is a book for managers whose companies sit well back from the edge and who would like a digestible introduction to technology trends that may not have reached their doorstep--yet.


. . .


In the penultimate chapter, the authors present a splendid tutorial on things that are too new for most civilians to have gained a good understanding of--cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, distributed ledgers, and smart contracts. The authors present the theoretical possibility that conventional contracts and the human handling of disputes could be rendered obsolete by dense networks of sensors in the physical world and extremely detailed contracts anticipating all contingencies so that machines alone can handle enforcement. But they show that computing power, however much it grows, seems unlikely to replace the human component for dispute resolution.



For the full review, see:

Randall Stross. "BOOKSHELF; The Future On Fast Forward; GE used 'crowdfunding' to gauge interest in a new ice maker. McDonald's has begun adding self-service ordering in all its U.S. locations.." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., July 6, 2017): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 5, 2017.)


The book under review, is:

McAfee, Andrew, and Erik Brynjolfsson. Machine, Platform, Crowd: Harnessing Our Digital Future. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2017.






August 25, 2017

A.I. "Continues to Struggle in the Real World"





The passages quoted below are authored by an NYU professor of psychology and neural science.



(p. 6) Artificial Intelligence is colossally hyped these days, but the dirty little secret is that it still has a long, long way to go. Sure, A.I. systems have mastered an array of games, from chess and Go to "Jeopardy" and poker, but the technology continues to struggle in the real world. Robots fall over while opening doors, prototype driverless cars frequently need human intervention, and nobody has yet designed a machine that can read reliably at the level of a sixth grader, let alone a college student. Computers that can educate themselves -- a mark of true intelligence -- remain a dream.

Even the trendy technique of "deep learning," which uses artificial neural networks to discern complex statistical correlations in huge amounts of data, often comes up short. Some of the best image-recognition systems, for example, can successfully distinguish dog breeds, yet remain capable of major blunders, like mistaking a simple pattern of yellow and black stripes for a school bus. Such systems can neither comprehend what is going on in complex visual scenes ("Who is chasing whom and why?") nor follow simple instructions ("Read this story and summarize what it means").

Although the field of A.I. is exploding with microdiscoveries, progress toward the robustness and flexibility of human cognition remains elusive. Not long ago, for example, while sitting with me in a cafe, my 3-year-old daughter spontaneously realized that she could climb out of her chair in a new way: backward, by sliding through the gap between the back and the seat of the chair. My daughter had never seen anyone else disembark in quite this way; she invented it on her own -- and without the benefit of trial and error, or the need for terabytes of labeled data.

Presumably, my daughter relied on an implicit theory of how her body moves, along with an implicit theory of physics -- how one complex object travels through the aperture of another. I challenge any robot to do the same. A.I. systems tend to be passive vessels, dredging through data in search of statistical correlations; humans are active engines for discovering how things work.



For the full commentary, see:

GARY MARCUS. "Gray Matter; A.I. Is Stuck. Let's Unstick It." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., JULY 30, 2017): 6.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JULY 29, 2017, and has the title "Gray Matter; Artificial Intelligence Is Stuck. Here's How to Move It Forward.")






August 20, 2017

Inventor Haber and Entrepreneur Bosch Created "an Inflection Point in History"



(p. C7) . . . , Mr. Kean's narrative of scientific discovery jumps back and forth. The first episode narrated in detail is Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch's conversion of nitrogen into ammonia, the crucial step in producing artificial fertilizer, which Mr. Kean characterizes as "an inflection point in history" that in the 20th century "transformed the very air into bread." The process consumes 1% of the global energy supply, producing 175 million tons of ammonia fertilizer a year and generating half the world's food. Haber and Bosch both won Nobel Prizes but were subsequently tainted by their involvement in developing chlorine gas for the German military.

The book's middle section turns back the clock to steam power, the technology that launched the Industrial Revolution. James Watt was its master craftsman, though Mr. Kean confesses that, as "a sucker for mechanical simplicity," he regards Watt's pioneering engine, with its separate condenser, as "a bunch of crap cobbled together." A more elegant application of gases was Henry Bessemer's process for making steel, which used blasts of compressed air to make obsolete the laborious and energy-hungry mixing of liquid cast iron and carbon.



For the full review, see:

Mike Jay. "Adventures in the Atmosphere." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., July 22, 2017): C7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 21, 2017.)


The book under review, is:

Kean, Sam. Caesar's Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2017.






August 18, 2017

Russian Regulators Jail Entrepreneur for Innovating "Too Fast and Too Freely"



(p. A1) AKADEMGORODOK, Russia -- Dmitri Trubitsyn is a young physicist-entrepreneur with a patriotic reputation, seen in this part of Siberia as an exemplar of the talents, dedication and enterprise that President Vladimir V. Putin has hailed as vital for Russia's future economic health.

Yet Mr. Trubitsyn faces up to eight years in jail after a recent raid on his home and office here in Akademgorodok, a Soviet-era sanctuary of scientific research that was supposed to showcase how Mr. Putin's Russia can harness its abundance of talent to create a modern economy.

A court last Thursday [August 3, 2017] extended Mr. Trubitsyn's house arrest until at least October, which bars him from leaving his apartment or communicating with anyone other than his immediate family. Mr. Trubitsyn, 36, whose company, Tion, manufactures high-tech air-purification systems for homes and hospitals, is accused of risking the lives of hospital patients, and trying to lift profits, by upgrading the purifiers so they would consume less electricity.

Most important, he is accused of doing this without state regulators certifying the changes.

It is a case that highlights the tensions between Mr. Putin's aspirations for a dynamic private sector and his determination to enhance the powers of Russia's security apparatus. Using a 2014 law meant to protect Russians from counterfeit medicine, investigators from the Federal Security Service, the post-Soviet KGB, and other agencies have accused Mr. Trubitsyn of leading a criminal conspiracy to, essentially, innovate too fast and too freely.


. . .


(p. A9) Irina Travina, the founder of a software start-up and head of the local technology-business association, said Akademgorodok was "the best place in Russia," with "outstanding schools, low crime and a high concentration of very smart people."

But she said Mr. Trubitsyn's arrest had delivered a grave blow to the community's sense of security.

"In principle, anyone can fall into this situation," Ms. Travina said, praising Mr. Trubitsyn as a patriot because he had not moved abroad and had invested time and money in science education for local children. "It can happen to anybody," she added. "Everyone has some sort of skeleton in their closet. Maybe nothing big, but they can always find something to throw you in jail for."



For the full story, see:

ANDREW HIGGINS. "Russia Wants Innovation, but Jails Innovators." The New York Times (Thurs., AUG. 10, 2017): A1 & A9.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date AUG. 9, 2017, and has the title "Russia Wants Innovation, but It's Arresting Its Innovators.")






August 16, 2017

"Shannon's Principles of Redundancy and Error Correction"



(p. C7) There were four essential prophets whose mathematics brought us into the Information Age: Norbert Wiener, John von Neumann, Alan Turing and Claude Shannon. In "A Mind at Play: How Claude Shannon Invented the Information Age," Jimmy Soni and Rob Goodman make a convincing case for their subtitle while reminding us that Shannon never made this claim himself.


. . .


The only one of the four Information Age pioneers who was also an electrical engineer, Shannon was practical as well as brilliant.


. . .


Wiener's theory of information, drawing on his own background in thermodynamics, statistical mechanics and the study of random processes, was cloaked in opaque mathematics that was impenetrable to most working engineers.


. . .


"Before Shannon," Messrs. Soni and Goodman write, "information was a telegram, a photograph, a paragraph, a song. After Shannon, information was entirely abstracted." He derived explicit formulas for rates of transmission, the capacity of an ideal channel, ability to correct errors and coding efficiency that could be understood by anyone familiar with logarithms to the base 2.

Mathematicians use mathematics to understand things. Engineers use mathematics to build things. Engineers love logarithms as a carpenter loves a familiar tool. The electronic engineers who flooded into civilian life in the aftermath of World War II adopted Shannon's theory as passionately as they had avoided Wiener's, bringing us the age of digital machines.


. . .


Despite the progress of technology, we still have no clear understanding of how memories are stored in our own brains: Shannon's principles of redundancy and error correction are no doubt involved in preserving memory, but how does the process work and why does it sometimes fail? Shannon died of Alzheimer's disease in February 2001. The mind that gave us the collective memory we now so depend on had its own memory taken away.



For the full review, see:

George Dyson. "The Elegance of Ones and Zeroes." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., July 22, 2017): C7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 21, 2017.)


The book under review, is:

Soni, Jimmy, and Rob Goodman. A Mind at Play: How Claude Shannon Invented the Information Age. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017.






August 15, 2017

Code Schools Provide Intense 12 Week Training, and Jobs



(p. B1) Across the U.S., change is coming for the ecosystem of employers, educational institutions and job-seekers who confront the increasingly software-driven nature of work. A potent combination--a yawning skills gap, stagnant middle-class wages and diminished career prospects for millennials--is bringing about a rapid shift (p. B4) in the labor market for coders and other technical professionals.

Riding into the breach are "code schools," a kind of vocational training that rams students through intense 12-week crash courses in precisely the software-development skills employers need.



For the full commentary, see:

Christopher Mims. "Code-School Boot Camps Offer Fast Track to Jobs." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Feb. 27, 2017): B1 & B4.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 26, 2017, and has the title "A New Kind of Jobs Program for Middle America.")






August 12, 2017

Employment Grows as Productivity Rises



(p. C3) In a recent paper prepared for a European Central Bank conference, the economists David Autor of MIT and Anna Salomons of Utrecht University looked at data for 19 countries from 1970 to 2007. While acknowledging that advances in technology may hurt employment in some industries, they concluded that "country-level employment generally grows as aggregate productivity rises."

The historical record provides strong support for this view. After all, despite centuries of progress in automation and recurrent warnings of a jobless future, total employment has continued to increase relentlessly, even with bumps along the way.

More remarkable is the fact that today's most dire projections of jobs lost to automation fall short of historical norms. A recent analysis by Robert Atkinson and John Wu of the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation quantified the rate of job destruction (and creation) in each decade since 1850, based on census data. They found that an incredible 57% of the jobs that workers did in 1960 no longer exist today (adjusted for the size of the workforce).

Workers suffering some of the largest losses included office clerks, secretaries and telephone operators. They found similar levels of displacement in the decades after the introduction of railroads and the automobile. Who is old enough to remember bowling alley pin-setters? Elevator operators? Gas jockeys? When was the last time you heard a manager say, "Take a memo"?


. . .


. . . , if artificial intelligence is getting so smart that it can recognize cats, drive cars, beat world-champion Go players, identify cancerous lesions and translate from one language to another, won't it soon be capable of doing just about anything a person can?

Not by a long shot. What all of these tasks have in common is that they involve finding subtle patterns in very large collections of data, a process that goes by the name of machine learning.


. . .


But it is misleading to characterize all of this as some extraordinary leap toward duplicating human intelligence. The selfie app in your phone that places bunny ears on your head doesn't "know" anything about you. For its purposes, your meticulously posed image is just a bundle of bits to be strained through an algorithm that determines where to place Snapchat face filters. These programs present no more of a threat to human primacy than did automatic looms, phonographs and calculators, all of which were greeted with astonishment and trepidation by the workers they replaced when first introduced.


. . .


The irony of the coming wave of artificial intelligence is that it may herald a golden age of personal service. If history is a guide, this remarkable technology won't spell the end of work as we know it. Instead, artificial intelligence will change the way that we live and work, improving our standard of living while shuffling jobs from one category to another in the familiar capitalist cycle of creation and destruction.



For the full commentary, see:

Kaplan, Jerry. "Don't Fear the Robots." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., June 22, 2017): C3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 21, 2017.)


The David Autor paper, mentioned above, is:

Autor, David, and Anna Salomons. "Does Productivity Growth Threaten Employment?" Working Paper. (June 19, 2017).



The Atkinson and Wu report, mentioned above, is:

Atkinson, Robert D., and John Wu. "False Alarmism: Technological Disruption and the U.S. Labor Market, 1850-2015." (May 8, 2017).


The author's earlier book, somewhat related to his commentary quoted above, is:

Kaplan, Jerry. Artificial Intelligence: What Everyone Needs to Know. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.






August 11, 2017

Toyota's Solid-State, Lithium-Ion Batteries Increase Electric Car Range



(p. B6) TOKYO--Toyota Motor Corp. believes it has mastered the technology and production process for a new lithium-ion battery that could slash charging time and double the range of electric vehicles, according to U.S. patent filings and one of the inventors.

On Tuesday [July 25, 2017] Toyota said that by the early 2020s it planned to sell cars equipped with solid-state batteries, which replace the damp electrolyte used to transport lithium ions inside today's batteries with a solid glass-like plate.

Behind Toyota's brief statement lay years of research aimed at solving issues that have long bedeviled batteries for electric cars. Current lithium-ion batteries can't be packed too tightly together because of fire risk. That is one reason electric cars tend to have limited range compared with traditional gasoline-powered cars.

With the solid-state battery, "you can improve the output and reduce the charge time--hopefully," said Ryoji Kanno, a professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. Prof. Kanno led a team including Toyota scientists that discovered the materials for the glass-like electrolyte.



For the full story, see:

McLain, Sean. "Toyota: Battery Can Make Electric Cars Go Farther." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., July 28, 2017): B6.

(Note: bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 27, 2017, and has the title "Toyota's Cure for Electric-Vehicle Range Anxiety: A Better Battery.")






August 10, 2017

Process Innovations Increase Access to Natural Resources



(p. B6) SUPERIOR, Ariz.--One of the world's largest untapped copper deposits sits 7,000 feet below the Earth's surface. It is a lode that operator Rio Tinto PLC wouldn't have touched--until now.


. . .


Advances in mining technology are making that possible--just as developments in oil and gas drilling heralded the fracking revolution. Now, using everything from sensors and data analytics to autonomous vehicles and climate-control systems, Rio aims to pull ore from more than a mile below ground, where temperatures can reach nearly 175 degrees Fahrenheit.

. . .


While a deep underground block-cave mine costs much more to develop, Rio says it can match the operating costs per ton of ore of a surface mine, partly because it is so mechanized.


. . .

As with the development of new hydraulic-fracturing and horizontal-drilling techniques to extract oil from shale-rock deposits, locating and extracting the copper successfully requires deployment of new technologies such as cheaper, more powerful sensors and breakthroughs in the use of data.


, , ,


Electrical gear buzzes constantly, and a network of pipes pumps water out of the shaft at the rate of 600 gallons a minute. A ventilation system cools the area to 77 degrees.

Over the next few years, Rio plans to deploy tens of thousands of electronic sensors, as well as autonomous vehicles and complex ventilation systems, to help it bring 1.6 billion tons of ore to the surface over the more than 40-year projected life of the mine.



For the full story, see:

Steven Norton. "Rio Digs Deeper for Copper." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., June 8, 2017): B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 7, 2017, and has the title "Mining a Mile Down: 175 Degrees, 600 Gallons of Water a Minute.")






August 7, 2017

Health Innovations Launch Where Regulations Are Few



(p. A15) One type of mobile device that is likely to appear first in the Far East and be widely adopted there is the digital stethoscope. This device is able to detect changes in pitch and soon will be able to detect asthma in children, pneumonia in the elderly, and, in conjunction with low-cost portable electrocardiographs, cardiopulmonary disease.


An additional advantage is that this part of the world--particularly India and Africa--has limited regulation, which makes it much easier to launch these kinds of health-care tools. In India and much of Africa, there are few government drug agencies or big insurance companies to throw up barriers.

Companies that make medical devices and their accompanying smartphone apps could establish themselves almost overnight. Then, once they have built a large, profitable base of users, they could consider jumping through the legal and regulatory hoops to bring the technology to developed countries.



For the full commentary, see:

Michael S. Malone. "Silicon Valley Trails in Medical Tech; With smartphones everywhere and little regulation, India and Africa are set to lead.." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., July 24, 2017): A15.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 23, 2017.)






August 5, 2017

Regulations, Not Robots, Cause Slower Job Growth



(p. A19) Some anxious forecasters project that robotics, automation and artificial intelligence will soon devastate the job market. Yet others predict a productivity fizzle. The Congressional Budget Office, for instance, expects labor productivity to grow at the snail's pace of 1.3% a year over the next decade, well below the historical average.

There's reason to reject both of these dystopian scenarios. Innovation isn't a zero-sum game. The problem for most workers isn't too much technology but too little. What America needs is more computers, mobile broadband, cloud services, software tools, sensor networks, 3-D printing, augmented reality, artificial intelligence and, yes, robots.

For the sake of explanation, let's separate the economy into two categories. In digital industries--technology, communications, media, software, finance and professional services--productivity grew 2.7% annually over the past 15 years, according to the findings of our report, "The Coming Productivity Boom," released in March. The slowdown is concentrated in physical industries--health care, transportation, education, manufacturing, retail--where productivity grew a mere 0.7% annually over the same period.

Digital industries have also experienced stronger job growth. Since the peak of the last business cycle in December 2007, hours worked in the digital category rose 9.6%, compared with 5.6% on the physical side. If health care is excluded, hours worked in physical jobs rose only 3%.

What is holding the physical industries back? It is no coincidence that they are heavily regulated, making them expensive to operate in and resistant to experimentation. The digital economy, on the other hand, has enjoyed a relatively free hand to invest and innovate, delivering spectacular and inexpensive products and services all over the world.

But more important, partially due to regulation, physical industries have not deployed information technology to the same extent that digital industries have.



For the full commentary, see:


Bret Swanson and Michael Mandel. "Robots Will Save the Economy; The problem today is too little technology. Physical industries haven't kept up." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., May 15, 2017): A19.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 14, 2017.)






July 30, 2017

Workers Are Empowered, Not Threatened, by Robots



(p. A15) Most computer scientists agree that predictions about robots stealing jobs are greatly exaggerated. Rather than worrying about an impending Singularity, consider instead what we might call Multiplicity: diverse groups of people and machines working together to solve problems.

Multiplicity is not science fiction. A combination of machine learning, the wisdom of crowds, and cloud computing already underlies tasks Americans perform every day: searching for documents, filtering spam emails, translating between languages, finding news and movies, navigating maps, and organizing photos and videos.

Consider Google's search engine. It runs on a set of algorithms with input from a large number of human users who share valuable feedback every time they click on or skip over a link. The same is true for spam filters. Every time someone marks an email as spam or overrides a filter, it helps fine-tune the system for determining what is relevant.


. . .


Multiplicity is collaborative instead of combative. Rather than discourage the human workers of the world, this new frontier has the potential to empower them.



For the full commentary, see:

Ken Goldberg. "The Robot-Human Alliance; Call it Multiplicity: diverse groups of people and machines working together." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., June 12, 2017): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 11, 2017.)






July 22, 2017

Small, Obscure Firm Innovates to Keep Moore's Law Alive



(p. B1) VELDHOVEN, the Netherlands-- ASML Holding NV, a little-known company based next to corn fields here, may hold the answer to a question hanging over the global semiconductor industry: how to make chips do more while keeping them the same, compact size.

The industry's past prowess has been codified into what's been called Moore's Law, named after an observation Intel Corp. co-founder Gordon Moore first made in 1965. He postulated that chip makers could double the number of transistors in--and boost the performance of--a typical microprocessor every two years.

Last year, though, Intel Chief Executive Brian Krzanich warned that after decades of incredible leaps, that timeline was slipping closer to every 2.5 years. Some in the industry feared the eventual death of Moore's Law, a rule of thumb underpinning modern computing.

ASML believes its breakthrough technology can postpone the demise. "I'm not concerned yet about the next 10-plus years," said Hans Meiling, who oversees ASML's effort trying to solve this problem.

Many in the industry, including big backers like Intel itself and Samsung Electronics Co. , are hoping ASML can quicken the pace of innovation once again. With around 15,000 employees and €6.3 billion ($7.05 billion) in revenue last year, the company manufactures equipment that makes chips--specializing in a field called photolithography. Specifically, ASML uses light rays to essentially lay out billions of transistors--the brain cells of a chip--in a microprocessor.



For the full story, see:

Stu Woo and Maarten van Tartwijk. "Dutch Company Aims to Make Chips Do More." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Oct. 3, 2016): B1 & B5.

(Note: the online version of the story has the title "Can This Little-Known Chip Company Preserve Moore's Law?")






July 16, 2017

Level 3 Failed, In Spite of a Well-Executed, Plausible Business Plan



Level3StockPricesGraph2017-06-09.jpgSource of graph: online version of the Omaha World-Herald article quoted and cited below.




(p. 1D) Thomas Dowd and hundreds of other Omahans soon will be digging out their Level 3 Communications Inc. stock records. • The reason: This week, Level 3 shareholders are voting to sell the company to Century Link Communications. • The sale marks the end of an investment saga that began 20 years ago with hopes of riches but ended with big losses for most shareholders, despite the efforts of some of Omaha's biggest names in business. • "It was a very bad experience," said Dowd, a retired attorney and former director of the Metropolitan Utilities District. "It's just one purchase at a time, and you think everything's going good and then, bam! Anyway, lesson learned." • Although his loss was "substantial," he said, it didn't disrupt his lifestyle, and he figures he's better off than shareholders who lost their retirement savings or other vital funds. He's still a Level 3 shareholder and will get some cash and Century Link shares in the sale, which is scheduled for September [2017].

(p. 4D) But it works out to about $4.43 for shares he bought years ago, some of them costing more than $100.


. . .


On March 20, 2000, someone sold and someone bought Level 3 shares for $132.25, a price that made the company's publicly traded stock worth nearly $20 billion. By 2002, the price had nearly collapsed, putting most shareholders into the red.

Level 3 might have an information highway, but its toll system wasn't collecting enough to earn a profit. It was clear that the nation had a "bandwidth glut," a huge overcapacity of fiber networks.

Level 3 had installed its network, at an eventual cost of $14 billion, and could cheaply add more lines by stringing extra cable through its conduits.

But others had built networks, too, and the demand for bandwidth wasn't growing as Crowe had hoped. Researchers also found ways to send more data along existing fibers, meaning greater capacity along existing lines.

Most of the new fiber networks were unused, or "dark." Only a fraction of fibers in the buried bundles were "lit" by the light waves that carried digital communications and brought in revenue for companies like Level 3.

The supply of fiber far outran the demand, and Level 3's losses mounted, along with its stock price. Investors lost confidence that the company would begin making profits anytime soon. In fact, that didn't happen until 2014.


. . .


Dowd, the retired attorney, said he held onto the shares because it didn't seem worthwhile to sell at the lower prices and he figured someone would buy the company and he would get some of his money back.

"I always thought Walter Scott was going to pull a rabbit out of the hat," he said. "He never did."



For the full story, see:

STEVE JORDON. "END OF THE LINE FOR LEVEL 3; Omaha-born company, which laid fiber-optic cable, will cease to exist." Omaha World-Herald (Sun., March 12, 2017): 1D & 4D.

(Note: ellipses added.)






July 14, 2017

Equal Opportunity Gene Innovation



(p. R4) Kian Sadeghi has postponed homework assignments, sports practice and all the other demands of being a 17-year-old high-school junior for today. On a Saturday afternoon, he is in a lab learning how to use Crispr-Cas9, a gene-editing technique that has electrified scientists around the world--. . .


. . .


Crispr-Cas9 is easier, faster and cheaper than previous gene-editing techniques.


. . .


A do-it-yourself Crispr kit with enough material to perform five experiments gene-editing the bacteria included in the package is available online for $150. Genspace, the Brooklyn, N.Y., community lab where Mr. Sadeghi is learning how to use Crispr to edit a gene in brewer's yeast, charges $400 for four intensive sessions. More than 80 people have taken the classes since the lab started offering them last year.


. . .


In the workshop, if the participants correctly edit the gene in brewer's yeast, the cells will turn red. In between the prep work, the classmates swap stories on why they are there. Many have personal Crispr projects in mind and want to learn the technique.

Kevin Wallenstein, a chemical engineer, takes a two-hour train ride to the lab from his home in Princeton, N.J. Crispr is a hobby for him, he says. He wants to eventually use it to edit a gene in an edible fruit that he prefers not to name, to restore it to its historical color. "I always wondered what it would look like," he says.

At the workshop, Mr. Wallenstein shares his Crispr goal with Will Shindel, Genspace's lab director. Mr. Shindel is enthusiastic; he has started his own Crispr project, a longtime dream to make a spicy tomato. Both men say they aren't looking to commercialize their ideas--but they would like to eat what they create someday, if they get permission from the lab. "I'm doing it for fun," Mr. Shindel says.

When Mr. Sadeghi first wanted to try Crispr, the teenager emailed 20 scientists asking if they would be willing to let him learn Crispr in their labs. Most didn't respond; those that did turned him down. So he did a Google search and stumbled upon Genspace. When he shared the lead with his science teacher at the Berkeley Carroll School in Brooklyn, Essy Levy Sefchovich, she agreed to take the course with him.

When Mr. Shindel describes the steps of the experiment, Ms. Sefchovich takes notes. She is hoping to create a modified version of the yeast experiment so all her students can try Crispr in class.

Later, Mr. Sadeghi recounts that the hardest part of the day was handling the micropipette, the lab tool he used to mix small amounts of liquid. He says he still feels clumsy. Ms. Sefchovich reassures him he'll get the hang of it; he just needs to practice.

"It's like driving," she tells him. "You learn the right feel." Mr. Sadeghi doesn't have his driver's license yet. He figures he'll do Crispr first.



For the full story, see:

Marcus, Amy Dockser. "JOURNAL REPORTS: HEALTH CARE; DIY Gene Editing: Fast, Cheap--and Worrisome; The Crispr technique lets amateurs enter a world that has been the exclusive domain of scientists." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Feb. 27, 2017): R4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 26, 2017.)






July 13, 2017

Australian Government's Centrally Planned "Costly Internet Bungle"



(p. A6) BRISBANE, Australia -- Fed up with Australian internet speeds that trail those in most of the developed world, Morgan Jaffit turned to a more reliable method of data transfer: the postal system.

Hundreds of thousands of people from around the world have downloaded Hand of Fate, an action video game made by his studio in Brisbane, Defiant Development. But when Defiant worked with an audio designer in Melbourne, more than 1,000 miles away, Mr. Jaffit knew it would be quicker to send a hard drive by road than to upload the files, which could take several days.

"It's really the big file sizes that kill us," said Mr. Jaffit, the company's co-founder and creative director. "When we release an update and there's a small bug, that can kill us by three or four days."

Australia, a wealthy nation with a widely envied quality of life, lags in one essential area of modern life: its internet speed. Eight years after the country began an unprecedented broadband modernization effort that will cost at least 49 billion Australian dollars, or $36 billion, its average internet speed lags that of the United States, most of Western Europe, Japan and South Korea. In the most recent ranking of internet speeds by Akamai, a networking company, Australia came in at an embarrassing No. 51, trailing developing economies like Thailand and Kenya.


. . .


The story of Australia's costly internet bungle illustrates the hazards of mingling telecommunication infrastructure with the impatience of modern politics. The internet modernization plan has been hobbled by cost overruns, partisan maneuvering and a major technical compromise that put 19th-century technology between the country's 21st-century digital backbone and many of its homes and businesses.

The government-led push to modernize its telecommunications system was unprecedented, experts say -- and provides a cautionary tale for others who might like to try something similar.

"Australia was the first country where a totally national plan to cover every house or business was considered," said Rod Tucker, a University of Melbourne professor and a member of the expert panel that advised on the effort.



For the full story, see:

ANDREW McMILLEN. "How Australia Bungled Internet Modernization." The New York Times (Fri., MAY 12, 2017): A6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 11, 2017, and has the title "How Australia Bungled Its $36 Billion High-Speed Internet Rollout.")









July 12, 2017

Artificial Intelligence (AI) Cannot Automate All Legal Tasks



(p. B1) "There is this popular view that if you can automate one piece of the work, the rest of the job is toast," said Frank Levy, a labor economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "That's just not true, or only rarely the case."

An artificial intelligence technique called natural language processing has proved useful in scanning and predicting what documents will be relevant to a case, for example. Yet other lawyers' tasks, like advising clients, writing legal briefs, negotiating and appearing in court, seem beyond the reach of computerization, for a while.


. . .


(p. B3) Dana Remus, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law, and Mr. Levy studied the automation threat to the work of lawyers at large law firms. Their paper concluded that putting all new legal technology in place immediately would result in an estimated 13 percent decline in lawyers' hours.

A more realistic adoption rate would cut hours worked by lawyers by 2.5 percent annually over five years, the paper said. The research also suggests that basic document review has already been outsourced or automated at large law firms, with only 4 percent of lawyers' time now spent on that task.

Their gradualist conclusion is echoed in broader research on jobs and technology. In January, the McKinsey Global Institute found that while nearly half of all tasks could be automated with current technology, only 5 percent of jobs could be entirely automated. Applying its definition of current technology -- widely available or at least being tested in a lab -- McKinsey estimates that 23 percent of a lawyer's job can be automated.



For the full story, see:

STEVE LOHR. "A.I. Is Doing Legal Work. But It Won't Replace Lawyers, Yet.." The New York Times (Mon., MARCH 20, 2017): B1 & B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 19, 2017, and has the title "A.I. Is Doing Legal Work. But It Won't Replace Lawyers, Yet.")


The Remus and Levy article, mentioned above, is:

Remus, Dana, and Frank S. Levy. "Can Robots Be Lawyers? Computers, Lawyers, and the Practice of Law." Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics (forthcoming).






July 2, 2017

Apple Hits Record Market Capitalization for Any U.S. Company in History



(p. B20) The world's most valuable listed company just got even more valuable.

Shares of Apple rose 0.6% to an all-time high of $153.99 Tuesday [May 9, 2017], sending its market capitalization above $800 billion, a first for any U.S. company. That level, the latest evidence of how much the stock has risen this year, is a milestone sure to stoke speculation about whether it will be the first public company to be worth $1 trillion.



For the full story, see:


BEN EISEN AND CHRIS DIETERICH. "Apple's Latest Record: An $800 Billion Market Cap." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., May 10, 2017): B20.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 9, 2017, and has the title "Twitch Entices Video Creators With More Revenue Sharing.")






June 30, 2017

Amazon Increases Rewards to Live-Video-Content-Creators



(p. B4) Amazon.com Inc.'s Twitch is allowing more broadcasters to make money on its platform, a move that could help the live-streaming business seize on challenges facing bigger rivals YouTube and Facebook Inc.

On Friday, Twitch said it will open up its revenue-sharing program next week for more broadcasters to get paid whenever they receive "bits"--custom, animated emoticons that act as an online currency for viewers to tip them. Twitch says bits are a way for those in the broadcasters' channels to cheer them on.

Twitch will add more money-making opportunities to its new "affiliate program" in the future, the company said. Currently, only the top 1% of the 2.2 million people who stream on Twitch at least once a month--members of its so-called "partner program"--can generate revenue on the platform.


. . .


Twitch said its top earners in the partner program, who are its most popular broadcasters, make more than $100,000 a year. Under the new affiliate program, creators with fewer fans must meet certain criteria to demonstrate their commitment to streaming, such as a minimum number of hours spent on the air, to earn revenue. The amount of money the platform shares with its broadcasters varies depending on how it is earned.

Twitch sells bits to viewers in bundles ranging from $1.40 for 100 to $308 for 25,000. Broadcasters then earn one cent every time a viewer uses one.



For the full story, see:

Sarah E. Needleman. "Twitch Entices Video Creators With More Revenue Sharing." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., April 22, 2017): B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 21, 2017, and has the title "Twitch Entices Video Creators With More Revenue Sharing.")






June 29, 2017

Dynamism Dying from Bad Attitudes or Bad Policies?




I agree with Tyler that the U.S. is less dynamic than it once was. But I mainly blame our bad government policies, while he mainly blames our own bad attitudes.



(p. A15) Is the "land of opportunity," with dynamic labor markets and fresh sources of renewal, a thing of the past?

That's the fear of Tyler Cowen, who argues in "The Complacent Class" that America is increasingly defined by an aversion to risk as well as to anything that is unfamiliar or different. He sees a broad swath of the American population losing "the capacity to imagine or embrace a world where things do change rapidly for most if not all people." This mind-set, he says, has "sapped us of the pioneer spirit that made America the world's most productive and innovative economy."


. . .


To make his case, Mr. Cowen draws a contrast between the changes that Americans experienced in the first half of the 20th century and the changes of the past 50 years. The earlier period saw dramatic improvements in health and education as well as a proliferation of automobiles, airplanes and telephones. By comparison, the changes since 1965 have been modest. "A lot of our technological world seems to have stood pretty much still," he writes, "albeit with a variety of quality improvements along the way." He even notes that, while popular narcotics in the past were mind-altering (LSD) or activity-inciting (cocaine), today's drugs of choice, such as heroin and opioids, "induce a dreamlike stupor and passivity."


. . .


Given Mr. Cowen's own innovative thinking, it's disappointing that he does not focus more on potential remedies to the torpor he describes.



For the full review, see:


Matthew Rees. "BOOKSHELF; How American Workers Got Lazy." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Feb. 28, 2017): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 27, 2017.)


The book under review, is:

Cowen, Tyler. The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2017.







June 25, 2017

"Hubs of Genius Do Not Arise from Government Planning"



(p. 13) In the early 1960s, the Soviet Union tried to make a version of Silicon Valley from scratch. A city called Zelenograd came to life on the outskirts of Moscow and was populated with all manner of brainy Soviet engineers. The hope -- naturally -- was that a concentration of clever minds coupled with ample funding would result in a wellspring of innovation and help Russia keep pace with California's electronics boom. The experiment worked as well as one might expect. Few people will read this on a Mayakovsky-branded tablet or ­smartphone.

Many similar attempts have been made in the subsequent dec­ades to replicate Silicon Valley and its abundance of creativity and ingenuity. Such efforts have largely failed. It seems near impossible to will an exceptional place into being or to manufacture the conditions that lead to an outpouring of genius.


. . .


As in the case of Zelenograd, hubs of genius do not arise from government planning or by acting on the observations of a traveler. They're happy accidents. To attempt to clone such things or pinpoint their characteristics is futile.



For the full review, see:

ASHLEE VANCE. "Smart Sites." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., JAN. 10, 2016): 13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JAN. 8, 2016, and has the title "''The Geography of Genius,' by Eric Weiner.")


The book under review, is:

Weiner, Eric. The Geography of Genius: A Search for the World's Most Creative Places from Ancient Athens to Silicon Valley. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2016.







June 16, 2017

Self-Driving Cars Would Help Older Adults Continue to Live at Home



(p. B4) Single, childless and 68, Steven Gold has begun to think about future mobility and independence. Although in good health, he can foresee a time when he won't be a confident driver, if he can drive at all. While he hopes to continue to live in his suburban Detroit home, he wonders how he will be able to get to places like his doctor's office and the supermarket if his driving becomes impaired.

For Mr. Gold and other older adults, self-driving cars might be a solution.

The number of United States residents age 70 and older is projected to increase to 53.7 million in 2030, from 30.9 million in 2014, according to the Institute for Highway Safety. Nearly 16 million people 65 and older live in communities where public transportation is poor or nonexistent. That number is expected to grow rapidly as baby boomers remain outside of cities.

"The aging of the population converging with autonomous vehicles might close the coming mobility gap for an aging society," said Joseph Coughlin, the director of the Massachusetts Institute for Technology AgeLab in Cambridge.

He said that 70 percent of those over age 50 live in the suburbs, a figure he expects to remain steady despite a recent rise in moves to urban centers. Further, 92 percent of older people want to age in place, he said.



For the full story, see:

MARY M. CHAPMAN. "Wheels; For the Aged, Self-Driving Cars Could Bridge a Mobility Gap." The New York Times (Fri., March 24, 2017): B4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 23, 2017, and has the title "Wheels; Self-Driving Cars Could Be Boon for Aged, After Initial Hurdles.")






June 12, 2017

DARPA's $66 Million Fails to Develop Tech to Match Dog Noses



(p. A2) "What's cool about dogs is when they do come into contact with an odor, they can track it to its source," said L. Paul Waggoner, co-director of the Canine Performance Sciences Program at Auburn University. "There is not an instrument out there that replicates a dog's nose."

That's not for lack of effort.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency of the U.S. Department of Defense spent $66 million between 1997 and 2010 drawing on the expertise of at least 35 different research institutions to develop sensors that could detect explosives as ably as a dog and identify other chemicals.


They couldn't do it.


. . .


Surprisingly, pigs and ferrets outperformed German shepherds and Labrador retrievers, breeds often chosen for odor detection.

But overall, dogs won out because of their combination of qualities: Not only do they have strong noses, they are compatible with people, they respond to training, and--for now--they beat technology paws down.



For the full commentary, see:

Jo Craven McGinty. "THE NUMBERS; Dogs Still Beat Technology in the Smell Test." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., March 25, 2017): A2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 24, 2017, and has the title"THE NUMBERS; Making Sense of a Dog's Olfactory Powers.")






June 10, 2017

Apple Funds Corning's Glass Innovation



(p. B6) SAN FRANCISCO -- Apple is seeding the next generation of American-made glass for its iPhones and iPads, and its investments may have the side benefit of helping the company win favor in Washington.

Apple announced Friday [May 12, 2017] that it was giving $200 million to Corning, which makes the tough, scratch-resistant face for every iPhone and iPad, to support the glass maker's efforts to develop and build more sophisticated products at its factory in Harrodsburg, Ky.

Corning has made the glass for every iPhone since the original 10 years ago. Apple's investment, the first from the technology giant's $1 billion fund to promote advanced manufacturing in the United States, will help Corning develop thinner, more versatile glass for iPhones as well as other product lines that Apple is exploring, such as screens for self-driving cars and augmented reality glasses.

The move goes beyond Apple's traditional practice of subsidizing suppliers, said Tim Bajarin, president of the technology consulting firm Creative Strategies.

"I would see this more as an Apple-Corning partnership to flesh out what other kinds of things you would use glass for," he said. "They are literally thinking about stuff you and I aren't thinking about yet."



For the full story, see:

VINDU GOEL. "Apple Gives $200 Million to Advance Phone Glass." The New York Times (Sat., MAY 13, 2017): B6.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 12, 2017, and has the title "Apple Gives Corning $200 Million to Invent Better Phone Glass.")






June 8, 2017

Silicon Valley Funding Big Dings in the Universe




When Steve Jobs was trying to recruit Pepsi's John Sculley to become Apple CEO, Jobs asked him something like: 'do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugar water, or do you want a chance to make a ding in the universe.'



(p. B1) One persistent criticism of Silicon Valley is that it no longer works on big, world-changing ideas. Every few months, a dumb start-up will make the news -- most recently the one selling a $700 juicer -- and folks outside the tech industry will begin singing I-told-you-sos.

But don't be fooled by expensive juice. The idea that Silicon Valley no longer funds big things isn't just wrong, but also obtuse and fairly dangerous. Look at the cars, the rockets, the internet-beaming balloons and gliders, the voice assistants, drones, augmented and virtual reality devices, and every permutation of artificial intelligence you've ever encountered in sci-fi. Technology companies aren't just funding big things -- they are funding the biggest, most world-changing things. They are spending on ideas that, years from now, we may come to see as having altered life for much of the planet.



For the full commentary, see:

Manjoo, Farhad. "STATE OF THE ART; These Days, Moon Shots Are Domain of the Valley." The New York Times (Thurs., MAY 17, 2017): B1 & B6.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date MAY 17, 2017, and has the title "STATE OF THE ART; Google, Not the Government, Is Building the Future.")






June 3, 2017

"Mind-Bending" Automatic Braking Trickles Down to Cheaper Cars



(p. B4) I first experienced radar-assisted cruise control in a $70,000 Mercedes in 2001. Slowing automatically to keep from hitting the car ahead felt like a magic trick. In 2009, I was told to drive a new $50,000 Volvo into the back of a "parked car" (really, an inflatable mock-up). Every fiber of my body wanted to stomp on the brake pedal. Instead, the car did it for me. Automatic braking is mind-bending the first time.

Both of these technologies are standard equipment on 2017 Toyota Corollas, which start at $19,385. So is lane-keeping assist, which nudges the car back between the road stripes if you wander. Automatic high-beam headlamps, too.

Huzzah for technology trickle down!



For the full story, see:

TOM VOELK. "Tech Trickles Down into a Safer Corolla." The New York Times (Fri., MARCH 17, 2017): B4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 16, 2017, and has the title "Video Review: Not-So-Standard Equipment on the Otherwise Standard Corolla.")






May 28, 2017

Under Communism Inventiveness Did Not Yield Economic Benefits



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

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

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


. . .


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


. . .


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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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







May 26, 2017

Amateur Tinkerers Keep Steam Power Alive



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

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



For the full story, see:


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

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






May 23, 2017

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



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

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

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



For the full story, see:


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

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






May 21, 2017

Nano-Enhanced Fabrics Can Clean Themselves



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

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

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



For the full story, see:

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

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


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

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






May 18, 2017

"Slow Is Smooth and Smooth Is Fast"



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

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


. . .


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


. . .


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


. . .


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

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

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



For the full story, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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






May 15, 2017

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



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

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

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


. . .


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

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


. . .


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



For the full story, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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






May 14, 2017

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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


. . .


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

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

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



For the full story, see:

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

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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






May 7, 2017

Entrepreneur Rothblatt Was Highest-Paid Female CEO in 2013



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

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

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



For the full commentary, see:

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

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







April 22, 2017

Entrepreneur Marconi Was Driven by Wireless Communication Project



(p. C5) Marconi is another example of the Victorian "self-made man," in this case a precocious youth fascinated by electricity and electrical wave pulses.


. . .


Sending the letter "S" in Morse code to his assistant, Mignani, on the far side of the meadow several hundred yards away was great, but not enough. What if, instead, Mignani took the receiver to the other side of the hill, out of sight of the house, and then fired a gunshot if the pulses got through? "I called my mother into the room to watch the momentous experiment. . . . I waited to give Mignani time to get to his place. Then breathlessly I tapped the key three times. . . . Then from the other side of the hill came the sound of a shot. . . . That was the moment when wireless was born."


. . .


A combination of technological insight, organizational skill and business acumen gave him, like Steve Jobs in the next century, his place in history. To the end of his life Marconi was driven by a vision of the whole world communicating through wireless waves in the air.


. . .


. . ., Mr. Raboy exhaustively if deftly tells the tale of the next few critical years: Marconi's long stay in England, the search for funding (without losing control), the critical establishment of patents, the embrace by officials in the British Post Office and Royal Navy, the ship-to-shore and ship-to-ship wireless transmissions. There's a fine chapter on the critical long-range, trans-Atlantic experiments in 1901. These were conducted in wintry, gusty Newfoundland, whose supportive provincial government grasped almost immediately what Marconi offered: instant and vastly less expensive communication to Canada, Boston and New York and, above all, to Britain and its empire. Little wonder that such powerful entities as the (state-subsidized) Anglo-American Telegraph Co. were alarmed at this interloper. . . .

In 1909, at the age of 35, the Italian entrepreneur would stand up proudly to receive the Nobel Prize in physics.



For the full review, see:

PAUL KENNEDY. "When the World Took to the Air; Like Steve Jobs, Marconi combined technological insight, organizational skill and business acumen." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Sept. 10, 2016): C5-C6.

(Note: ellipses internal to second quoted paragraph, in original; other ellipses, added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sept. 9, 2016, an has the title "The World's First Communications Giant; Like Steve Jobs, Marconi combined technological insight, organizational skill and business acumen.")


The book under review, is:

Raboy, Marc. Marconi: The Man Who Networked the World. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.






April 20, 2017

"Thank You, Industrialization" (Thank YOU, Hans Rosling)






The TED talk embedded above, is one of my favorites. I sometimes show an abbreviated version to my Economics of Technology seminar.



(p. B8) Hans Rosling, a Swedish doctor who transformed himself into a pop-star statistician by converting dry numbers into dynamic graphics that challenged preconceptions about global health and gloomy prospects for population growth, died on Tuesday in Uppsala, Sweden. He was 68.

The cause was pancreatic cancer, according to Gapminder, a foundation he established to generate and disseminate demystified data using images.


. . .


Brandishing his bubble chart graphics during TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) Talks, Dr. Rosling often capsulized the macroeconomics of energy and the environment in a favorite anecdote about the day a washing machine was delivered to his family's cold-water flat.

"My mother explained the magic with this machine the very, very first day," he recalled. "She said: 'Now Hans, we have loaded the laundry. The machine will make the work. And now we can go to the library.' Because this is the magic: You load the laundry, and what do you get out of the machine? You get books out of the machines, children's books. And Mother got time to read to me."

"Thank you, industrialization," Dr. Rosling said. "Thank you, steel mill. And thank you, chemical processing industry that gave us time to read books."



For the full obituary, see:

SAM ROBERTS. "Hans Rosling, Swedish Doctor, Teacher and Pop-Star Statistician, Dies at 68." The New York Times (Fri., FEB. 10, 2017): B8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date FEB. 9, 2017, and has the title "Hans Rosling, Swedish Doctor and Pop-Star Statistician, Dies at 68.")






April 6, 2017

Mokyr Credits the Great Enrichment to a Culture That Values Scientific Inquiry



(p. A13) Life is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short" Thomas Hobbes proclaimed in 1651, and it had been that way ever since humans had inhabited the Earth. At the time Hobbes wrote those words, life expectancy averaged about 30 years old in his native England and income per person typically was around $5 a day (in 2016 dollars). Thanks to the Industrial Revolution and the Great Enrichment that followed, the typical subject of Queen Elizabeth II lives to almost 80 and has an income of over $100 a day. Perhaps more impressively, most people in the world today face the prospect of living at least that well within a generation or two.

What brought about the Great Enrichment? And why did it all start in England? Joel Mokyr, in his fine book, attributes it to the unique and productive culture that evolved there. It was a culture that welcomed change and favored scientific inquiry that spurred radical technological improvements.


. . .


According to Mr. Mokyr, three factors led to the ultimate triumph of the new modern search for scientific truth over the largely inaccurate "science" of the ancients. First, Europe's fractured political environment was a blessing: Scientists who were banned or ostracized in one political jurisdiction fled to other locales more tolerant of their views. The controversial Franciscan monk, Bernardino Ochino (1487-1564), for example, was often in trouble and moving to evade authorities, leading him to flee from Italy to Switzerland and later, England, Poland and Moravia. Second, the invention of Gutenberg's printing press around 1440 enormously lowered the cost of widely disseminating knowledge over large areas. Third, an extraordinary intellectual community evolved--Voltaire and others called the Republic of Letters--that made the dissemination of new information (through letters to fellow scientists) obligatory for anyone who wanted to gain respect in the growing international community of scientists.



For the full review, see:

RICHARD VEDDER. "BOOKSHELF; The Genesis of Prosperity; What brought about the Great Enrichment? And why did it start in England? It had a culture that embraced change and scientific inquiry." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Nov. 11, 2016): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Nov. 10, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Mokyr, Joel. A Culture of Growth: The Origins of the Modern Economy, Graz Schumpeter Lectures. New Haven, CT: Princeton University Press, 2016..






April 5, 2017

"Tax and Regulatory Policies" Influence Intel to Build Arizona Chip Plant



(p. B1) SAN FRANCISCO -- Intel, the world's largest computer chip manufacturer, will invest $7 billion to finish a factory in Arizona, adding 3,000 jobs, the company's chief executive said on Wednesday after meeting with President Trump at the White House.

The completion of the factory, which will complement two other Intel semiconductor plants in Chandler, Ariz., had been under consideration for several years.

Standing beside Mr. Trump in the Oval Office, Brian Krzanich, Intel's chief executive, said the company had decided to proceed now because of "the tax and regulatory policies we see the administration pushing forward."



For the full story, see:

VINDU GOEL. "Intel Will Invest $7 Billion in Chip Plant in Arizona." The New York Times (Thurs., FEB. 9, 2017): B1-B2.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 8, 2017, and has the title "Intel, in Show of Support for Trump, Announces Factory in Arizona.")






April 4, 2017

IBM Advance May Help Sustain Moore's Law



(p. B3) In the semiconductor business, it is called the "red brick wall" -- the limit of the industry's ability to shrink transistors beyond a certain size.

On Thursday, however, IBM scientists reported that they now believe they see a path around the wall. Writing in the journal Science, a team at the company's Thomas J. Watson Research Center said it has found a new way to make transistors from parallel rows of carbon nanotubes.

The advance is based on a new way to connect ultrathin metal wires to the nanotubes that will make it possible to continue shrinking the width of the wires without increasing electrical resistance.

One of the principal challenges facing chip makers is that resistance and heat increase as wires become smaller, and that limits the speed of chips, which contain transistors.

The advance would make it possible, probably sometime after the beginning of the next decade, to shrink the contact point between the two materials to just 40 atoms in width, the researchers said. Three years later, the number will shrink to just 28 atoms, they predicted.


. . .


. . . , during the last decade, the pace and power of semiconductor technology has begun to slow. The switching speed of computer chips stopped increasing because heat created by ultrafast processors was rising to the point where the chips would break.

More recently, for most of the industry, the cost of transistors has ceased to decline with each new generation. This has undercut the tremendous power of the technology to create new markets. And this year, Intel announced that the challenges and costs of bringing a new generation of technology to market had forced it to slow the every-two-year pace it had been on for more than a decade.

Now the industry has a new reason for optimism.



For the full story, see:

JOHN MARKOFF. "IBM Scientists Find New Way to Shrink Transistors (Measuring in Atoms)." The New York Times (Fri., OCT. 2, 2015): B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 1, 2015, and has the title "IBM Scientists Find New Way to Shrink Transistors.")


The IBM advance is documented in:

Cao, Qing, Shu-Jen Han, Jerry Tersoff, Aaron D. Franklin, Yu Zhu, Zhen Zhang, George S. Tulevski, Jianshi Tang, and Wilfried Haensch. "End-Bonded Contacts for Carbon Nanotube Transistors with Low, Size-Independent Resistance." Science 350, no. 6256 (Oct. 2, 2015): 68-72.






March 30, 2017

Economic Growth Depends Mainly on Micro Policies and Serendipity



(p. A2) In the long run, . . . , potential growth is a job for microeconomic, not macroeconomic, policy. It requires countless, painstaking fixes: raising labor-force participation with training and safety-net programs that don't discourage work; investment-friendly tax and regulatory policies to incentivize investments that take years to pay off, if ever; and trade deals that let firms market their products to the entire world. It will also take some serendipity as firms keep hunting for the next miracle technology. No one foresaw how the information revolution would revitalize productivity in the 1990s, and the next such breakthrough will probably surprise us as well.


For the full story, see:

GREG IP. "CAPITAL ACCOUNT; Rewriting Recent Economic History." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., June 2, 2016): A2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 1, 2016, and has the title "CAPITAL ACCOUNT; Post-Recession Rethink: Growth Potential Dimmed Before Downturn.")






March 26, 2017

Musk Unveils Bold Private Enterprise Plan to Colonize Mars



(p. B3) Entrepreneur Elon Musk unveiled his contrarian vision for sending humans to Mars in roughly the next decade, and ultimately setting up colonies there, relying on bold moves by private enterprise, instead of more-gradual steps previously proposed by Washington.

Mr. Musk--who in 14 years transformed his closely held rocket company, Space Exploration Technologies Corp., into a global presence--envisions hosts of giant, reusable rockets standing more than 300 feet tall eventually launching fleets of carbon-fiber spacecraft into orbit.

The boosters would return to Earth, blast off again into the heavens with "tanker" spaceships capable of refueling the initial vehicles, and then send those serviced spacecraft on their way to the Red Planet. The rockets would be twice as powerful as the Saturn 5 boosters that sent U.S. astronauts to the Moon. Each fully developed spacecraft likely would carry between 100 and 200 passengers, Mr. Musk said.



For the full story, see:

ANDY PASZTOR. "Musk Offers Vision of Mars Flights." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Sept. 28, 2016): B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 27, 2016, and has the title "Elon Musk Outlines Plans for Missions to Mars.")






March 22, 2017

Blockchain Is a Process Innovation That Will Make Financial Records More Reliable and Easier to Access



(p. A13) Until the mid-1990s, the internet was little more than an arcane set of technical standards used by academics. Few predicted the profound effect it would have on society. Today, blockchain--the technology behind the digital currency bitcoin--might seem like a trinket for computer geeks. But once widely adopted, it will transform the world.

Blockchain offers a way to track items or transactions using a shared digital "ledger." Blocks of new transactions are added at the end of the chain, and encryption ensures that it remains unbroken--tamper-proof and error-free. This is significantly more efficient than the current methods for logging and sharing such information.

Consider the process of buying a house, a complex transaction involving banks, attorneys, title companies, insurers, regulators, tax agencies and inspectors. They all maintain separate records, and it's costly to verify and record each step. That's why the average closing takes roughly 50 days. Blockchain offers a solution: a trusted, immutable digital ledger, visible to all participants, that shows every element of the transaction.



For the full commentary, see:

GINNI ROMETTY. "How Blockchain Will Change Your Life." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Nov. 8, 2016): A13.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Nov. 7, 2016, and has the title "KEYWORDS; Is Engine of Innovation in Danger of Stalling?")






March 15, 2017

Decrease in Number of Tech Startups Results in Less Job Creation



(p. A10) Since 2002, the number of technology startups has slowed, hurting job creation. In a 2014 study, economists Javier Miranda, John Haltiwanger and Ian Hathaway said the growth of tech startups accelerated to 113,000 in 2001 from 64,000 in 1992.

That number slumped to 79,000 in 2011 and hasn't recovered, according to the economists' calculations using updated data. The causes include global competition and increased domestic regulation, says Mr. Haltiwanger, an economics professor at the University of Maryland.



For the full story, see:

Jon Hilsenrath and Bob Davis. "'America's Dazzling Tech Boom Has a Downside: Not Enough Jobs." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Oct. 13, 2016): A1 & A10.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Oct. 12, 2016, and has the title "'America's Dazzling Tech Boom Has a Downside: Not Enough Jobs.")


The Haltiwanger paper mentioned above, is:

Haltiwanger, John, Ian Hathaway, and Javier Miranda. "Declining Business Dynamism in the U.S. High-Technology Sector." Feb. 2014.






March 14, 2017

Internet Innovations Only Arose After Entrepreneurs Created PCs



(p. B15) Leo L. Beranek, an engineer whose company designed the acoustics for the United Nations and concert halls at Lincoln Center and Tanglewood, then built the direct precursor to the internet under contract to the Defense Department, died on Oct. 10 [2016] at his home in Westwood, Mass.


. . .


After the war, Dr. Beranek was recruited to teach at M.I.T., where he was named technical director of the engineering department's acoustics laboratory. The administrative director of that lab was Richard Bolt, who later founded Bolt, Beranek & Newman with Dr. Beranek and Robert Newman, a former student of Dr. Bolt's.

The company was conceived as a center for leading-edge acoustic research. But Dr. Beranek changed its direction in the 1950s to include a focus on the nascent computer age.

"As president, I decided to take B.B.N. into the field of man-machine systems because I felt acoustics was a limited field and no one seemed to be offering consulting services in that area," Dr. Beranek said in a 2012 interview for this obituary.

He hired J.C.R. Licklider, a pioneering computer scientist from M.I.T., to lead the effort, and it was Dr. Licklider who persuaded him that the company needed to get involved in computers.

Under Dr. Licklider, the company developed one of the best software research groups in the country and won many critical projects with the Department of Defense, NASA, the National Institutes of Health and other government agencies. Though Dr. Licklider left in 1962, the company became a favored destination for a new generation of software developers and was often referred to as the third university in Cambridge.

"We bought our first digital computer from Digital Equipment Corporation, and with it we were able to attract some of the best minds from M.I.T. and Harvard, and this led to the ARPA contract to build the Arpanet," Dr. Beranek said.

"I never dreamed the internet would come into such widespread use, because the first users of the Arpanet were large mainframe computer owners," he said. "This all changed when the personal computer became available. With the PC, I could see that computers were fun, and that is the real reason why all innovations come into widespread use."



For the full obituary, see:


GLENN RIFKIN. "Leo Beranek, 102, Who Pivoted From Acoustics to Computers, Dies." The New York Times (Tues, OCT. 18, 2016): B15.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date OCT. 17, 2016, and has the title "Leo Beranek, Acoustics Designer and Internet Pioneer, Dies at 102." )






March 13, 2017

Automation Raises Productivity, Consumer Spending, and Creates New Jobs



(p. B1) Since the 1970s, when automated teller machines arrived, the number of bank tellers in America has more than doubled. James Bessen, an economist who teaches at Boston University School of Law, points to that seeming paradox amid new concerns that automation is "stealing" human jobs. To the contrary, he says, jobs and automation often grow hand in hand.

Sometimes, of course, machines really do replace humans, as in agriculture and manufacturing, says Massachusetts Institute of Technology labor economist David Autor in a succinct and illuminating TED talk, which could have served as the headline for this column. Across an entire economy, however, Dr. Autor says that's never happened.


. . .


(p. B4) . . . a long trail of empirical evidence shows that the increased productivity brought about by automation and invention ultimately leads to more wealth, cheaper goods, increased consumer spending power and ultimately, more jobs.

In the case of bank tellers, the spread of ATMs meant bank branches could be smaller, and therefore, cheaper. Banks opened more branches, and in total employed more tellers, Mr. Bessen says.



For the full commentary, see:

CHRISTOPHER MIMS. "KEYWORDS; Automation Actually Can Lead to More Job Creation." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Dec. 12, 2016): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 11, 2016, and has the title "KEYWORDS; Automation Can Actually Create More Jobs.")


Bessen more fully presents his ATM example in his book:

Bessen, James. Learning by Doing: The Real Connection between Innovation, Wages, and Wealth. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015.







March 12, 2017

Flaws in Early Tech, Solved by Later and Better Tech



(p. A2) Mr. Mokyr says innovators gravitate to society's greatest needs. In previous eras, it was cheap and rapid transport, reliable energy, and basic health care. Today, seven of the top 10 problems he says are most in need of innovative solutions are instances of bite-back. They include global warming, antibiotic resistance, obesity and information overload. Fixing these problems may weigh heavily on growth. Yet Mr. Mokyr argues past productivity was overstated because it didn't include those costs.

Nonetheless, he's an optimist. For every unintended consequence one innovation brings, another innovation will find the answer. Fluoridation cured tooth decay, and automotive engineers found alternatives to leaded gasoline. And distracted driving? Driverless cars may take care of that plague before long.



For the full commentary, see:

GREG IP. "CAPITAL ACCOUNT; When Tech Bites Back: The Cost of Innovation." The New York Times (Thurs., Oct. 20, 2016): A2.

(Note: the online version of the commentaty has the date Oct. 19, 2016, and has the title "CAPITAL ACCOUNT; When Tech Bites Back: Innovation's Dark Side.")






February 23, 2017

Winemakers Adapt to Global Warming with Owls and Technology



(p. 7) As California heats up, winemakers are confronting new challenges large and small -- some very small.

Mice, voles and gophers love vineyards. "We're seeing more pest pressures due to warmer winters," Ms. Jackson said, walking through rows of cabernet grapes. Another emerging issue: Grapes ripen earlier, and swallows and crows are eating fruit before the harvest. "It's a big problem," she said.

That explains the owls. Sixty-eight boxes are occupied by hungry barn owls; during the harvest, a falconer comes to some vineyards every day, launching a bird of prey to scare away other birds with a taste for grapes.

The Jacksons have also begun analyzing their crops with increasingly sensitive tools. Ms. Jackson recently installed devices that measure how much sap is in the vines. They transmit the data over cellular networks to headquarters, where software calculates how much water specific areas of vineyards do or don't need. "Data-driven farming," Ms. Jackson said.

The Jacksons are also monitoring their crops using drones equipped with sensors that detect moisture by evaluating the colors of vegetation. The wrong color can indicate nutritional deficiencies in the crops, or irrigation leaks.

"Previously, it would require an experienced winemaker to go and look at the grapes," said Clint Fereday, the company's director of aviation. "Now we can run a drone, tag an area of the vines with GPS, and go right to the spot that has a problem."

The drones have other uses, too. An infrared camera can scan for people guarding illicit marijuana operations on nearby lands.

Not all the changes being made on the Jackson vineyards involve advanced technology. Some are simply ancient farming techniques that the drought has made increasingly relevant.

Field hands plant cover crops, like rye and barley, between every second row of vines, to help keep the soil healthy. The family is stepping up its composting program. Pressed grapes are composted, then placed beneath rows of vines, since the organic matter is better at retaining moisture than soil.

Ms. Jackson's husband, Shaun Kajiwara, is a vineyard manager for the company, overseeing the grapes that go into many of the upscale labels.


. . .


Ultimately, Mr. Kajiwara believes that with the right mix of new rootstocks, cover crops and fortuitous rainfall, some of the Jackson vineyards might not need irrigation at all. "In a few years, I think we could be dry-farmed up here," he said. "Our reservoir will just be insurance."

It is a snapshot of the future for the Jackson family: a vineyard north of traditional wine country, where natural features might offset some of the deleterious effects wrought by climate change. And, in combination with the adaptations Ms. Jackson has put in place, it might just be enough to allow the company to keep making fine wines for many years to come.



For the full story, see:

DAVID GELLES. "A Winery Battles Warming." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., JAN. 8, 2017): 1 & 6-7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 5, 2017, and has the title "Falcons, Drones, Data: A Winery Battles Climate Change.")






February 21, 2017

NASA Funding Depends on "Pure Pork-Barrel Politics"



(p. A15) "Beyond Earth" is delightfully different from any other book I've ever read by human-spaceflight cheerleaders. The authors have put their thinking caps on and broken out of the usual orthodoxy by presenting cogent ideas on why humans should go into space, including their lovely idea of going to and living on obscure (to most folks) Titan. We go, they say, because we need to go, not just to explore and study but to find another place to live and, if we want to, screw it up just as much as we have screwed up Earth, because that's what we do, that's what makes us human. We may make mistakes but, by God, we also produce great civilizations and art and, yes, science in the process. We've done Earth, so let's now go wherever our abilities take us and physics allow.


. . .


The one great truth I always tell people wanting to understand the American space program is this: The federal government doesn't give a flip about human spaceflight. That's why Apollo was canceled just as it hit its stride, why the shuttle program was underfunded from its inception, and why, after the shuttle was retired, NASA had nothing to replace it with. No one who holds the purse strings for NASA really cares whether American astronauts ever go anywhere. It's just not that important to a country beset with a vast array of pressing problems.

What keeps the current space program going at all is pure pork-barrel politics. That's why President Obama didn't blink an eye when he signed NASA budgets that provided funds to build a giant rocket called the Space Launch System, which has no well-defined purpose, as well as a crewed capsule called Orion, which has no specifically assigned places to go. As proof that spending money isn't evidence of support, there wasn't one dime in those budgets to procure and deliver the accouterments needed for true human space endeavors--no space suits, no planetary landers, no rovers, no habitats, nothing but the bottom and top of a big, expensive rocket that will require a vast marching army to operate for no apparent reason.



For the full review, see:

HOMER HICKAM. "BOOKSHELF; Forget Mars, Aim for Titan." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., December 16, 2016): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 15, 2016,)


The book under review, is:

Wohlforth, Charles, and Hendrix. Amanda R. Beyond Earth: Our Path to a New Home in the Planets. New York: Pantheon, 2016.






February 18, 2017

Government Wastes Millions on Corrupt Nanotech Boondoggle



(p. A19) In Utica, a former industrial hub in upstate New York where the near collapse of manufacturing has made for a scarcity of jobs and a rarity of good news, the announcement in August 2015 that an Austrian chip maker had decided to put down roots in a fabrication plant built by the state was cause for jubilation.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo celebrated with an appearance in Utica, promising $585 million in state funds to cement the public-private partnership, which was to create 1,000 jobs. Some in the crowd wept with emotion.

But last week, after months of delays and mismanagement that culminated in September with federal prosecutors revealing a far-reaching bribery and bid-rigging scheme, state and local officials said that the Austrian chip maker, AMS, had abandoned the project.

The Utica project was merely one chunk of the multibillion-dollar investment with which the Cuomo administration has pledged to seed nanotechnology and high-tech industries in upstate cities starved for economic growth.


. . .


For the state, it seems, the strategy developed by Mr. Kaloyeros and trumpeted by Mr. Cuomo -- to lavish hundreds of millions of dollars in state subsidies on corporate partners to create high-tech jobs -- is unblemished. Yet the model has come in for repeated criticism from government watchdogs, who say an economic policy that tries to create risky new industries virtually from scratch, and that spends millions in taxpayer dollars to create every new job, is folly.

"We're incredibly skeptical of the economic logic behind these projects because they're too expensive," said John Kaehny, the executive director of Reinvent Albany, a good-government group. "There is no economic logic to (p. A21) this, really. But there's a huge political logic to it. The governor desperately needs for this to be a success for his political legacy in New York."



For the full story, see:

VIVIAN YEE. "How Missteps Doomed Plan for Growth, Foiling Cuomo." The New York Times (Weds., DEC. 28, 2016): A19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 27, 2016, and has the title "How Cuomo's Signature Economic Growth Project Fell Apart in Utica.")






February 17, 2017

Complex Regulations Stifle Innovation



(p. A15) In "The Innovation Illusion" . . . [Fredrik Erixon and Björn Weigel] argue that "there is too little breakthrough innovation . . . and the capitalist system that used to promote eccentricity and embrace ingenuity all too often produces mediocrity."

The authors identify four factors that have made Western capitalism "dull and hidebound." The first is "gray capital," the money held by entities such as investment institutions, which are often just intermediaries for other investors. Their shareholders, say the authors, tend to focus on short-term outcomes, a perspective that makes company managers reluctant to invest in the research and development that is the lifeblood of the new. The authors' second villain is "corporate managerialism," which breeds a "custodian corporate culture" that searches for certainty and control instead of "fast and radical innovation."

A third villain is globalization, though the authors have a novel complaint: The global economy, they say, has given rise to large firms that are more interested in protecting their turf than pursuing path-breaking ideas. Finally, they decry "complex regulation" for injecting uncertainty into corporate investment and thus stifling the emergence of new ideas and new products.

Echoing the views of Northwestern economist Robert Gordon, Messrs. Erixon and Weigel lament the paucity of big-bang innovation, writing that "the advertised technologies for the future underwhelm." They wonder why there hasn't been more progress in all sorts of realms, from the engineering of flying cars to the curing of cancer. Responding to those who worry that robots will drive up unemployment, they say that the real concern should be "an innovation famine rather than an innovation feast."



For the full review, see:


MATTHEW REES. "BOOKSHELF; Bending the Arc of History." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., December 13, 2016): A15.

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

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 12, 2016,)


The book under review, is:

Erixon, Fredrik, and Björn Weigel. The Innovation Illusion: How So Little Is Created by So Many Working So Hard. New Haven, CN: Yale University Press, 2016.






February 16, 2017

Tech Firms Rally Their Customers to Fight Restrictive Regulations



(p. A23) The nasty battle between Uber and the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio over New York City's proposed cap on livery vehicles has ended, at least for now, with the city and the ride-hailing giant agreeing to postpone a decision pending a "traffic study." There's no doubt who won, though. The mayor underestimated his opponent and was forced to retreat.

It wasn't just conventional pressure -- ads, money, lobbying -- that caught the mayor off guard. Uber mobilized its customers, leveraging the power of its app to prompt a populist social-media assault, all in support of a $50 billion corporation. The company added a "de Blasio's Uber" feature so that every time New Yorkers logged on to order a car, they were reminded of the mayor's threat ("NO CARS -- SEE WHY") and were sent directly to a petition opposing the new rules. Users were also offered free Uber rides to a June 30 rally at City Hall. Eventually, the mayor and the City Council received 17,000 emails in opposition. Just as Uber has offloaded most costs of operating a taxi onto its drivers, the company uses its customers to do much of its political heavy lifting.

Uber's earlier strategy to win entry into the Portland, Ore., market followed a similar pattern. When the city wasn't allowing the company to operate taxis, Uber exploited rules that allowed it to act as a delivery company, and distributed free ice cream around town. Using data on these deliveries, the firm shrewdly recruited recipients as pro-Uber citizen lobbyists, pressuring local officials to allow their cars to pick up passengers. It worked.

Many tech firms now recognize the organizing power of their user networks, and are weaponizing their apps to achieve political ends. Lyft embedded tools on its site to mobilize users in support of less restrictive regulations. Airbnb provided funding for the "Fair to Share" campaign in the Bay Area, which lobbies to allow short-term housing rentals, and is currently hiring "community organizers" to amplify the voices of home-sharing supporters. Amazon's "Readers United" was an effort to gain customer backing during its acrimonious dispute with the publisher Hachette. Emails from eBay prodded users to fight online sales-tax legislation.



For the full commentary, see:

EDWARD T. WALKER. "The Uber-ization of Activism." The New York Times (Fri., AUG. 7, 2015): A23.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date AUG. 6, 2015.)






February 12, 2017

"Worrying About Overpopulation on Mars"



(p. B4) Reflecting on my own brief experience as an invertebrate neuroscientist, I'd say that today's AI is at the jellyfish stage in the evolution of biological intelligence. Real brains--and genuine intelligence--are so far in the future as to be beyond any reasonable horizon of prediction.

Or, as chief scientist and AI guru Andrew Ng of Chinese search giant Baidu Inc. once put it, worrying about takeover by some kind of intelligent, autonomous, evil AI is about as rational as worrying about overpopulation on Mars.



For the full commentary, see:

CHRISTOPHER MIMS. "KEYWORDS; Artificial Intelligence Has a Way to Go." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Dec. 5, 2016): B1 & B4.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 4, 2016, and has the title "KEYWORDS; Artificial Intelligence Makes Strides, but Has a Long Way to Go.")






January 21, 2017

Cloud-Computing Firms Run Key Services on Private Servers



(p. B8) For nearly a decade, Amazon Web Services, the giant retailer's cloud computing division, has told prospective customers: Ditch your data center and trust us to run your applications, store your data and host your internal software development.

Yet Amazon.com Inc. itself doesn't fully run in the cloud.

Amazon isn't alone. The other top cloud providers-- Google Inc., Microsoft Corp. and International Business Machines Corp.--use their own cloud services for some purposes, but they continue to keep certain functions on private servers. Their struggles are a microcosm of the issues that dog their customers: Worries about reliability, security and risks inherent with change that have made it hard to move critical computing tasks to the public cloud.

"The vast majority of Amazon.com runs on AWS," a company spokesperson said, and it intends to run everything there eventually.

The fact that Amazon still uses private servers is "ironic," said Ed Anderson, an analyst with Gartner, which advises customers on both cloud services and data center servers. "That's exactly why we tell people evaluating cloud services, 'Do not buy into the hype. Do not buy into the myths. You have to be pragmatic, just like these vendors are,'" he said.



For the full story, see:

ROBERT MCMILLAN. "Companies Touting Cloud-Computing Don't Always Use It." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Aug. 5, 2015): B8.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 4, 2015, and has the title "Cloud-Computing Kingpins Slow to Adapt to Own Movement.")






January 17, 2017

Students Learn Less, and Score Worse, When Hot



(p. 11) A clever new working paper by Jisung Park, a Ph.D. student in economics at Harvard, compared the performances of New York City students on 4.6 million exams with the day's temperature. He found that students taking a New York State Regents exam on a 90-degree day have a 12 percent greater chance of failing than when the temperature is 72 degrees.

The Regents exams help determine whether a student graduates and goes to college, and Park finds that when a student has the bad luck to have Regents exams fall on very hot days, he or she is slightly less likely to graduate on time.

Likewise, Park finds that when a school year has an unusual number of hot days, students do worse at the end of the year on their Regents exams, presumably because they've learned less. A school year with five extra days above 80 degrees leads students to perform significantly worse on Regents exams.

The New York City students in Park's study do poorly on hot days even though the majority of city schools are air-conditioned (perhaps in part because the air-conditioning often barely works).



For the full commentary, see:

Kristof, Nicholas. "Temperatures Rise, and We're Cooked." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., SEPT. 11, 2016): 11.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date SEPT. 10, 2016.)


The working paper by Jisung Park on the effects of heat, is:

Park, Jisung. "Heat Stress and Human Capital Production." Harvard University, 2016.






January 5, 2017

Invention Requires More than Just Necessity




If necessity is the mother of invention, why did it take 2,000 years for necessity to give birth?



(p. D2) Archaeological evidence suggests that after setting sail from the Solomon Islands, people crossed more than 2,000 miles of open ocean to colonize islands like Tonga and Samoa. But after 300 years of island hopping, they halted their expansion for 2,000 years more before continuing -- a period known as the Long Pause that represents an intriguing puzzle for researchers of the cultures of the South Pacific.

"Why is it that the people stopped for 2,000 years?" said Dr. Montenegro. "Clearly they were interested and capable. Why did they stop after having great success for a great time?"

To answer these questions, Dr. Montenegro and his colleagues ran numerous voyage simulations and concluded that the Long Pause that delayed humans from reaching Hawaii, Tahiti and New Zealand occurred because the early explorers were unable to sail through the strong winds that surround Tonga and Samoa. They reported their results last week in the journal of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Our paper supports the idea that what people needed was boating technology or navigation technology that would allow them to move efficiently against the wind," Dr. Montenegro said.



For the full story, see:

NICHOLAS ST. FLEUR. "Long Layovers: A 2,000-Year Pause in Exploring Oceania." The New York Times (Sat., November 8, 2016): D2.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 1 [sic], 2016, and has the title "How Ancient Humans Reached Remote South Pacific Islands." The passages quoted above are from the much-longer online version of the article.)


Montenegro's academic article, mentioned above, is:

Montenegro, Álvaro, Richard T. Callaghan, and Scott M. Fitzpatrick. "Using Seafaring Simulations and Shortest-Hop Trajectories to Model the Prehistoric Colonization of Remote Oceania." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113, no. 45 (Nov. 8, 2016): 12685-90.







January 1, 2017

Air-Conditioning Is "a Critical Adaptation" that Saves Lives



(p. A3) Air-conditioning is not just a luxury. It's a critical adaptation tool in a warming world, with the ability to save lives.


. . .


In our continuing research, my colleagues and I have found that hot days in India have a strikingly big impact on mortality. Specifically, the mortality effects of each additional day in which the average temperature exceeds 95 degrees Fahrenheit are 25 times greater in India than in the United States.


. . .


The effect of very hot days on mortality in the United States is so low in part because of the widespread use of air-conditioning. A recent study I did with colleagues showed that deaths as a result of these very hot days in the United States declined by more than 80 percent from 1960 to 2004 -- and it was the adoption of air-conditioning that accounted for nearly the entire decline.



For the full story, see:

Michael Greenstone. "'India's Air-Conditioning and Climate Change Quandary." The New York Times (Thurs., OCT. 27, 2016): A3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The Greenstone study mentioned above on heat mortality in the U.S., is:

Barreca, Alan, Karen Clay, Olivier Deschenes, Michael Greenstone, and Joseph S. Shapiro. "Adapting to Climate Change: The Remarkable Decline in the Us Temperature-Mortality Relationship over the Twentieth Century." Journal of Political Economy 124, no. 1 (Feb. 2016): 105-59.







December 23, 2016

Blockchain Can Cut Out Financial Middlemen



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

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


. . .


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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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






December 21, 2016

Udacity Entrepreneur Counters Creeping Credentialism



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

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

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


. . .


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

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



For the full story, see:

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

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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






December 16, 2016

Space Trash Start-Up Aims to Be Quicker than Government



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

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


. . .


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


. . .


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

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



For the full story, see:


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

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






November 30, 2016

About 90% of Current Jobs Include Tasks that Are Hard to Automate



(p. B1) They replaced horses, didn't they? That's how the late, great economist Wassily Leontief responded 35 years ago to those who argued technology would never really replace people's work.


. . .


(p. B6) A research paper published last month by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development argued that even the occupations most at risk of being replaced by machines contained lots of tasks that were hard to automate, like face-to-face interaction with customers.

It concluded that only 9 percent of American workers faced a high risk of being replaced by an automaton. Austrians, Germans and Spaniards were the most vulnerable, but only 12 percent of them risked losing their jobs to information technology.



For the full commentary, see:

Porter, Eduardo. "ECONOMIC SCENE; Contemplating the End of Human Workhorse." The New York Times (Weds., JUNE 8, 2016): B1 & B6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JUNE 7, 2016, and has the title "ECONOMIC SCENE; Jobs Threatened by Machines: A Once 'Stupid' Concern Gains Respect.")


The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development paper mentioned above, is:

Arntz, Melanie, Terry Gregory, and Ulrich Zierahn. "The Risk of Automation for Jobs in OECD Countries: A Comparative Analysis." OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers, No. 189. Paris: OECD Publishing, 2016.






November 28, 2016

Berners-Lee Suggests Web Micropayments Replace Ad Revenue



(p. B1) SAN FRANCISCO -- Twenty-seven years ago, Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web as a way for scientists to easily find information. It has since become the world's most powerful medium for knowledge, communications and commerce -- but that doesn't mean Mr. Berners-Lee is happy with all of the consequences.


. . .


So on Tuesday [June 7, 2016], Mr. Berners-Lee gathered in San Francisco with other top computer scientists -- including Brewster Kahle, head of the nonprofit Internet Archive and an internet activist -- to discuss a new phase for the web.


. . .


(p. B6) Consider payments. In many cases, people pay for things online by entering credit card information, not much different from handing a card to a merchant for an imprint."

At the session on Tuesday [June 7, 2016], computer scientists talked about how new payment technologies could increase individual control over money. For example, if people adapted the so-called ledger system by which digital currencies are used, a musician might potentially be able to sell records without intermediaries like Apple's iTunes. News sites might be able to have a system of micropayments for reading a single article, instead of counting on web ads for money.

"Ad revenue is the only model for too many people on the web now," Mr. Berners-Lee said. "People assume today's consumer has to make a deal with a marketing machine to get stuff for 'free,' even if they're horrified by what happens with their data. Imagine a world where paying for things was easy on both sides."



For the full story, see:

QUENTIN HARDY. "World Wide Web's Creator Looks to Reinvent It." The New York Times (Weds., JUNE 8, 2016): B1 & B6.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JUNE 7, 2016, and has the title "The Web's Creator Looks to Reinvent It." )






November 24, 2016

Tech Start-Up Grows with No Outside Money



(p. B6) . . . , it's possible to create a huge tech company without taking venture capital, and without spending far beyond your means. It's possible, in other words, to start a tech company that runs more like a normal business than a debt-fueled rocket ship careening out of control. Believe it or not, start-ups don't even have to be headquartered in San Francisco or Silicon Valley.

There is perhaps no better example of this other way than MailChimp, a 16-year-old Atlanta-based company that makes marketing software for small businesses. If you've heard of MailChimp, it's either because you are one of its 12 million customers or because you were hooked on "Serial," the blockbuster true-crime podcast that MailChimp sponsored.

Under the radar, slowly and steadily, and without ever taking a dime in outside funding or spending more than it earned, MailChimp has been building a behemoth. According to Ben Chestnut, MailChimp's co-founder and chief executive, the company recorded $280 million in revenue in 2015 and is on track to top $400 million in 2016. MailChimp has always been profitable, Mr. Chestnut said, though he declined to divulge exact margins. The company -- which has repeatedly turned down overtures from venture capitalists and is wholly owned by Mr. Chestnut and his co-founder, Dan Kurzius -- now employs about 550 people, and by next year it will be close to 700.

As a private company, MailChimp has long kept its business metrics secret, but Mr. Chestnut wants to publicize its numbers now to show the road less traveled: If you want to run a successful tech company, you don't have to follow the path of "Silicon Valley." You can simply start a business, run it to serve your customers, and forget about outside investors and growth at any cost.


. . .


"Every time we sat down with potential investors, they never seemed to understand small business," Mr. Chestnut said. Venture capitalists always wanted MailChimp to serve "enterprise companies," large businesses with thousands of employees and, potentially, thousands to spend.

"Everybody we talked to said, 'You're sitting on a gold mine, and if you pivot to enterprise, you could be huge,'" Mr. Chestnut said. "But something in our gut always said that didn't feel right."



For the full story, see:

Farhad Manjoo. "STATE OF THE ART; A Road Less Traveled to Success as a Start-Up." The New York Times (Thurs., Oct. 6, 2016): B1 & B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Oct. 5, 2016, and has the title "STATE OF THE ART; MailChimp and the Un-Silicon Valley Way to Make It as a Start-Up.")






November 16, 2016

FCC Regulations Motivated by Cronyism, Not Economics



(p. A13) . . . , this burgeoning competition between fixed and mobile has always been predictable and yet has figured not at all in the Federal Communications Commission's regulatory efforts, which paint the country as descending into an uncompetitive broadband hell.

A new study by economists Gerald Faulhaber and Hal Singer details how an agency that once prized economic analysis increasingly ignores or disregards economics in its regulatory findings. Why? Because if it acknowledged the increasing competitiveness of the market, there would be nothing to regulate, no favor-factory opportunities for its political sponsors to milk.



For the full commentary, see:

HOLMAN W. JENKINS, JR. "BUSINESS WORLD; Big Cable and Mobile Are Ready to Rumble; Technology is about to upend Washington's dire prescriptions for a broadband monopoly." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 8, 2016): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)


The working paper mentioned above, is:

Faulhaber, Gerald, and Hal Singer. "The Curious Absence of Economic Analysis at the Federal Communications Commission: An Agency in Search of a Mission." 2016.







November 6, 2016

New Tech in Costly Cars "Trickles Down" to Cheaper Cars



(p. B5) Chances are slim that the car, starting at just over $200,000 ($215,000 as tested), will grab market share from the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic. But in the four days I had the GT, my wife was astonished at my eagerness to run errands of any kind.


. . .


Surely, few people buy cars this expensive, but such vehicles are important because they pioneer technology that trickles down to everyday cars. Recall that anti-lock brakes showed up first on supercars in the late 1970s. (The 570GT's brakes are very good, by the way.)

Perhaps McLaren's carbon-fiber tub chassis structure will be common in the future.



For the full commentary, see:

TOM VOELK. "Driven: McLaren 570GT: High Speed Meets High Style (at a High Price)." The New York Times (Fri., NOV. 3, 2016): B5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date NOV. 3, 2016, and has the title "Driven: Video Review: McLaren 570GT Is a Rare Blend of Speed and Comfort.")






October 28, 2016

Those Who See, and Fill, Big Unmet Needs Are Often "Weirdos"



(p. A11) . . . "A Truck Full of Money" provides a portrait of a strange, troubled man who happens to be one of the smartest minds in the Route 128 tech corridor.


. . .


The book is being marketed as inspirational, but I found it to be the opposite. No one could read it and become Paul English, or want to. Most tech startups think too small, but the few people with the vision to identify big unmet needs seem to be, for whatever reason, weirdos. The split-second fare comparison that Kayak did is something no human being could do--it requires super-computing--and it has an enormous value, since 8% of the U.S. economy is travel. But once you've solved a problem like that, what do you do next?

Paul English hasn't figured that out, so this book sort of peters out--he may do his once-in-a-lifetime charity project, or he may follow through on Blade--and he has retreated back into the familiar, running a company called Lola that is sort of the opposite of Kayak: It gives you live access to travel concierges. But how could Mr. Kidder's ending be anything but inconclusive? Mr. English is just 53. Undoubtedly he has another billion-dollar idea nestled in that overactive brainpan, but his investors have to make a leap of faith--that they've bet on the right weirdo. God bless these genius geeks, who make our economy leaner by constantly finding more efficient ways to do old things. And God bless the pharmaceutical industry, which protects and preserves them.​



For the full review, see:

JOHN BLOOM. "BOOKSHELF; The Man Who Built Kayak; During one episode of hypomania, Paul English bid $500,000 on an abandoned lighthouse. Recently, he decided to become an Uber driver." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Sept. 27, 2016): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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






October 27, 2016

Making Technologies Useful to End Users Can Be Hard



Sharma's theory sounds somewhat similar to that of Bhidé in his The Venturesome Economy.


(p. B4) Anshu​ Sharma,​ a venture capitalist at Storm Ventures, thinks he knows why so many companies that should have all the resources and brainpower required to build the next big thing so often fail to. He calls his thesis the "stack fallacy," and though he sketched its outline in a recent essay, I found it so compelling that I thought it worth a more thorough exploration of the implications of his theory. What follows is the result of that conversation.

"Stack fallacy is the mistaken belief that it is trivial to build the layer above yours," Mr. Sharma wrote. And as someone who worked at both Oracle and Salesforce, his exhibit A is these two companies. To Oracle, which is primarily a database company, Salesforce is just a "hosted database app," he wrote. and yet despite spending millions on it, Oracle has been unable to beat Salesforce in Salesforce's core competency, notably customer-relations management software.

It helps to understand that in tech, the "stack" is the layer cake of technology, one level of abstraction sitting atop the next, that ultimately delivers a product or service to the user. On the Internet, for example, there is a stack of technologies stretching from the server through the operating system running on it through a cloud abstraction layer and then the apps running atop that, until you reach the user. Even the electricity grid required to power the data center in which the server lives could be considered part of the technology "stack" of, say, your favorite email service.


. . .


The reason that companies fail when they try to move up the stack is simple, argues Mr. Sharma: They don't have firsthand empathy for what customers of the product one level above theirs in the stack actually want. Database engineers at Oracle don't know what supply-chain managers at Fortune 500 companies want out of an enterprise resource-planning system like SAP, but that hasn't stopped Oracle from trying to compete in that space.



For the full commentary, see:

CHRISTOPHER MIMS. "Why Companies Are Being Disrupted." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Jan. 25, 2016): B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the title "Why Big Companies Keep Getting Disrupted." The last sentence quoted above appears in the online, but not the print, version of the article.)


Sharma's blog essay mentioned above, is:

Sharma, Anshu. "Why Big Companies Keep Failing: The Stack Fallacy." On Crunch Network blog, Posted Jan. 18, 2016.


The Bhidé book that I mention way above, is:

Bhidé, Amar. The Venturesome Economy: How Innovation Sustains Prosperity in a More Connected World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008.


A briefer version of Bhidé's theory can be found in:

Bhidé, Amar. "The Venturesome Economy: How Innovation Sustains Prosperity in a More Connected World." Journal of Applied Corporate Finance 21, no. 1 (Winter 2009): 8-23.






October 21, 2016

Firms No Longer Need Middlemen to Help Find Factories to Make Their Products



(p. B6) The migration of shoppers online has been squeezing profits throughout the retail industry--including at Li & Fung Ltd., one of the world's largest factory middlemen.

The more than 100-year-old company, based in Hong Kong, contracts with 15,000 factories globally to make apparel, toys and other goods. Its core business has been connecting Western retailers such as Abercrombie & Fitch Co. and Target Corp. with factories around the world.

But as consumers increasingly shop online for the best deals, retailers have been forced to offer lower prices, putting pressure on factories and intermediaries alike.

Middlemen need to "either figure out ways to create value, or they will be going out of business," said Edwin Keh, chief executive of the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel. "The bigger question is whether middlemen can still exist in a globalized economy."



For the full story, see:

KATHY CHU. "Shift to Web Hits Factory Middlemen." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Aug. 26, 2016): B6.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 25, 2016, and has the title "Lower Retail Prices Threaten Profits of Middleman Li & Fung.")






October 18, 2016

Faster, Stronger 3-D Printing Method May Be Better for Manufacturing



(p. B1) Ford Motor Co. is experimenting with a new form of 3-D printing the auto maker says could solve a structural flaw that has kept the technology from widespread use in manufacturing.

The ability to "print" parts within an assembly plant would drastically reduce transport and logistics costs for the auto industry, where car makers must source parts from dozens of suppliers around the world. But the most widely used version of the technology is ill-suited for mass production because objects are printed layer by layer, a slow process that also creates tiny fault lines that can crack when stressed.

A startup backed by Alphabet Inc.'s Google Ventures is developing a different 3-D printing method that some manufacturers, including Ford, say shows more promise. Carbon3D Inc.'s printers project light continuously through a pool of resin, gradually solidifying it onto an overhead platform that slowly lifts the object up until it is fully formed. The process takes a fraction of the time of other printing methods, and forms solid items more similar to those created using conventional auto-part molds, said Ellen Lee, who leads a 3-D printing research division at Ford.



For the full story, see:

LORETTA CHAO. "Fast 3-D Printing Earn New Respect." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., April 26, 2016): B1 & B4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 25, 2016, and has the title "Auto Makers, Others Explore New Roles for 3-D Printing.")






October 16, 2016

Income Redistribution May Hurt Innovation



(p. A13) Edward Conard is on a dual crusade. First, he is out to prove that technological innovation is the major driver of the creation of wealth. Second, that government programs to redistribute income are at best futile and at worst the enemy of the middle class.


. . .


"The late Steve Jobs," Mr. Conard writes, "may have made huge profits from his innovations, but his wealth was small in comparison with the value of the iPhone and its imitators to their users."


. . .


"Redistribution--whether achieved through taxation, regulatory restrictions, or social norms--appears," he asserts, "to have large detrimental effects on risk-taking, innovation, productivity, and growth over the long run, especially in an economy where innovation produced by the entrepreneurial risk-taking of properly trained talent increasingly drives growth."



For the full review, see:

RICHARD EPSTEIN. "BOOKSHELF; The Necessity of the Rich; Steve Jobs may have earned huge profits from his innovations, but they pale in comparison with the value of the iPhone to its users." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Sept. 15, 2016): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sept. 14, 2016, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; The Necessity of the Rich; Steve Jobs may have earned huge profits from his innovations, but they pale in comparison with the value of the iPhone to its users.")


The book under review, is:

Conard, Edward. The Upside of Inequality: How Good Intentions Undermine the Middle Class. New York: Portfolio, 2016.






October 11, 2016

Private Nav Canada More Innovative than Government FAA



(p. D1) Ottawa

Flying over the U.S.-Canadian border is like time travel for pilots. Going north to south, you leave a modern air-traffic control system run by a company and enter one run by the government struggling to catch up.

Airlines, the air-traffic controllers' union and key congressional leaders all support turning over U.S. air-traffic control services to a newly created nonprofit company and leaving the Federal Aviation Administration as a safety regulator. It's an idea that still faces strong opposition in Congress, but has gained traction this year.

The model is Nav Canada, the world's second-largest air-traffic control agency, after the U.S.


. . .


The key, Nav Canada says, is its nongovernmental structure. Technology, critical to efficient airspace use these days, gets developed faster than if a government agency were trying to do it, officials say. Critics say slow technology development has been the FAA's Achilles' heel.

"We can fly optimal routes because of the technology they have. It makes a big difference," American Airlines vice president Lorne Cass says. "These are things customers don't see except they shave off minutes."

Mr. Cass, who has worked for several airlines and the FAA, first visited Nav Canada in 2004 to see new technology. "They've always been pretty good at continuous modernization," he says. "They just have more flexibility than the FAA has."


. . .


(p. D2) In government, you often need giant programs with huge promises to get funding. But Nav Canada opted for small projects, often with no idea what the outcome should look like. The company hired a corps of techies that the federal agency had never had and involved controllers in development.

"We're convinced you're better off doing things incrementally than a big bang approach," Mr. Koslow says.

Data linkage between cockpits and control centers is one example. Text messages with cockpits have been in use across oceans, in parts of Europe and across all of Canada for several years. Controllers in Montreal who handle planes to and from North America and both Europe and Asia say the texting system virtually eliminates problems of mishearing instructions and readbacks over the radio because of foreign accents.

Another innovation adopted around the world is electronic flight strips--critical information about each flight that gets changed on touch screens and passed from one controller to another electronically. Nav Canada has used them for more than 13 years. Many U.S. air controllers still use paper printouts placed in plastic carriers about the size of a 6-inch ruler that controllers scribble on.


. . .


Jerome Gagnon, a shift manager in Montreal's control tower, says the electronic system has reduced workload, errors and noise. "We don't want controllers to just be heads down. There's a lot of stuff that happens out the window," he says.

Rarely do controllers have to call each other to coordinate flights anymore, but making changes with the FAA on cross-border flights can't be done electronically.

As he explains the process in the Montreal tower, other controllers start laughing. One blurts out incredulously: "You still have to call the FAA by phone!""



For the full story, see:

SCOTT MCCARTNEY. "THE MIDDLE SEAT; The Air-Traffic System U.S. Airlines Wish They Had." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., April 28, 2016): D1-D2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 27, 2016. The online version has a couple of extra sentences that are included in the passages quoted above.)






October 8, 2016

The Internet Favors Creators in the Long Tail of Distribution



(p. A13) Does the internet pose a threat to established entertainment companies? Michael D. Smith and Rahul Telang lead a class at Carnegie Mellon University in which a student recently put that question to a visiting executive. He pooh-poohed the idea: "The original players in this industry have been around for the last 100 years, and there's a reason for that." As co-heads of CMU's Initiative for Digital Entertainment Analytics, Messrs. Smith and Telang aim to counter this line of thought, and in "Streaming, Sharing, Stealing" they do just that, explaining gently yet firmly exactly how the internet threatens established ways and what can and cannot be done about it. Their book should be required for anyone who wishes to believe that nothing much has changed.


. . .


Then there's the question of blockbusters vs. the long tail. In her book "Blockbusters" (2013), Anita Elberse, a Harvard Business School professor, contended that digital markets, far from favoring the "long tail" of products that were mostly unavailable in physical stores or theaters, actually concentrate sales at the top even further. Messrs. Smith and Telang quietly but effectively demolish this argument, noting numerous instances in which the opposite happened. In the case of one large chain, the top 100 titles accounted for 85% of the DVDs rented in-store--but when stores closed and customers were shifted to the Web, the most popular titles made up only 35% of the DVDs rented online.

The authors also note that, by making it easy for writers, musicians, and directors to work independently, digital technology has vastly increased the number of works available. Between 2000 and 2010, an explosion in self-publishing raised the number of new books issued per year to 3.1 million from 122,000.



For the full review, see:

FRANK ROSE. "BOOKSHELF; We're All Cord Cutters Now; At one chain, the top 100 movie titles accounted for 85% of the DVDs rented in-store. But online, the top titles make up only 35% of rentals." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Sept. 7, 2016): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sept. 6, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Smith, Michael D., and Rahul Telang. Streaming, Sharing, Stealing: Big Data and the Future of Entertainment. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2016.






September 29, 2016

Chinese Industry Using Robots to Automate Routine Tasks



(p. B1) China's appetite for European-made industrial robots is rapidly growing, as rising wages, a shrinking workforce and cultural changes drive more Chinese businesses to automation. The types of robots favored by Chinese manufacturers are also changing, as automation spreads from heavy industries such as auto manufacturing to those that require more precise, flexible robots capable of handling and assembling smaller products, including consumer electronics and apparel.

At stake is whether China can retain its dominance in manufacturing.


. . .


(p. B2) China, in 2013, became the world's largest market for industrial robots, surpassing all of Western Europe, according to the International Federation of Robotics. In 2015, Chinese manufacturers bought roughly 67,000 robots, about a quarter of global sales, and demand is projected to more than double to 150,000 robots annually by 2018.



For the full story, see:

Robbie Whelan and Esther Fung. "China's Factories Turn to Robots." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., August 17, 2016): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date August 16, 2016, and has the title "China's Factories Count on Robots as Workforce Shrinks.")






September 5, 2016

RFID Tags Can Enable Process Innovations



(p. A11) The numbers don't look good: Last week the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that worker productivity dropped 0.5% in the second quarter of 2016--the third quarterly decline in a row. Productivity growth, a key driver of improved living standards, has averaged only 1.3% a year over the past decade, compared with 2.9% from mid-1995 through the end of 2005.

Why the slowdown? One theory is that markets have already wrung the easy efficiencies out of current technology. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen noted in June that some economists "believe that the low-hanging fruit of innovation largely has been picked and that there is simply less scope for further gains."

Count me in the optimistic camp. Low-cost wireless technologies are only beginning to break down the wall between the physical and digital worlds, and early-adopting companies are already achieving astounding productivity gains.


. . .


Employees can take inventory by waving an RFID reader over a shelf or a rack. A 2009 study by the University of Arkansas found scanning 10,000 items took 53 hours using bar codes, but only two hours with RFID. That efficiency allows Macy's to inventory items every month rather than once or twice annually. Pam Sweeney, Macy's senior vice president of logistics systems, tells me that RFID has pushed inventory accuracy in these departments to 95%.


. . .


As the cost of RFID tags falls to only cents apiece, the applications widen. Imagine checking out at the grocery store one day simply by running your cart through a scanner in a few seconds--no bar codes required. How many hours a year would that save consumers and employees both? If you want a million minuscule reasons to be bullish about productivity, look no further than tiny RFID tags.



For the full commentary, see:

MARK ROBERTI. "How Tiny Wireless Tech Makes Workers More Productive; Macy's and Delta are using cheap RFID tags to blend the physical and digital." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Aug. 17, 2016): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Aug. 16, 2016.)






August 28, 2016

Cancer Is Not Due to Modernity



(p. 1A) Scientists' conventional opinion about cancer was that it's a relatively recent phenomenon caused by the stresses of modern life.

Dietary changes, behavioral changes and man-made changes to our environment have subjected humans to toxins that contribute to cancers, they say.

But new findings from researchers at South Africa's University of the Witwatersrand published in the South African Journal of Science challenge that assumption.

Paleontologists found a benign tumor in a 12 or 13-year-old boy specimen that dates back almost 2 million years.

More significantly, they also found a malignant tumor that's 1.7 million years old on the little toe bone of a left foot.

Previously the oldest discovered human cancer was between 780,000 and 120,000 years old.


. . .


(p. 2A) "The evidence is out there that these conditions have been with us a long time and we've been kind of hoodwinked that cancer is a modernity," said Patrick Randolph-Quinney, one of the study's authors. "These things are ancient."

The greatest predictor of cancer, the study argues, even in our ancestors, is longevity. The longer we live, the more chances something in our bodies goes wrong, the more chances that something is a tumor.



For the full story, see:

The Washington Post. "Ancient tumor upends notion of cancer as modern affliction; 1.7-million-year-old malignant growth is causing scientists to rethink diseases and human history." Omaha World-Herald (Sat., JUNE 20, 2016): 1A & 2A.

(Note: ellipsis added.)


The scientific article mentioned above, is:

Patrick, S. Randolph-Quinney, A. Williams Scott, Steyn Maryna, R. Meyer Marc, S. Smilg Jacqueline, E. Churchill Steven, J. Odes Edward, Augustine Tanya, Tafforeau Paul, and R. Berger Lee. "Osteogenic Tumour in Australopithecus Sediba: Earliest Hominin Evidence for Neoplastic Disease." South African Journal of Science (July/Aug. 2016), DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.17159/sajs.2016/20150470.






August 26, 2016

VCRs Let "You Create Your Own Prime Time"



(p. B1) Many new technologies are born with a bang: Virtual reality headsets! Renewable rockets! And old ones often die with a whimper. So it is for the videocassette recorder, or VCR.

The last-known company still manufacturing the technology, the Funai Corporation of Japan, said in a statement Thursday [July 21, 2016] that it would stop making VCRs at the end of this month, mainly because of "difficulty acquiring parts."


. . .


In 1956, Ampex Electric and Manufacturing Company introduced what its website calls "the first practical videotape recorder." Fred Pfost, an Ampex engineer, described demonstrating the technology to CBS executives for the first time. Unbeknown to them, he had recorded a keynote speech delivered by a vice president at the network.

"After I rewound the tape and pushed the play button for this group of executives, they saw the instantaneous replay of the speech. There were about 10 seconds of total silence until they suddenly realized just what they were seeing on the 20 video monitors located around the room. Pandemonium broke out with wild clapping and cheering for five full minutes. This was the first time in history that a large group (outside of Ampex) had ever seen a high-quality, instantaneous replay of any event."

At the time, the machines cost $50,000 apiece. But that did not stop orders from being placed for 100 of them in the week they debuted, according to Mr. Pfost.


. . .


A consumer guide published in The Times in 1981 -- when the machines ranged in price from $600 to $1,200 -- explained the appeal:

"In effect, a VCR makes you independent of television schedules. It lets you create your own prime time. You set the timer and let the machine automatically record the programs you want to watch but can't. Later, you can play the tape at your convenience. Or you can tape one show while watching another, thus missing neither."



For the full story, see:

JONAH ENGEL BROMWICH. "Once $50,000. Now VCR, Collects Dust." The New York Times (Mon., JULY 21, 2016): B1 & B2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JUNE 19, 2016, and has the title "The Long, Final Goodbye of the VCR.")






August 16, 2016

Certificate-of-Need Regulations Protect Incumbents and Hurt Consumers



(p. A11) An important but overlooked debate is unfolding in several states: When governments restrict market forces in health care, who benefits? Legislative majorities in 36 states believe that consumers benefit, because restrictions help control health-care costs. But new research confirms what should be common sense: Preventing qualified health-care providers from freely plying their trade results in less access to care.

Most states enforce market restrictions through certificate-of-need programs, which mandate a lengthy, expensive application process before a health-care provider can open or expand a facility. The story goes: If hospitals or physicians could choose what services to provide, competition for patients would force providers to overinvest in equipment such as MRI machines--and the cost could be passed on to patients through higher medical bills.


. . .


These restrictions have largely failed to reduce costs, but they certainly reduce services. A 2011 study in the Journal of Health Care Finance found that certificate-of-need laws resulted in 48% fewer hospitals and 12% fewer hospital beds.



For the full commentary, see:

THOMAS STRATMANN and MATTHEW BAKER. "Certifiably Needless Health-Care Meddling." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Jan. 12, 2016): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 11, 2016.)


The "new research" mentioned by Stratman in the passage quoted above, is:

Stratmann, Thomas, and Matthew C. Baker. "Are Certificate-of-Need Laws Barriers to Entry?: How They Affect Access to MRI, CT, and Pet Scans." Mercatus Working Paper, Jan. 2016.






August 13, 2016

Technology Platforms Will Create Decades of Gales of Creative Destruction



(p. A11) For traditional businesses, economies of scale are the key to competitive advantage: Larger firms have lower average costs. In the digital economy, network effects matter most. In "Matchmakers" (Harvard Business Review, 260 pages, $35), David S. Evans (a consultant) and Richard Schmalensee (a professor of management) highlight two particular forms.

Direct network effects occur when additional users make a service more valuable for everyone. If one's colleagues are all on, say, LinkedIn, it will be hard for another professional network to exert a strong appeal. Without the critical mass of LinkedIn, the alternative will have less utility even if its features are better. Indirect network effects arise from positive feedback loops between opposing sides of a market. The value of Rightmove, for instance, the leading online real-estate site in Britain, comes from a matching function: Since each home is unique, buyers prefer the site with the most properties, and real-estate agents favor the site with the most buyers. This virtuous cycle magnifies Rightmove's advantage even though participants on each side of the market compete with one another: More buyers increase competition for the same homes, and agents compete for buyers.


. . .


"Matchmakers" is . . . measured and analytical . . . . The authors fairly conclude that, while the telegraph was "a far more important multisided platform" than anything produced so far by the Internet, platforms are "behind the gales of creative destruction that . . . will sweep industries for decades to come."



For the full review, see:


JEREMY G. PHILIPS. "Why Facebook's Imitators Failed; If one's coworkers are all on the same platform, any alternative will have less utility--even if its features are better." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., May 19, 2016): A11.

(Note: the ellipsis between paragraphs, and the first two in the final quoted paragraph, are added; the third ellipsis in the final paragraph is in the original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 18, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Evans, David S., and Richard Schmalensee. Matchmakers: The New Economics of Multisided Platforms. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press, 2016.






August 12, 2016

Taylor Swift Defends Intellectual Property Rights



(p. A11) In battles against tech titans, Chinese e-commerce swindlers and others, Ms. Swift has repeatedly insisted on being paid for her music and brand--and in the process has taught some valuable lessons in basic economics.


. . .


Last year she picked a fight with Apple after the company announced plans to launch its Apple Music streaming service with a three-month trial period during which users wouldn't pay subscription fees and Apple wouldn't pay royalties for the songs streamed.


. . .


Ms. Swift had less luck trying to get the Spotify streaming service to restrict her songs to paying customers, so in 2014 she pulled her catalog from the platform entirely. Her manager said Spotify's royalty payments are miserly compared with regular album revenues: "Don't forget this is for the most successful artist in music today. What about the rest of the artists out there struggling to make a career?"

Ms. Swift's most ambitious crusade may be in China, where she has launched branded clothing lines with special antipiracy mechanisms to combat rampant counterfeiting on e-commerce sites like Alibaba's Taobao. Said one of the branding executives leading the effort: "It's time for Chinese companies to say, 'We don't want to be known for piracy anymore.' " Good luck with that.



For the full commentary, see:


DAVID FEITH. "In Support of Taylor Swift, Economist." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., July 21, 2016): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 20, 2016.)






August 1, 2016

The Role of Steve Jobs in the Creation of Pixar



(p. B4) . . . [a] book that isn't out yet (until November [2016]): "To Pixar and Beyond: My Unlikely Journey with Steve Jobs to Make Entertainment History" by Lawrence Levy, the former chief financial officer of Pixar. What a delightful book about the creation of Pixar from the inside. I learned more about Mr. Jobs, Pixar and business in Silicon Valley than I have in quite some time. And like a good Pixar film, it'll put a smile on your face.


For the full commentary, see:

Sorkin, Andrew Ross. "DEALBOOK; Tell-Alls, Strategic Plans and Cautionary Tales." The New York Times (Tues., JULY 5, 2016): B1 & B4.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JULY 4, 2016, and has the title "DEALBOOK; A Reading List of Tell-Alls, Strategic Plans and Cautionary Tales in Finance.")


The book praised by Sorkin in the passage quoted above, is:

Levy, Lawrence. To Pixar and Beyond: My Unlikely Journey with Steve Jobs to Make Entertainment History. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.






July 25, 2016

Tesla and Google Bet on Different Paths to Driverless Cars



(p. B1) SAN FRANCISCO -- In Silicon Valley, where companies big and small are at work on self-driving cars, there have been a variety of approaches, and even some false starts.

The most divergent paths may be the ones taken by Tesla, which is already selling cars that have some rudimentary self-driving functions, and Google, which is still very much in experimental mode.

Google's initial efforts in 2010 focused on cars that would drive themselves, but with a person behind the wheel to take over at the first sign of trouble and a second technician monitoring the navigational computer.

As a general concept, Google was trying to achieve the same goal as Tesla is claiming with the Autopilot feature it has promoted with the Model S, which has hands-free technology that has come under scrutiny after a fatal accident on a Florida highway.

But Google decided to play down the vigilant-human approach after an experiment in 2013, when the company let some of its employees sit behind the wheel of the self-driving cars on their daily commutes.

Engineers using onboard video cameras to remotely monitor the results were alarmed by what (p. B5) they observed -- a range of distracted-driving behavior that included falling asleep.

"We saw stuff that made us a little nervous," Christopher Urmson, a former Carnegie Mellon University roboticist who directs the car project at Google, said at the time.

The experiment convinced the engineers that it might not be possible to have a human driver quickly snap back to "situational awareness," the reflexive response required for a person to handle a split-second crisis.

So Google engineers chose another route, taking the human driver completely out of the loop. They created a fleet of cars without brake pedals, accelerators or steering wheels, and designed to travel no faster than 25 miles an hour.

For good measure they added a heavy layer of foam to the front of their cars and a plastic windshield, should the car make a mistake. While not suitable for high-speed interstate road trips, such cars might one day be able to function as, say, robotic taxis in stop-and-go urban settings.



For the full story, see:

JOHN MARKOFF. "Tesla and Google Take Two Roads to Driverless Car." The New York Times (Tues., JULY 5, 2016): B1 & B5.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JULY 4, 2016, and has the title "Tesla and Google Take Different Roads to Self-Driving Car.")






July 20, 2016

The Lucky Success of the Half-Blind "Becomes the Inevitable Coup of the Assured Visionary"



(p. B1) The most fun business book I have read this year? "Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley," by a former Facebook executive, Antonio García Martinez. I was sent a galley copy several months ago and picked it up with no intention of reading more than the first couple of pages. I don't think I looked up until about three hours later.

This is a tell-all of Mr. Martinez's experience in venture capital and later at Facebook, filled with insights about Silicon Valley -- what he calls "the tech whorehouse" -- mixed with score-settling anecdotes that will occasionally make you laugh out loud. Clearly there will be people who hate this book -- which is probably one of the things that makes it such a great read.

The dedication page includes this gem: "To all my enemies: I could not have done it without you." Mr. Martinez is particularly incisive when it comes to illustrating how failed ideas that happen to work are often spun into great successes: "What was an improbable bonanza at the hands of the flailing half-blind becomes the inevitable coup of the assured visionary," he writes. "The world crowns you a genius, and you start acting like one."



For the full commentary, see:

Sorkin, Andrew Ross. "DEALBOOK; Tell-Alls, Strategic Plans and Cautionary Tales." The New York Times (Tues., JULY 5, 2016): B1 & B4.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JULY 4, 2016, and has the title "DEALBOOK; A Reading List of Tell-Alls, Strategic Plans and Cautionary Tales in Finance.")


The book praised by Sorkin in the passage quoted above, is:

Martinez, Antonio Garcia. Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley. New York: Harper, 2016.






July 13, 2016

Computers and Humans as Complements Rather than Substitutes



(p. B1) "A lot of companies pushed hard on the idea that technology will solve every problem, and that we shouldn't use humans," said Paul English, the co-founder of a new online company called Lola Travel. (p. B10) "We think humans add value, so we're trying to design technology to facilitate the human-to-human connection."


. . .


"I tried to create the best travel website on the market," he said. "But as good as we thought our tech was, there were many times where I thought I did a better job for people on the phone than our site could do."

You've most likely experienced the headaches Mr. English is talking about. Think back to the last time you booked anything beyond a routine trip online. There's a good chance you spent a lot more time and energy than you would have with a human. Sure, the Internet has obligingly stepped in to help; there are review sites, travel blogs, discussion forums and the hordes on social media to answer every possible travel question. But these resources only exacerbate the problem. They often turn what should be a fun activity into an hourslong research project.


. . .


In many cases, yes, but there remain vast realms of commerce in which guidance from a human expert works much better than a machine. Other than travel, consider the process of finding a handyman or plumber. The Internet has given us a wealth of data about these services. You could spend all day on Craigslist, Yelp or Angie's List finding the best person for your job, which is precisely the problem.

"It's going to be a long time until a computer can replace the estimating power of an experienced handyman," said Doug Ludlow, the founder of the Happy Home Company, a one-year-old start-up that uses human experts to find the right person for your job. The company, which operates in the San Francisco Bay Area but plans to expand nationally, has contracts with a network of trusted service professionals in your area. To get some work done, you simply text your Happy Home manager with a description of the problem and maybe a few pictures.

"A quick glance from our handyman gives us an idea of who to send to your job, and what it will cost," Mr. Ludlow said. The company handles payment processing, scheduling and any complaints if something goes wrong.

I recently used Happy Home to get a few home theater cables concealed in a wall. The experience was liberating -- I found a handyman and a drywall specialist to do my job with little more than few texts, and no time spent scouring through web reviews.

It isn't feasible to get humans involved in all of our purchases. Humans are costly and they're limited in capacity. The great advantage of computers is that they "scale" -- software can serve evermore customers for ever-lower prices.

But one of the ironies of the digital revolution is that it has also helped human expertise scale. Thanks to texting, human customer service agents can now serve multiple customers at a time. They can also access reams of data about your preferences, allowing them to quickly find answers for your questions.

As a result, for certain purchases, the cost of adding human expertise can be a trivial part of the overall transaction. Happy Home takes a cut of each service it sets up, but because it can squeeze out certain efficiencies from operating a network of service professionals, its prices match what you'd find looking for a handyman on your own. That's true of human travel agencies, too -- the commissions on travel are so good that Lola can afford to throw in human expertise almost as a kind of bonus.

The rise of computers is often portrayed as a great threat to all of our jobs. But these services sketch out a more optimistic scenario: That humans and machines will work together, and we, as customers, will be allowed, once more, to lazily beg for help.



For the full commentary, see:

Manjoo, Farhad. "State of the Art; The Machines Rose, but Now Start-Ups Add Human Touch." The New York Times (Thurs., DEC. 17, 2015): B1 & B10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date DEC. 16, 2015, and has the title "State of the Art; In a Self-Serve World, Start-Ups Find Value in Human Helpers.")






July 9, 2016

German Car Makers in No Rush to Catch Up to Tesla



(p. A7) When Elon Musk rolled out the new Tesla Model X at the end of September [2015], some grumbled that the Silicon Valley car maker's all-electric luxury crossover was coming to market two years too late. It depends on who you ask. The Big Three German auto makers only wish they could catch the tail of Mr. Musk's rocket.

I'm not talking about units sold, though Tesla's target of 50,000 cars in 2015 is a respectable chunk of the global luxury-sedan market. But Tesla has taken more hide off German prestige and sense of technical primacy. I mean, the Model X was just rubbing their noses in it with those "falcon" doors, right? In executive interviews at the Frankfurt Auto Show any praise of Tesla was guaranteed to land on the table like a paternity suit.


. . .


I wonder if any traditional auto maker whose existence does not hang in the balance can ever have enough belly for the EV long game?

Even if the Germans had market-bound EVs in mass quantities, there is the concurrent problem of charging. As the estimable John Voelcker of Green Car Reports notes, the luxury incumbents have no plans to challenge Tesla on charging availability. Tesla has hundreds of charging stations in the U.S. and Europe and plans for hundreds more--all free to owners.


. . .


I am struck by the lag time. This isn't about profit and loss but industry leadership. The Germans are headed where Tesla already is and, taking Frankfurt as the measure, they are in no great hurry to get there.



For the full commentary, see:

Dan Neil. "RUMBLE SEAT; How Tesla Leaves its Rivals Playing Catch Up." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 10, 2015): D11.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Oct. 8, 2015.)






July 1, 2016

"Robots Take Away Subhuman Jobs"



(p. A21) Joseph F. Engelberger, a visionary engineer and entrepreneur who was at the forefront of the robotics revolution, building robots for use on assembly lines and fostering another, named Seymour, to handle chores in hospitals, died on Tuesday [December 1, 2015] in Newtown, Conn. . . .


. . .


Mr. Engelberger was a force in robotics from its early days, in the 1960s, when his company, Unimation, in Danbury, Conn., developed the Unimate, a robotic arm that would greatly accelerate industrial production lines.


. . .


Labor unions and some corporate managers resisted robotics at first, worrying, as Mr. Engelberger later put it, "that the robots can take all the jobs away."

He disagreed with that notion.

"It's unjustified," he told The New York Times in 1997. "The robots take away subhuman jobs which we assign to people."

Unimate proved to be more precise than the human hand in completing some repetitive and dangerous tasks. Automobile makers employed the arm to weld and move vehicle parts, apply adhesives to windshields and spray-paint car bodies -- jobs that had posed chemical hazards to workers.



For the full obituary, see:

JEREMY PEARCE. "Joseph F. Engelberger, a Leader of the Robot Revolution, Dies at 90." The New York Times (Thurs., DEC. 3, 2015): A33.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date DEC. 2, 2015, and has the title "Joseph F. Engelberger, a Leader of the Robot Revolution, Dies at 90.")






June 29, 2016

Perfect Reliability Is Not Worth the Cost



(p. B4) Say what you will about Plain Old Telephone Service, but it worked. The functionality of POTS, as it was known, was limited to making calls, and they were expensive. But many traditional phone companies offered 99.999% reliability, which allowed for about five minutes of downtime a year.

Today's networks are far less expensive, infinitely more capable and nowhere near as reliable as the wired-to-the-wall phone, . . .


. . .


To some extent, contemporary networks suffer from inattention. The old phone system worked so well because regulators in certain countries like the U.S. said it had to, and enough money was set aside to fund an army of technicians and engineers to oversee it. That generally isn't the case with modern, digital networks and IT infrastructure, and companies often neglect this nuts-and-bolts technology.


. . .


Underneath it all, the economics of falling prices carry a trade-off. Consumers get more for their money in the mobile, digital era, but that often leaves margin-stretched companies with fewer resources to invest in robustness and maintenance. Reliability is as much a function of business and risk management as it is about tech.

"I don't know if people are sweating that detail as much as they used to," said Mr. Bayer, previously CIO of the Securities and Exchange Commission.


. . .


Former NYSE Euronext Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Leibowitz told the Journal in 2013 the public shouldn't expect market technology to function perfectly, a goal that would be too expensive to implement even if it were technically feasible.



For the full story, see:

STEVE ROSENBUSH and STEVEN NORTON. "Network Reliability, a Relic of Business?" The Wall Street Journal (Fri., July 10, 2015): B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 9, 2015 and has the title "What We Learned From the NYSE, United Airlines Tech Outages.")






June 6, 2016

Plastic Buttons Replaced Seashell Buttons, but Technology Can Be Restored




In What Technology Wants, Kevin Kelly has made the point that most obsolete technologies remain available to satisfy nostalgia, or for more practical uses, if the need arises. Below is another example.



(p. C27) In a tan outbuilding overlooking a pond in northeastern Connecticut, equipment for turning seashells into buttons has lain fallow for nearly eight decades. The building's owner, Mark Masinda, a retired university administrator, is working to transform the site into a tourist attraction.

In the early 1900s, his grandfather William Masinda, a Czech immigrant, supervised a dozen button makers in the building, which is on a rural road in Willington. They cut, drilled and polished bits of shells imported from Africa and Australia to make "ocean pearl buttons" with two or four holes. The area's half-dozen button factories supplemented the incomes of families struggling to farm on rocky terrain.

The Masinda operation closed in 1938, as plastic flooded the market. "The equipment he had just couldn't make the transition," Mr. Masinda said.


. . .


Mr. Masinda is planning to reactivate the equipment and open the site for tours by . . . spring [2016].



For the full story, see:

EVE M. KAHN. "Antiques; Restoring a Button Factory." The New York Times (Thurs., DEC. 3, 2015): C27.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 3, 2015, and has the title "Antiques; Yale Buys Collection of Scattered Medieval Pages; Restoring a Button Factory.")


The Kelly book mentioned above, is:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.






May 26, 2016

Tesla Direct Sales Thwarted by Laws that Protect Dealers Instead of Consumers



(p. B3) Tesla Motors Inc. hopes to capture mainstream auto buyers with its Model 3, an electric car it plans to unveil this week at a price about the same as the average gasoline-powered vehicle, but it may need a federal court ruling to succeed.

The Palo Alto, Calif., auto maker's direct-to-consumer sales are prohibited by law in six states that represent about 18% of the U.S. new-car market. Barring a change of heart by those states, Tesla is preparing to make a federal case out of the direct-sales bans.

The auto maker's legal staff has been studying a 2013 federal appeals court ruling in New Orleans that determined St. Joseph Abbey could sell monk-made coffins to customers without having a funeral director's license. The case emerged amid a casket shortage after Hurricane Katrina. The abbey had tried to sell coffins, only to find state laws restricted such sales to those licensed by the Louisiana Board of Funeral Directors.

For now, Tesla is banking on a combination of new legislation, pending dealer applications and other factors to open doors to selling directly in Arizona, Michigan, Texas, Connecticut, Utah and West Virginia. But the company said it is ready to argue in federal court using the coffin case if necessary.

"It is widely accepted that laws that have a protectionist motivation or effect are not proper," Todd Maron, the auto maker's chief counsel, said in an interview. "Tesla is committed to not being foreclosed from operating in the states it desires to operate in, and all options are on the table."


. . .


"There is no legitimate competitive interest in having consumers purchase cars through an independent dealership," Greg Reed, an attorney with Washington D.C.-based Institute for Justice, a libertarian-leaning law firm, said. He calls Michigan's laws "anti-competitive protectionism."



For the full story, see:

MIKE RAMSEY. "Tesla Weighs Legal Fight." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., March 29, 2016): B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 28, 2016, and has the title "Tesla Weighs New Challenge to State Direct-Sales Bans.")






April 29, 2016

Tesla Model 3 Excites Venturesome Consumers




America's venturesome consumers are hungry for products exciting enough to justify enthusiasm. They are desperate for evidence that the future can continue to look bright.



(p. B2) DETROIT -- Despite a steady stream of new models from a number of automakers, sales this year of electric and hybrid vehicles have failed to keep pace with the growth in the overall American market.

But if the market for electrified cars was slumbering, Tesla Motors woke it up with a jolt Thursday [March 31, 2016] with the unveiling of its coming Model 3 lineup of affordable, zero-emission vehicles.

Given that electric and hybrid vehicles account for only about 2 percent of last year's record-setting sales in the United States, the extraordinary reaction to Tesla's first mass-market model was a vivid demonstration of the potential demand in the segment.

"It shows that the future of electric vehicles is not necessarily bleak," said Alec Gutierrez, an analyst with the research firm Kelley Blue Book. "Maybe we've been waiting for the right products that resonate with consumers."

Tesla said on Friday that it had booked reservations -- at $1,000 each -- from nearly 200,000 people for the first Model 3 sedans, which will not be available until next year.

With a starting price of $35,000 and a battery range of 215 miles, the new Tesla is a big leap in the company's expansion beyond expensive luxury models.

"The final step in the master plan is a mass-market, affordable car," Elon Musk, Tesla's chief executive, said at the lavish introduction of the Model 3 held at the company's design studios in Hawthorne, Calif.



For the full story, see:

BILL VLASIC "In Clamor for new Tesla, Signs of an Electric Future." The New York Times (Sat., APRIL 2, 2016): B2.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 1, 2016, and has the title "Tesla's New Model 3 Jump-Starts Demand for Electric Cars.")






April 20, 2016

Tech Replaces Labor When Government Raises Labor Costs



(p. A11) In late 2013, Chili's and Applebee's announced that they were installing more than 100,000 tableside tablets at their restaurants across the country, allowing customers to order and pay their bill without ever talking to a waiter. The companies were soon followed by Buffalo Wild Wings, Panera Bread, Olive Garden and dozens of others. This means fewer servers covering more tables. Quick-service restaurant chains are also testing touch-screen ordering.


. . .


So why the increased use of technology? The major reason is consumer preference. Research shows that many appreciate the speed, order accuracy, and convenience of touch screens. This is particularly so among millennials who already do so much on smartphones and tablets. I've watched people--young and old--waiting in line to use the touch screens while employees stand idle at the counter.

The other reason is costs. While the technology is becoming much cheaper, government mandates have been making labor much more expensive.

In 2015, 14 cities and states approved $15 minimum wages--double the current federal minimum. Additionally, four states, 20 cities and one county now have mandatory paid-sick-leave laws generally requiring a paid week of time off each year per covered employee. And then there's the Affordable Care Act, which further raises employer costs.



For the full commentary, see:

ANDY PUZDER. "Why Restaurant Automation Is on the Menu; Forget about robot waiters, but technology helps cut government-imposed costs. And consumers like it." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., March 25, 2016): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 24, 2016.)






April 1, 2016

Obama Says Stimulus Worked at Battery Plant Where CEO Remains "Frustrated" at Losses



(p. A12) JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- President Obama on Friday [February 26, 2016] used a visit to a high-technology battery plant in Florida to argue that the hundreds of billions of dollars in federal subsidies he signed into law during his first days in office had bolstered the economy, transformed the nation's energy sector, and positioned the United States for a strong rebound.

But Mr. Obama's trip to the Saft America factory here, opened in 2011 with a $95.5 million investment from the Department of Energy, also highlighted the challenges that have tempered the economic recovery and the difficulty that the president has had in claiming credit for it.


. . .


After touring the facility and watching a large robot named Wall-E assembling one of the batteries, the president called the factory "tangible evidence" that his stimulus package had worked and said that the economy was better off for it. "We took an empty swamp and turned it into an engine of innovation," he said.

That engine, though, has sputtered as it has struggled to start here. Saft, based in Paris, announced last week that it was reducing the factory's value because it had still not gained profitability in the competitive lithium-ion battery market. Saying he was "frustrated," the company's chief executive projected the plant might not be profitable for a few more years.



For the full story, see:

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS. "Obama Praises Stimulus at Battery Plant." The New York Times (Sat., FEB. 27, 2016): A12.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 26, 2016, and has the title "Obama Points to Florida Factory as Evidence That Stimulus Worked.")






March 18, 2016

"Ordinary People Should Have a Go"



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


. . .


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

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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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






March 5, 2016

New Middle-Skill Jobs Combine Technical and Social Skills



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




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

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

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

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


. . .


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

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

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



For the full commentary, see:

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

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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


The Deming paper referred to above, is:

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


The Autor paper referred to above, is:

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


The Heckman paper referred to above, is:

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






March 4, 2016

Technology Extends Capabilities of Older Japanese



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

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

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

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


. . .


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



For the full story, see:

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

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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






March 3, 2016

To Get the High-Hanging Fruit, Grow Shorter Trees



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

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

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

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


. . .


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

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

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



For the full story, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)


The web page was excerpted in:

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

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






February 12, 2016

Innovators Need Time for Tedious Tasks



(p. 3) Innovation isn't all about eureka moments. In fact, the road to creative breakthroughs is paved with mundane, workaday tasks. That's the message of a recent study that might as well be titled "In Praise of Tedium."

In the study, researchers sought to examine how extended periods of free time affect innovation. To do this, they analyzed activity on Kickstarter, the crowdfunding website, in nearly 6,000 American cities.


. . .


Over a period of about nine months, the researchers found a sharp increase in the number of new projects posted during the first few days of school break periods. The spike, they suggest, is tied to people having more time to perform the administrative aspects of Kickstarter projects -- working on a manufacturing plan, say, or setting up a rewards schedule. While people may be using some stretches of free time to nurture those much lauded light bulb moments, the process of innovation also appears to require time to carry out execution-oriented tasks that are not particularly creative but still necessary to transform an idea into a product, the study indicates.



For the full story, see:

PHYLLIS KORKKI. "Applied Science; Good Ideas Need Time for Tedious Legwork." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., AUG. 16, 2015): 3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date AUG. 15, 2015, and has the title "Applied Science; Looking for a Breakthrough? Study Says to Make Time for Tedium.")


The academic paper summarized in the passages quoted above, is:

Agrawal, Ajay, Christian Catalini, and Avi Goldfarb. "Slack Time and Innovation." Rotman School of Management Working Paper #2599004, April 25, 2015.






February 10, 2016

Serendipitous Fix for Colorblindness



(p. 3) The eyeglass lenses that Don McPherson invented were meant for surgeons. But through serendipity he found an entirely different use for them: as a possible treatment for colorblindness.

Mr. McPherson is a glass scientist and an avid Ultimate Frisbee player. He discovered that the lenses he had invented, which protect surgeons' eyes from lasers and help them differentiate human tissue, caused the world at large to look candy-colored -- including the Frisbee field.

At a tournament in Santa Cruz, Calif., in 2002, while standing on a grassy field dotted with orange goal-line cones, he lent a pair of glasses with the lenses to a friend who happened to be colorblind. "He said something to the effect of, 'Dude, these are amazing,' " Mr. McPherson says. "He's like, 'I see orange cones. I've never seen them before.' "

Mr. McPherson was intrigued. He said he did not know the first thing about colorblindness, but felt compelled to figure out why the lenses were having this effect. Mr. McPherson had been inserting the lenses into glasses that he bought at stores, then selling them through Bay Glass Research, his company at the time.

Mr. McPherson went on to study colorblindness, fine-tune the lens technology and start a company called EnChroma that now sells glasses for people who are colorblind. His is among a range of companies that have brought inadvertent or accidental inventions to market. Such inventions have included products as varied as Play-Doh, which started as a wallpaper cleaner, and the pacemaker, discovered through a study of hypothermia.


. . .


EnChroma was still struggling to solve its marketing conundrum when another serendipitous event occurred: A paint company wanted to finance an ad campaign featuring the glasses. The idea was to introduce color to the colorblind. To that end, videos were made of EnChroma users wearing the glasses for the first time while looking at things like sunsets, colorful artwork and, of course, paint samples.

The ad campaign increased EnChroma's sales and spurred a trend: New EnChroma customers began filming and sharing their experiences online. The company placed inserts in its eyeglass boxes encouraging customers to participate.

Prompted by the insert, Bob Balcom, a 60-year-old retired high school science teacher and labor relations specialist in Chatham, N.Y., uploaded his first YouTube video in March. Shot by his wife, it shows Mr. Balcom putting the glasses over his own eyeglasses and staring up at the sky quietly for several seconds. "The blue sky is deeper than I've ever seen," he says. "It reminds me of Colorado. And the pine trees, they're just so green." Tears stream down his cheeks and into his gray beard.



For the full story, see:

CLAIRE MARTIN. "Finding a Niche for the Accidental Spectacles." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., AUG. 16, 2015): 3.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date AUG. 15, 2015, and has the title "EnChroma's Accidental Spectacles Find Niche Among the Colorblind." )






January 19, 2016

Private Start-Ups Pursue Fusion Approaches Ignored by Government



(p. B5) Fusion reactions release no carbon dioxide. Their fuel, derived from water, is abundant. Compared with contemporary nuclear reactors, which produce energy by splitting atoms apart, a fusion plant would produce little radioactive waste.

The possibilities have attracted Jeffrey P. Bezos, founder of Amazon.com. He has invested in General Fusion, a start-up in British Columbia, through Bezos Expeditions, the firm that manages his venture capital investments. Paul Allen, a co-founder of Microsoft, is betting on another fusion company, Tri Alpha Energy, based in Foothill Ranch, Calif., an hour south of Los Angeles, through his venture arm, Vulcan Capital.

Peter Thiel -- the co-founder of PayPal, who once lamented the superficiality of the technology sector by saying, "We were promised flying cars and we got 140 characters" -- has invested in a third fusion start-up, Helion Energy, based near Seattle, through Mithril Capital Management.

Government money fueled a surge in fusion research in the 1970s, but the fusion budget was cut nearly in half over the next decade. Federal research narrowed on what scientists saw as the most promising prototype -- a machine called a tokamak, which uses magnets to contain and fuse a spinning, doughnut-shape cloud of hydrogen.

Today's start-ups are trying to perfect some of the ideas that the government left by the wayside.

After earning his doctorate from the University of California, Irvine, in the mid-1990s, Michl Binderbauer had trouble securing federal funds to research an alternative approach to fusion that the American government briefly explored -- one that adds the element boron into the hydrogen fuel. The advantage of the mixture is that the reaction does not fling off neutrons that, like shrapnel, can wear down machine parts and make them radioactive.

Mr. Binderbauer, along with his Ph.D. adviser, Norman Rostoker, founded Tri Alpha Energy, eventually raising money from the venture capital arms of Mr. Allen and the Rockefeller family. The company has raised over $200 million.



For the full story, see:

DINO GRANDONI. "Start-Ups Take on Challenge of Fusion." The New York Times (Mon., OCT. 26, 2015): B1 & B5.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 25, 2015, and has the title "Start-Ups Take On Challenge of Nuclear Fusion.")






January 12, 2016

North Dakota Plans a Drone Silicon Valley



For many years state governments and universities have been trying to plan the creation of new Silicon Valleys in their own backyards. Success has been elusive. Now North Dakota is tying to create a drone Silicon Valley. My take: Silicon Valleys cannot be planned, though they can be encouraged by low taxes and limited regulations.



(p. A1) FARGO, N.D. -- "California and New York want what we've got," said Shawn Muehler, a 30-year-old Fargo resident, gazing at a horizon of empty fields, silos, windbreak trees and hardly any people. A winged craft traces the air, mapping a field with pinpoint accuracy for his start-up, a drone software company called Botlink. "They like drones, but they've got a steep learning curve ahead."

For years, entrepreneurs have come here to farm and to drill for oil and natural gas. Now a new, tech-savvy generation is grabbing a piece of the growing market for drone technology and officials want to help them do it here, where there is plenty of open space and -- unlike in other sparsely populated states -- lots of expertise already in place.

Silicon Valley has the big money and know-how, Mr. Muehler and others say, but North Dakota can take unmanned aerial vehicles, as the officials prefer to call drones, from a fast-growing hobby to an industry. And just as Silicon Valley got its start with military contracts, entrepreneurs and cooperative universities, they believe they can do the same with drones.

"The potential up here is tremendous," said Jack Dalrymple, the state's governor. "It's not about supporting a company or two; it's creating the leading edge of an industry."

North Dakota has spent about (p. B7) $34 million fostering the state's unmanned aerial vehicle business, most notably with a civilian industrial park for drones near Grand Forks Air Force Base. The base, a former Cold War installation, now flies nothing but robot aircraft for the United States military and Customs and Border Protection.



For the full story, see:

QUENTIN HARDY. "A Silicon Valley for Drone Craft in Great Plains." The New York Times (Sat., DEC. 26, 2015): A1 & B7.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 25, 2015, and has the title "A Silicon Valley for Drones, in North Dakota.")






January 8, 2016

How to Monopolize a Dead Technology



(p. C3) LOS ANGELES -- When Quentin Tarantino's "The Hateful Eight" is released in a special roadshow version (with overture, intermission and additional footage) on Dec. 25, it will represent a feat worthy of the heist in the director's "Jackie Brown."

The film is scheduled to open on 96 screens in the United States and four in Canada, all in 70-millimeter projection, a premium format associated with extravaganzas of the 1950s and 1960s.

Yet from a theatrical standpoint, the technology is nearly obsolete. Last year, "Interstellar" opened in 70 millimeter at only 11 comparable locations. There were only 16 in 2012 for "The Master," which renewed interested in the format. No film has opened with 100 70-millimeter prints since 1992. According to the National Association of Theater Owners, 97 percent of the 40,000 screens in the United States now use digital projection.


. . .


"We looked around for anybody who was selling them," said Erik Lomis, Weinstein's president of theatrical distribution and home entertainment. "We tried to keep it as quiet as possible as to why. Eventually word leaked out why we were looking for them, and then the price went up."


. . .


"We've been accused of actually cornering the market on 70-millimeter projectors," Mr. Cutler said. "It's probably pretty true. There probably aren't too many out there that we didn't find." Most of them were destroyed, he added, during the conversion to digital projection.


. . .


Ultra Panavision also produces subtle aesthetic effects, unusual even to viewers familiar with 70 millimeter. The lens "for lack of a better word is a softer lens," Mr. Sasaki said. During a screening of test footage for the film, he pointed out the impressionistic qualities of the focus and explained how the image catered to our eyes' natural depth cues.

With projectors found and lenses made, the next hurdle is labor: Most theaters no longer have projectionists with a working knowledge of these machines. Mr. Cutler's company will provide training for each site. "One way or the other, we will fulfill this need," he said. "It will be a combination of house staff that we can train, professional projectionists that we can bring in, projectionists that we can find locally, and potentially some technical staff that we'll bring in." Every theater showing the film will get a spare set of belts, fuses and light bulbs, and instructions. Mr. Cutler's staff will also be standing by for calls.



For the full story, see:

BEN KENIGSBERG. "In a World Gone Digital, Room for a Lost Format." The New York Times (Thurs., NOV. 12, 2015): C3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 11, 2015, and has the title "Tarantino's 'The Hateful Eight' Resurrects Nearly Obsolete Technology.")






December 30, 2015

Hungry Suffer Due to G.M.O. Bans by Europe's "Coalition of the Ignorant"



(p. 6) CALL it the "Coalition of the Ignorant." By the first week of October [2015], 17 European countries -- including Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland -- had used new European Union rules to announce bans on the cultivation of genetically modified crops.


. . .


I have spent time with malnourished children in Tanzania whose families were going hungry because cassava crops were wiped out by brown-streak disease. That was particularly painful because in neighboring Uganda I had recently visited trial plots of genetically modified cassava that demonstrated complete resistance to the virus. The faces of the hungry children come to mind every time I hear European politicians boast about their country's G.M.O. ban and demand that the rest of the world follow suit -- as Scotland's minister did in August.

Thanks to Europe's Coalition of the Ignorant, we are witnessing a historic injustice perpetrated by the well fed on the food insecure. Europe's stance, if taken up internationally, risks marginalizing a critically important technology that we must surely employ if humanity is to feed itself sustainably in an increasingly difficult and challenging future. I can only hope that the Continent's policy makers come to their senses before it is too late.



For the full commentary, see:

MARK LYNAS. "With G.M.O. Policies, Europe Turns Against Science." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., OCT. 25, 2015): 6.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated on OCT. 24, 2015, and has the title "With G.M.O. Policies, Europe Turns Against Science.")






December 29, 2015

FDA Forces Child to Go to London to Get Drug to Fight His Cancer



(p. A15) How far would you go to get a drug that could save your child's life? Across an ocean? That is exactly what the federal government is forcing some American families with dying children to do.

In 2012, when Diego Morris was 11 years old, he was diagnosed with a deadly cancer in his leg called osteosarcoma. Doctors at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., removed the tumor, but the prognosis was poor. There was a significant risk that even extensive chemotherapy after surgery would not prevent the cancer from returning.

Fortunately, a team of doctors at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City had developed a revolutionary new drug, mifamurtide (MTP), that can prevent osteosarcoma from coming back. A study by Dr. Eugenie Kleinerman of MD Anderson and Dr. Paul Meyers of Sloan Kettering showed the drug resulted in a 30% reduction in the osteosarcoma mortality rate at eight years after diagnosis.

The drug was approved in 2009 by the European Medicines Agency and is currently the standard of care in Europe, Israel and many other countries. In 2012 it received the prestigious Prix Galien Award, the gold medal for pharmaceutical research and development in the United Kingdom.

MPT was exactly what Diego needed. But there was one problem: The drug was not available in America because the Food and Drug Administration had rejected it, demanding additional studies. That meant that Diego had to travel from Phoenix to London to get the drug he needed to save his life--a drug that was available in almost every industrialized nation and should have been available in the U.S.



For the full commentary, see:


DARCY OLSEN. "Winning the Right to Save Your Own Life; As the FDA dawdles, 24 states pass 'right-to-try' laws giving terminally ill patients access to drugs." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Nov. 27, 2015): A15.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Nov. 26, 2015.)


Olsen's commentary is related to her book:

Olsen, Darcy. The Right to Try: How the Federal Government Prevents Americans from Getting the Lifesaving Treatments They Need. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2015.






December 16, 2015

Those Who Try Japanese Toilets, Praise Them with "Cultish Devotion"



(p. D12) Last year, Bennett Friedman, who owns a plumbing showroom in Manhattan called AF New York, took a business trip to Milan. On the morning of his return he faced a choice: stop in the bathroom there or wait until he got home. The flight was nine hours. He waited.

The move seems almost masochistic. But in his home and office bathrooms, Mr. Friedman had installed a Toto washlet. To sit upon a standard commode, he said, would be like "going back to the Stone Age."

"It feels very uncivilized," he said.

For those who own Japanese toilets, there is a cultish devotion. They boast heated seats, a bidet function for a rear cleanse and an air-purifying system that deodorizes during use. The need for toilet paper is virtually eliminated (there is an air dryer) and "you left the lid up" squabbles need never take place (the seat lifts and closes automatically in many models).


. . .


Most washlet owners, then, are converted after trying one out in the world. At a boutique hotel, say, or on a trip to Asia.

Such was the case with Robert Aboulache. Before he and his family went on a vacation to Japan, he said, friends who had visited the country told him he would love the toilets. "I thought, 'How great can the toilets be?'" Mr. Aboulache said. "They were amazing. Some have noisemakers to cover up the sound. You can pivot that little sprayer. The water can be heated or not. We got home, and I thought, 'This is not the same.'"

Three days later, Mr. Aboulache went online and bought a Toto washlet, which he installed in the shared upstairs bathroom of his home in Los Angeles as a surprise for his wife and son.

"We've been delighted," he said. "It's our favorite toilet."


. . .


Mr. Friedman, too, is an enthusiastic proselytizer for washlets, in his showroom and out in social situations, something you gather he would do even if he didn't sell them.

Whenever he talks about their virtues, he said, "I feel like one of the Apostles passing the word of God."



For the full story, see:

STEVEN KURUTZ. "For Its Devotees, the Seat of Luxury." The New York Times (Thurs., NOV. 19, 2015): D12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 18, 2015, and has the title "The Cult of the Toto Toilet.")






December 8, 2015

Climate Change Likely to Be Slower and Less Harmful than Feared



(p. A11) . . . , we are often told by journalists that the science is "settled" and there is no debate. But scientists disagree: They say there is great uncertainty, and they reflected this uncertainty in their fifth and latest assessment for the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It projects that temperatures are likely to be anything from 1.5 to 4.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 to 8.1 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer by the latter part of the century--that is, anything from mildly beneficial to significantly harmful.

As for the impact of that future warming, a new study by a leading climate economist, Richard Tol of the University of Sussex, concludes that warming may well bring gains, because carbon dioxide causes crops and wild ecosystems to grow greener and more drought-resistant. In the long run, the negatives may outweigh these benefits, says Mr. Tol, but "the impact of climate change does not significantly deviate from zero until 3.5°C warming."

Mr. Tol's study summarizes the effect we are to expect during this century: "The welfare change caused by climate change is equivalent to the welfare change caused by an income change of a few percent. That is, a century of climate change is about as good/bad for welfare as a year of economic growth. Statements that climate change is the biggest problem of humankind are unfounded: We can readily think of bigger problems." No justification for prioritizing climate change over terrorism there.


. . .


To put it bluntly, climate change and its likely impact are proving slower and less harmful than we feared, while decarbonization of the economy is proving more painful and costly than we hoped. The mood in Paris will be one of furious pessimism among the well-funded NGOs that will attend the summit in large numbers: Decarbonization, on which they have set their hearts, is not happening, and they dare not mention the reassuring news from science lest it threaten their budgets.

Casting around for somebody to blame, they have fastened on foot-dragging fossil-fuel companies and those who make skeptical observations, however well-founded, about the likelihood of dangerous climate change. Scientific skeptics are now routinely censored, or threatened with prosecution. One recent survey by Rasmussen Reports shows that 27% of Democrats in the U.S. are in favor of prosecuting climate skeptics. This is the mentality of religious fanaticism, not scientific debate.



For the full commentary, see:

MATT RIDLEY And BENNY PEISER. "Your Complete Guide to the Climate Debate; At the Paris conference, expect an agreement that is sufficiently vague and noncommittal for all countries to claim victory." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Nov. 28, 2015): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Nov. 27, 2015.)


The Tol working paper mentioned above, is:

Tol, Richard S. J. "Economic Impacts of Climate Change." University of Sussex Economics Working Paper No. 75-2015.






November 29, 2015

For Movies, Film Option Survives Digital Advance



(p. B1) Faced with the possible extinction of the material that made Hollywood famous, a coalition of studios is close to a deal to keep Eastman Kodak Co. in the business of producing movie film.

The negotiations--secret until now--are expected to result in an arrangement where studios promise to buy a set quantity of film for the next several years, even though most movies and television shows these days are shot on digital video.

Kodak's new chief executive, Jeff Clarke, said the pact will allow his company to forestall the closure of its Rochester, N.Y., film manufacturing plant, a move that had been under serious consideration. Kodak's motion-picture film sales have plummeted 96% since 2006, from 12.4 billion linear feet to an estimated 449 million this year. With the exit of competitor Fujifilm Corp. last year, Kodak is the only major company left producing motion-picture film.


. . .


Film and digital video both "are valid choices, but it would be a tragedy if suddenly directors didn't have the opportunity to shoot on film," said Mr. Apatow. director of comedies including "Knocked Up" and "The 40 Year-Old Virgin," speaking from the New York set of his coming movie "Trainwreck," which he is shooting on film. "There's a magic to the grain and the color quality that you get with film."



For the full story, see:

BEN FRITZ. "Movie Film, at Death's Door, Gets a Reprieve." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., July 30, 2014): B1 & B8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article was dated July 29, 2014.)






November 22, 2015

Skills Gap Is Bigger Labor Market Problem than Technology Progress



(p. A17) Technology disrupting the workforce is not a new phenomenon and it has never proved a lasting impediment for those eager to work. The invention of, say, the internal-combustion engine put buggy-whip makers and carriage assemblers out of business, but it created many more jobs in the manufacture, advertising, sales and maintenance of automobiles. Other technologies, from the cotton gin to the airplane, expanded job opportunities and created goods and services that made the hard work worthwhile.

What is unique about today's digital revolution is the suspicion, fanned by progressives, that for the first time technology threatens to make obsolete not only some jobs--as assembly-line robotics has, for instance--but human labor itself.


. . .


That poor schooling, and not some intrinsic human limitation, is the real barrier to full employment seems to be borne out by what economists call the "skills gap." More than nine million Americans are currently looking for work, but 5.4 million job openings continue to sit unfilled, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Most of the largest increases have been in health care or professional and business services.

In a recent study by the large U.S. online job site, CareerBuilder, more than half the employers surveyed had positions for which they could not find qualified candidates: 71% had trouble finding information-technology specialists, 70% engineers, 66% managers, 56% health-care and other specialists, and 52% financial operations personnel. Nearly half of small and medium-size employers say they can find few or no "qualified applicants" for recent vacancies, according to the latest survey by the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

With the Labor Department conceding that help-wanted postings have "remained at a historically high level," this is the time not to rail against technology but to use it to make education more effective: gearing coursework to the learning styles of individual students, identifying and remedying disabilities early on, and providing online access to the best classes in the world.



For the full commentary, see:

LEWIS M. ANDREWS. "Robots Don't Mean the End of Human Labor; The left frets about the impact of technology, but new jobs will be created. The real problem is bad schools." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Aug. 24, 2015): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated on Aug. 23, 2015.)






November 12, 2015

The Cure for Technology Problems Is Better Technology



(p. D2) The real lesson in VW's scandal -- in which the automaker installed "defeat devices" that showed the cars emitting lower emissions in lab tests than they actually did -- is not that our cars are stuffed with too much technology. Instead, the lesson is that there isn't enough tech in vehicles.

In fact, the faster we upgrade our roads and autos with better capabilities to detect and analyze what's going on in the transportation system, the better we'll be able to find hackers, cheaters and others looking to create havoc on (p. B11) the highways.


. . .


"What happened at Volkswagen had to do with embedded software that's buried deep in the car, and only the supplier knows what's in it -- and it's a black box for everybody else," said Stefan Heck, the founder of Nauto, a new start-up that is introducing a windshield-mounted camera that monitors road conditions for commercial fleets and consumers. The camera uses artificial intelligence to track traffic conditions; over time, as more vehicles use it, it could provide users with traffic and safety information plus data about mileage and other automotive functions.

The end goal for intelligent-car systems, said Dr. Heck, is to create an on-road network with data that is constantly being analyzed to get a sharper picture of what's happening on the road. Sure, companies might still be able to cheat. But with enough independent data sources coming from different places on the road, it would become much more difficult.

He said there really isn't any going back -- software in cars is responsible not just for driver comforts like in-dash navigation, but also for critical safety and performance systems, many of which improve the car's environmental footprint.



For the full commentary, see:

Farhad Manjoo. "STATE OF THE ART; Our Cars Need More Technology." The New York Times (Thurs., Oct. 1, 2015): B1 & B11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date SEPT. 30, 2015, and the title "STATE OF THE ART; VW Scandal Shows a Need for More Tech, Not Less." )






November 10, 2015

Steve Jobs as Demanding Consumer: Jerk or Benefactor?



(p. D2) Mr. Jobs said he wanted freshly squeezed orange juice.

After a few minutes, the waitress returned with a large glass of juice. Mr. Jobs took a tiny sip and told her tersely that the drink was not freshly squeezed. He sent the beverage back, demanding another.

A few minutes later, the waitress returned with another large glass of juice, this time freshly squeezed. When he took a sip he told her in an aggressive tone that the drink had pulp along the top. He sent that one back, too.

My friend said he looked at Mr. Jobs and asked, "Steve, why are you being such a jerk?"

Mr. Jobs replied that if the woman had chosen waitressing as her vocation, "then she should be the best."


. . .


. . . it wasn't until my mother found out that she had terminal cancer in mid-March and was given a prognosis of only two weeks to live that I learned even if a job is just a job, you can still have a profound impact on someone else's life. You just may not know it.


. . .


. . . one evening my mother became incredibly lucid and called for me. She was craving shrimp, she said. "I'm on it," I told her as I ran down to the kitchen. "Shrimp coming right up!"


. . .


The restaurant was bustling. In the open kitchen in the back I could see a dozen men and women frantically slaving over the hot stoves and dishwashers, with busboys and waiters rushing in and out.

While I stood waiting for my mother's shrimp, I watched all these people toiling away and I thought about what Mr. Jobs had said about the waitress from a few years earlier. Though his rudeness may have been uncalled-for, there was something to be said for the idea that we should do our best at whatever job we take on.

This should be the case, not because someone else expects it. Rather, as I want to teach my son, we should do it because our jobs, no matter how seemingly small, can have a profound effect on someone else's life; we just don't often get to see how we're touching them.

Certainly, the men and women who worked at that little Thai restaurant in northern England didn't know that when they went into work that evening, they would have the privilege of cooking someone's last meal.

It was a meal that I would unwrap from the takeout packaging in my mother's kitchen, carefully plucking four shrimp from the box and meticulously laying them out on one of her ornate china plates before taking it to her room. It was a meal that would end with my mother smiling for the last time before slipping away from consciousness and, in her posh British accent, saying, "Oh, that was just lovely."



For the full commentary, see:

NICK BILTON. "Rites of Passage; Life Lessons from Steve Jobs." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Fri., AUG. 7, 2015): D2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the title "Rites of Passage; What Steve Jobs Taught Me About Being a Son and a Father.")






October 30, 2015

Exponential Entrepreneurs Get Rich by Innovating (and Fleecing?)




The reviewer's concern about technology platforms fleecing the masses is shared by Jaron Lanier who describes, and tries to solve it, in a thought-provoking book called Who Owns the Future? (Hint: his solution involves an extension of property rights.)



(p. A9) The exponential entrepreneurs are "paving the way for a new world of abundance" by finding big problems and exploiting the "Six D's": digitalization, deception, disruption, demonetization, dematerialization, democratization.

Take the case of Kodak and photography. First came the technology that allowed photographs to be taken and stored digitally rather than on film--digitization. But it seemed too trivial for a giant like Kodak to worry about--an act of self-deception. Then came disruption, when digital photography grew from a tiny niche into a big business and then surpassed print photography. People no longer needed to pay to store or share their photographs because free digital services had sprung up. Kodak found itself demonetized. Then photography was dematerialized, as cameras were built into phones and the physical materials of the darkroom were replaced by digital tools. Finally, the entire process was democratized, since anyone with a phone can (at no additional cost) take pictures, edit them and share them.

In 1996 Kodak employed 140,000 people and had a market value of $28 billion. In January 2012 it filed for bankruptcy. Instagram was founded in October 2010 and was bought by Facebook in April 2012 for $1 billion. It had 13 employees at the time. Instagram was the definition of an exponential organization, one "whose impact (or output)--because of its use of networks or automation and/or its leveraging of the crowd--is disproportionally large compared to its number of employees." The Six D's, the authors make clear, are leaving the poor executives who think in linear rather than exponential fashion in a state of three D's: "distraught, depressed and departed."


. . .


The great lie about so much technology is that it has enabled a more sharing, more democratic age. But too much of the "sharing" that happens online seems to involve people abandoning their livelihoods to the owners of "platforms"--letting the masses be demonetized and dematerialized for the enrichment of a few. Too much of the "democracy" feels like voyeurism or surveillance. The crowd is not just sourcing and funding this new economy; it's also getting fleeced.



For the full review, see:

PHILIP DELVES BROUGHTON. "BOOKSHELF; Go Big Or Go Home." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Feb. 17, 2015): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 16, 2015.)


The book discussed in the review is:

Diamandis, Peter H., and Steven Kotler. Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015.


The book mentioned by Lanier is:

Lanier, Jaron. Who Owns the Future? pb ed. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013.






October 27, 2015

Those Who Use "Consensus" Argument on Global Warming, Should Endorse Genetically Modified Food



(p. B3) NAIROBI, Kenya -- Mohammed Rahman doesn't know it yet, but his small farm in central Bangladesh is globally significant. Mr. Rahman, a smallholder farmer in Krishnapur, about 60 miles northwest of the capital, Dhaka, grows eggplant on his meager acre of waterlogged land.

As we squatted in the muddy field, examining the lush green foliage and shiny purple fruits, he explained how, for the first time this season, he had been able to stop using pesticides. This was thanks to a new pest-resistant variety of eggplant supplied by the government-run Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute.

Despite a recent hailstorm, the weather had been kind, and the new crop flourished. Productivity nearly doubled. Mr. Rahman had already harvested the small plot 10 times, he said, and sold the brinjal (eggplant's name in the region) labeled "insecticide free" at a small premium in the local market. Now, with increased profits, he looked forward to being able to lift his family further out of poverty. I could see why this was so urgent: Half a dozen shirtless kids gathered around, clamoring for attention. They all looked stunted by malnutrition.


. . .


I, . . . , was once in [the] . . . activist camp. A lifelong environmentalist, I opposed genetically modified foods in the past. Fifteen years ago, I even participated in vandalizing field trials in Britain. Then I changed my mind.

After writing two books on the science of climate change, I decided I could no longer continue taking a pro-science position on global warming and an anti-science position on G.M.O.s.

There is an equivalent level of scientific consensus on both issues, I realized, that climate change is real and genetically modified foods are safe. I could not defend the expert consensus on one issue while opposing it on the other.



For the full commentary, see:

MARK LYNAS. "How I Got Converted to G.M.O. Food." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., APRIL 26, 2015): 5.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date APRIL 24, 2015.)






October 22, 2015

"Bring Prosperity to Billions of People"



(p. B1) If you're feeling down about the world, the book, "Resource Revolution: How to Capture the Biggest Business Opportunity in a Century," is an antidote. Mr. Rogers and Mr. Heck outline how emerging advances -- among them 3-D printing, autonomous vehicles, modular construction systems and home automation -- might in time alter some of the world's largest industries and (p. B7) bring prosperity to billions of people.

They put forward a rigorous argument bolstered by mountains of data and recent case studies. And once you start looking at Silicon Valley their way, your mind reels at the far-reaching potential of the innovations now spreading through society.



For the full commentary, see:

Farhad Manjoo. "STATE OF THE ART; The Future Could Work, if We Let It." The New York Times (Thurs., AUG. 28, 2014): B1 & B7.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date AUG. 27, 2014.)


The book praised in the commentary is:

Heck, Stefan, and Matt Rogers. Resource Revolution: How to Capture the Biggest Business Opportunity in a Century. New York: Melcher Media, 2014.






October 16, 2015

"We Embrace New Technology"



(p. 2D) . . . , the first digital images created by the earliest digital cameras "were terrible," Rockbrook's Chuck Fortina said. "These were real chunky images made by big, clunky cameras."

Viewing those results, some retailers dismissed the new digital technology and clung doggedly to film. But Rockbrook Camera began stocking digital cameras alongside models that used film, Fortina said.

"Film sales were great, but we just knew digital was going to take over," Fortina said. As those cameras and their images improved, the retailer saw a huge opportunity. ''Instead of thinking this is going to kill our business, we were thinking people are going to have to buy all new gear," Fortina said of the switch from analog to digital.

"By 2000, film was over," he said. Companies that didn't refocus their business found themselves struggling or forced to close their doors.

Today, Rockbrook Camera is constantly scouring the Internet, attending trade shows and quizzing customers and employees in search of new technologies, Fortina said. "We embrace new technology," he said.



For the full story, see:

Janice Podsada. "More Ready than Not for Tech Shifts; How 3 Omaha-area businesses altered course and thrived amid technological changes." Omaha World-Herald (SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 27, 2015 ): 1D-2D.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the title "How 3 Omaha-area businesses altered course and thrived amid technological changes.")






October 12, 2015

French Billionaire Entrepreneur Starts Small and Cuts Costs




On Mon., October 13, 2014, Iliad dropped its bid for T-Mobile, after lack of interest from some of the T-Mobile board and from the majority owner, Deutsche Telekom AG.



(p. B1) Iliad wants to improve T-Mobile US's cost structure by applying its own ultraslim cost base, under which it has kept costs to a minimum in everything from IT services to back office to equipment purchases. Iliad estimates it will be able to save about $2 billion annually by cutting out costs such as sending paper bills, and savings on equipment and IT systems, Mr. Niel said.


. . .


(p. B4) . . . before Mr. Niel can execute his American dream, Iliad has to win over T-Mobile US's board, which could prove a formidable challenge.


. . .


He says he is sticking to the same principle that has guided his ascent from a teenage computer programmer in a working class Paris suburb to one of France's richest men.

"I always follow the same idea: Start small and disrupt to create something big," he said.



For the full story, see:

RUTH BENDER. "Will This Billionaire Bring $3-a-Month Phone Plans to U.S.?" The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Aug. 2, 2014): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story says it was updated on Aug. 4, 2014.)






October 8, 2015

Bicycles Emancipated Women



BicycleWomanIn1890s.jpg










"A portrait from the 1890s at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History. Susan B. Anthony said cycling did more to emancipate women than anything else in the world." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.







(p. D1) . . . , Twain promoted the new sport of cycling with characteristic rhubarb tartness. "Get a bicycle," he urged readers. "You will not regret it, if you live."


. . .


The full-bore bicycle fever was brief, and by the early 20th century it had given way to fascination with the automobile. Yet, as a new exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History makes clear, the impact of the bicycle on the nation's industrial, cultural, emotional and even moral landscape has been deep and long lasting.

In addition to air-filled rubber tires, we can thank the bicycle for essential technologies like ball bearings, originally devised to reduce friction in the bicycle's axle and steering column; for wire spokes and wire spinning generally; for differential gears that allow connected wheels to spin at different speeds.

And where would our airplanes, tent poles and lawn furniture be without the metal tubing developed to serve as the bicycle frame? "The hollow steel tube is a great form," said Jim Papadopoulos, an assistant teaching professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at Northeastern University in Boston. "It's tremendously structurally efficient, light and strong, and it came into being for the bicycle."


. . .


(p. D4) Bicycles also gave birth to our national highway system, as cyclists outside major cities grew weary of rutted mud paths and began lobbying for the construction of paved roads. The car connection goes further still: Many of the bicycle repair shops that sprang up to service the wheeling masses were later converted to automobile filling stations, and a number of pioneers in the auto industry, including Henry Ford and Charles Duryea, started out as bicycle mechanics. So, too, did the Wright brothers.

"The pre-story is so important," said Eric S. Hintz, a historian with the Smithsonian's Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation. "You don't get automobiles unless you first have bikes."


. . .


By the mid-1890s, some 300 American companies were churning out well over a million bicycles a year, making the safety bike one of the first mass-produced items in history. Among the most exuberant customers were women, who discovered in the bicycle a sense of freedom they had rarely experienced before.


. . .


Bicycles allowed young men and women to tool around the countryside unsupervised, and relationships between the sexes grew more casual and spontaneous. With a bicycle at her disposal, a young woman could also venture forth in search of work.

Small wonder that Susan B. Anthony said of cycling, "I think it has done more to emancipate women than any one thing in the world."



For the full story, see:

NATALIE ANGIER. "Basics; A Ride to Freedom." The New York Times (Tues., JULY 14, 2015): D1 & D4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JULY 13, 2015, and has the title "Basics; The Bicycle and the Ride to Modern America.")






September 26, 2015

112 Years of Spectacular Progress Started With Wilbur Wright



PlutoYouthfulMountains2015-08-16.jpg
"New close-up images of a region near Pluto's equator reveal a giant surprise: a range of youthful mountains." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. A1) LAUREL, Md. -- The first close-up image of Pluto has revealed mountains as tall as the Rockies, and an absence of craters -- discoveries that, to their delight, baffled scientists working on NASA's New Horizons mission and provided punctuation for a journey nine and a half years in the making.

Only 112 years after the Wright Brothers were barely able to get their airplane off the ground, a machine from Earth has crossed the solar system to a small, icy world three billion miles away. The flyby on Tuesday, when New Horizons buzzed within 7,800 miles of the former ninth planet, came 50 years to the day after NASA's Mariner 4 spacecraft made a similar first pass by Mars.



For the full story, see:

KENNETH CHANG. "Pluto's Portrait From New Horizons: Ice Mountains and No Craters." The New York Times (Thurs., JULY 16, 2015): A1 & A17.

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






September 25, 2015

"If You Get Too Cold, I'll Tax the Heat"



(p. A11) George Harrison knew what he was talking about when he wrote the song "Taxman" for the Beatles: "If you get too cold, I'll tax the heat / If you take a walk, I'll tax your feet." Had the Internet been around in 1966, they might have added: "If you use the Web, I'll tax your tweet."


For the full commentary, see:

OHN THUNE and AJIT PAI. "Taxman, Won't You Please Spare The Internet?; A moratorium on taxing online access has been an unqualified success. Let's make it permanent." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., July 18, 2014): A11.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 17, 2014.)






September 15, 2015

More Danger from Existing Artificial Stupidity than from Fictional Artificial Intelligence



(p. B6) In the kind of artificial intelligence, or A.I., that most people seem to worry about, computers decide people are a bad idea, so they kill them. That is undeniably bad for the human race, but it is a potentially smart move by the computers.

But the real worry, specialists in the field say, is a computer program rapidly overdoing a single task, with no context. A machine that makes paper clips proceeds unfettered, one example goes, and becomes so proficient that overnight we are drowning in paper clips.

In other words, something really dumb happens, at a global scale. As for those "Terminator" robots you tend to see on scary news stories about an A.I. apocalypse, forget it.

"What you should fear is a computer that is competent in one very narrow area, to a bad degree," said Max Tegmark, a professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the president of the Future of Life Institute, a group dedicated to limiting the risks from A.I.

In late June, when a worker in Germany was killed by an assembly line robot, Mr. Tegmark said, "it was an example of a machine being stupid, not doing something mean but treating a person like a piece of metal."


. . .


"These doomsday scenarios confuse the science with remote philosophical problems about the mind and consciousness," Oren Etzioni, chief executive of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, a nonprofit that explores artificial intelligence, said. "If more people learned how to write software, they'd see how literal-minded these overgrown pencils we call computers actually are."

What accounts for the confusion? One big reason is the way computer scientists work. "The term 'A.I.' came about in the 1950s, when people thought machines that think were around the corner," Mr. Etzioni said. "Now we're stuck with it."

It is still a hallmark of the business. Google's advanced A.I. work is at a company it acquired called DeepMind. A pioneering company in the field was called Thinking Machines. Researchers are pursuing something called Deep Learning, another suggestion that we are birthing intelligence.


. . .


DeepMind made a program that mastered simple video games, but it never took the learning from one game into another. The 22 rungs of a neural net it climbs to figure out what is in a picture do not operate much like human image recognition and are still easily defeated.



For the full story, see:

QUENTIN HARDY. "The Real Threat Computers Pose: Artificial Stupidity, Not Intelligence." The New York Times (Mon., JULY 13, 2015): B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JULY 11, 2015, and has the title "The Real Threat Posed by Powerful Computers.")






August 31, 2015

Marie Curie Opposed Patents Because Women Could Not Own Property in France



(p. C6) Ms. Wirtén, a professor at Linköping University in Sweden, pays special attention to the decision not to patent and how it was treated in the founding texts of the Curie legend: Curie's 1923 biography of her husband, "Pierre Curie," and their daughter Eve's 1937 biography of her mother, "Madame Curie." The books each recount a conversation in which husband and wife agree that patenting their radium method would be contrary to the spirit of science.

It is not quite that simple. As Ms. Wirtén points out, the Curies derived a significant portion of their income from Pierre's patents on instruments. Various factors besides beneficence could have affected their decision not to extend this approach to their radium process. Intriguingly, the author suggests that the ineligibility of women to own property under French law might have shaped Curie's perspective. "Because the law excluded her from the status of person upon which these intellectual property rights depend," Ms. Wirtén writes, "the 'property' road was closed to Marie Curie. The persona road was not."



For the full review, see:

EVAN HEPLER-SMITH. "Scientific Saint; After scandals in France, Curie was embraced by American women as an intellectual icon." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., March 21, 2015): C6.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 20, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Wirtén, Eva Hemmungs. Making Marie Curie: Intellectual Property and Celebrity Culture in an Age of Information. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015.






August 26, 2015

Pentagon Seeks Innovation from Private Start-Ups Since "They've Realized that the Old Model Wasn't Working Anymore"



(p. A3) SAN FRANCISCO -- A small group of high-ranking Pentagon officials made a quiet visit to Silicon Valley in December to solicit national security ideas from start-up firms with little or no history of working with the military.

The visit was made as part of an effort to find new ways to maintain a military advantage in an increasingly uncertain world.

In announcing its Defense Innovation Initiative in a speech in California in November, Chuck Hagel, then the defense secretary, mentioned examples of technologies like robotics, unmanned systems, miniaturization and 3-D printing as places to look for "game changing" technologies that would maintain military superiority.

"They've realized that the old model wasn't working anymore," said James Lewis, director of the Strategic Technologies Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "They're really worried about America's capacity to innovate."

There is a precedent for the initiative. Startled by the Soviet launch of the Sputnik satellite in 1957, President Dwight D. Eisenhower created the Advanced Research Projects Agency, or ARPA, at the Pentagon to ensure that the United States would not be blindsided by technological advances.

Now, the Pentagon has decided that the nation needs more than ARPA, renamed the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or Darpa, if it is to find new technologies to maintain American military superiority.


. . .


The Pentagon focused on smaller companies during its December visit; it did not, for example, visit Google. Mr. Welby acknowledged that Silicon Valley start-ups were not likely to be focused on the Pentagon as a customer. The military has captive suppliers and a long and complex sales cycle, and it is perceived as being a small market compared with the hundreds of millions of customers for consumer electronics products.

Mr. Welby has worked for three different Darpa directors, but he said that Pentagon officials now believed they had to look beyond their own advanced technology offices.

"The Darpa culture is about trying to understand high-risk technology," he said. "It's about big leaps." Today, however, the Pentagon needs to break out of what can be seen as a "not invented here" culture, he said.

"We're thinking about what the world is going to look like in 2030 and what tools the department will need in 20 or 30 years," he added.



For the full story, see:

JOHN MARKOFF. "Pentagon Shops in Silicon Valley for Game Changers." The New York Times (Fri., FEB. 27, 2015): A3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 26, 2015.)






August 21, 2015

More Tech Stars Skip College, at Least for a While



(p. B1) The college dropout-turned-entrepreneur is a staple of Silicon Valley mythology. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg all left college.

In their day, those founders were very unusual. But a lot has changed since 2005, when Mr. Zuckerberg left Harvard. The new crop of dropouts has grown up with the Internet and smartphones. The tools to create new technology are more accessible. The cost to start a company has plunged, while the options for raising money have multiplied.

Moreover, the path isn't as lonely.


. . .


Not long ago, dropping out of school to start a company was considered risky. For this generation, it is a badge of honor, evidence of ambition and focus. Very few dropouts become tycoons, but "failure" today often means going back to school or taking a six-figure job at a big tech company.


. . .


(p. B5) There are no hard numbers on the dropout trend, but applicants for the Thiel Fellowship tripled in the most recent year; the fellowship won't disclose numbers.


. . .


It has tapped 82 fellows in the past five years.

"I don't think college is always bad, but our society seems to think college is always good, for everyone, at any cost--and that is what we have to question," says Mr. Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal and an early investor in Facebook.

Of the 43 fellows in the initial classes of 2011 and 2012, 26 didn't return to school and continued to work on startups or independent projects. Five went to work for large tech firms, including a few through acquisitions. The remaining 12 went back to school.

Mr. Thiel says companies started by the fellows have raised $73 million, a record that he says has attracted additional applicants. He says fellows "learned far more than they would have in college."



For the full story, see:

DAISUKE WAKABAYASHI. "College Dropouts Thrive in Tech." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., June 4, 2015): B1 & B10.

(Note: ellipses added. The phrase "the fellowship won't disclose numbers" was in the online, but not the print, version of the article.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date June 3, 2015, and has the title "College Dropouts Thrive in Tech.")






August 20, 2015

The Complementarity of Humans and Robots in Education



(p. 6) Computers and robots are already replacing many workers. What can young people learn now that won't be superseded within their lifetimes by these devices and that will secure them good jobs and solid income over the next 20, 30 or 50 years? In the universities, we are struggling to answer that question.


. . .


Some scholars are trying to discern what kinds of learning have survived technological replacement better than others. Richard J. Murnane and Frank Levy in their book "The New Division of Labor" (Princeton, 2004) studied occupations that expanded during the information revolution of the recent past. They included jobs like service manager at an auto dealership, as opposed to jobs that have declined, like telephone operator.

The successful occupations, by this measure, shared certain characteristics: People who practiced them needed complex communication skills and expert knowledge. Such skills included an ability to convey "not just information but a particular interpretation of information." They said that expert knowledge was broad, deep and practical, allowing the solution of "uncharted problems."


. . .


When I arrived at Yale in 1982, there were no undergraduate courses in finance. I started one in the fall of 1985, and it continues today. Increasingly, I've tried to connect mathematical theory to actual applications in finance.

Since its beginnings, the course has gradually become more robotic: It resembles a real, dynamic, teaching experience, but in execution, much of it is prerecorded, and exercises and examinations are computerized. Students can take it without need of my physical presence. Yale made my course available to the broader public on free online sites: AllLearn in 2002, Open Yale in 2008 and 2011, and now on Coursera.

The process of tweaking and improving the course to fit better in a digital framework has given me time to reflect about what I am doing for my students. I could just retire now and let them watch my lectures and use the rest of the digitized material. But I find myself thinking that I should be doing something more for them.

So I continue to update the course, thinking about how I can integrate its lessons into an "art of living in the world." I have tried to enhance my students' sense that finance should be the art of financing important human activities, of getting people (and robots someday) working together to accomplish things that we really want done.



For the full commentary, see:

ROBERT J. SHILLER. "Economic View; What to Learn in College to Stay One Step Ahead of Computers." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., MAY 24, 2015): 6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date MAY 22, 2015, and has the title "Economic View; What to Learn in College to Stay One Step Ahead of Computers.")


The Levy and Murnane book mentioned above, is:

Levy, Frank, and Richard J. Murnane. The New Division of Labor: How Computers Are Creating the Next Job Market. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004.

Some of the core of the Levy and Murnane book can be found in:

Levy, Frank, and Richard Murnane. "Book Excerpt: The New Division of Labor." Milken Institute Review 6, no. 4 (Dec. 2004): 61-82.






August 15, 2015

Spread of Robots Creates New and Better Human Jobs



(p. A11) The issues at the heart of "Learning by Doing" come into sharp relief when James Bessen visits a retail distribution center near Boston that was featured on "60 Minutes" two years ago. The TV segment, titled "Are Robots Hurting Job Growth?," combined gotcha reporting with vintage movie clips--scary-looking Hollywood robots--to tell a chilling tale of human displacement and runaway job loss.

Mr. Bessen isn't buying it. Although robots at the distribution center have eliminated some jobs, he says, they have created others--for production workers, technicians and managers. The problem at automated workplaces isn't the robots. It's the lack of qualified workers. New jobs "require specialized skills," Mr. Bessen writes, but workers with these skills "are in short supply."

It is a deeply contrarian view. The conventional wisdom about robots and other new workplace technology is that they do more harm than good, destroying jobs and hollowing out the middle class. MIT economists Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee made the case in their best-selling 2014 book, "The Second Machine Age." They describe a future in which software-driven machines will take over not just routine jobs--replacing clerks, cashiers and warehouse workers--but also tasks done by nurses, doctors, lawyers and stock traders. Mr. Bessen sets out to refute the arguments of such techno-pessimists, relying on economic analysis and on a fresh reading of history.



For the full review, see:

TAMAR JACOBY. "BOOKSHELF; Technology Isn't a Job Killer; Many predicted ATMs would eliminate bank tellers, but the number of tellers in the U.S. has risen since the machines were introduced." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., May 21, 2015): A11.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 20, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Bessen, James. Learning by Doing: The Real Connection between Innovation, Wages, and Wealth. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015.






August 14, 2015

Computer Programs "Lack the Flexibility of Human Thinking"



(p. A11) . . . let's not panic. "Superintelligent" machines won't be arriving soon. Computers today are good at narrow tasks carefully engineered by programmers, like balancing checkbooks and landing airplanes, but after five decades of research, they are still weak at anything that looks remotely like genuine human intelligence.

. . .


Even the best computer programs out there lack the flexibility of human thinking. A teenager can pick up a new videogame in an hour; your average computer program still can only do just the single task for which it was designed. (Some new technologies do slightly better, but they still struggle with any task that requires long-term planning.)



For the full commentary, see:

GARY MARCUS. "Artificial Intelligence Isn't a Threat--Yet; Superintelligent machines are still a long way off, but we need to prepare for their future rise." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Dec. 13, 2014): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 11, 2014.)







August 13, 2015

Cultural and Institutional Differences Between Europe and U.S. Keep Europe from Having a Silicon Valley



(p. B7) "They all want a Silicon Valley," Jacob Kirkegaard, a Danish economist and senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, told me this week. "But none of them can match the scale and focus on the new and truly innovative technologies you have in the United States. Europe and the rest of the world are playing catch-up, to the great frustration of policy makers there."

Petra Moser, assistant professor of economics at Stanford and its Europe Center, who was born in Germany, agreed that "Europeans are worried."

"They're trying to recreate Silicon Valley in places like Munich, so far with little success," she said. "The institutional and cultural differences are still too great."


. . .


There is . . . little or no stigma in Silicon Valley to being fired; Steve Jobs himself was forced out of Apple. "American companies allow their employees to leave and try something else," Professor Moser said. "Then, if it works, great, the mother company acquires the start-up. If it doesn't, they hire them back. It's a great system. It allows people to experiment and try things. In Germany, you can't do that. People would hold it against you. They'd see it as disloyal. It's a very different ethic."

Europeans are also much less receptive to the kind of truly disruptive innovation represented by a Google or a Facebook, Mr. Kirkegaard said.

He cited the example of Uber, the ride-hailing service that despite its German-sounding name is a thoroughly American upstart. Uber has been greeted in Europe like the arrival of a virus, and its reception says a lot about the power of incumbent taxi operators.

"But it goes deeper than that," Mr. Kirkegaard said. "New Yorkers don't get all nostalgic about yellow cabs. In London, the black cab is seen as something that makes London what it is. People like it that way. Americans tend to act in a more rational and less emotional way about the goods and services they consume, because it's not tied up with their national and regional identities."


. . .


With its emphasis on early testing and sorting, the educational system in Europe tends to be very rigid. "If you don't do well at age 18, you're out," Professor Moser said. "That cuts out a lot of people who could do better but never get the chance. The person who does best at a test of rote memorization at age 17 may not be innovative at 23." She added that many of Europe's most enterprising students go to the United States to study and end up staying.

She is currently doing research into creativity. "The American education system is much more forgiving," Professor Moser said. "Students can catch up and go on to excel."

Even the vaunted European child-rearing, she believes, is too prescriptive. While she concedes there is as yet no hard scientific evidence to support her thesis, "European children may be better behaved, but American children may end up being more free to explore new things."



For the full story, see:

JAMES B. STEWART. "Common Sense; A Fearless Culture Fuels Tech." The New York Times (Fri., JUNE 19, 2015): B1 & B7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JUNE 18, 2015, and has the title "Common Sense; A Fearless Culture Fuels U.S. Tech Giants.")







August 7, 2015

Steven Johnson Is Advocate of Collaboration in Innovation



(p. A13) Theories of innovation and entrepreneurship have always yo-yoed between two basic ideas. First, that it's all about the single brilliant individual and his eureka moment that changes the world. Second, that it's about networks, collaboration and context. The truth, as in all such philosophical dogfights, is somewhere in between. But that does not stop the bickering. This controversy blew up in a political context during the 2012 presidential election, when President Obama used an ill-chosen set of words ("you didn't build that") to suggest that government and society had a role in creating the setting for entrepreneurs to flourish, and Republicans berated him for denigrating the rugged individualists of American enterprise.

Through a series of elegant books about the history of technological innovation, Steven Johnson has become one of the most persuasive advocates for the role of collaboration in innovation. His latest, "How We Got to Now," accompanies a PBS series on what he calls the "six innovations that made the modern world." The six are detailed in chapters titled "Glass," "Cold," "Sound," "Clean," "Time" and "Light." Mr. Johnson's method is to start with a single innovation and then hopscotch through history to illuminate its vast and often unintended consequences.



For the full review, see:

PHILIP DELVES BROUGHTON. "BOOKSHELF; Unintended Consequences; Gutenberg's printing press sparked a revolution in lens-making, which led to eyeglasses, microscopes and, yes, the selfie." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Sept. 30, 2014): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sept. 29, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'How We Got to Now' by Steven Johnson; Gutenberg's printing press sparked a revolution in lens-making, which led to eyeglasses, microscopes and, yes, the selfie." )


The book under review, is:

Johnson, Steven. How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World. New York: Riverhead Books, 2014.






August 3, 2015

Tesla Cars Are Built on Government Subsidies



(p. A13) Nowhere in Mr. Vance's book, . . . , does the figure $7,500 appear--the direct taxpayer rebate to each U.S. buyer of Mr. Musk's car. You wouldn't know that 10% of all Model S cars have been sold in Norway--though Tesla's own 10-K lists the possible loss of generous Norwegian tax benefits as a substantial risk to the company.

Barely developed in passing is that Tesla likely might not exist without a former State Department official whom Mr. Musk hired to explore "what types of tax credits and rebates Tesla might be able to drum up around its electric vehicles," which eventually would include a $465 million government-backed loan.

And how Tesla came by its ex-Toyota factory in California "for free," via a "string of fortunate turns" that allowed Tesla to float its IPO a few weeks later, is just a thing that happens in Mr. Vance's book, not the full-bore political intrigue it actually was.

The fact is, Mr. Musk has yet to show that Tesla's stock market value (currently $32 billion) is anything but a modest fraction of the discounted value of its expected future subsidies. In 2017, he plans to introduce his Model 3, a $35,000 car for the middle class. He expects to sell hundreds of thousands a year. Somehow we doubt he intends to make it easy for politicians to whip away the $7,500 tax credit just when somebody besides the rich can benefit from it--in which case the annual gift from taxpayers will quickly mount to several billion dollars each year.

Mother Jones, in a long piece about what Mr. Musk owes the taxpayer, suggested the wunderkind could be a "bit more grateful, a bit more humble." Unmentioned was the shaky underpinning of this largess. Even today's politicized climate modeling allows the possibility that climate sensitivity to carbon dioxide is far less than would justify incurring major expense to change the energy infrastructure of the world (and you certainly wouldn't begin with luxury cars). Were this understanding to become widespread, the subliminal hum of government favoritism could overnight become Tesla's biggest liability.



For the full commentary, see:

HOLMAN W. JENKINS, JR. "BUSINESS WORLD; The Savior Elon Musk; Tesla's impresario is right about one thing: Humanity's preservation is a legitimate government interest." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 30, 2015): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 29, 2015.)


The book discussed in the commentary is:

Vance, Ashlee. Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future. New York: Ecco, 2015.


The Mother Jones article discussing government subsidies for Musk's Tesla, is:

Harkinson, Josh. "Free Ride." Mother Jones 38, no. 5 (Sept./Oct. 2013): 20-25.






July 26, 2015

"Nimble" Account of the Creative Destruction of the Music Industry



(p. C1) Stephen Witt's nimble new book, "How Music Got Free," is the richest explanation to date about how the arrival of the MP3 upended almost everything about how music is distributed, consumed and stored. It's a story you may think you know, but Mr. Witt brings fresh reporting to bear, and complicates things in terrific ways.

He pushes past Napster (Sean Fanning, dorm room, lawsuits) and goes deep on the German audio engineers who, drawing on decades of research into how the ear works, spent years developing the MP3 only to almost see it nearly become the Betamax to another group's VHS.


. . .


(p. C6) Even better, he has found the man -- a manager at a CD factory in small-town North Carolina -- who over eight years leaked nearly 2,000 albums before their release, including some of the best-known rap albums of all time. He smuggled most of them out behind an oversized belt buckle before ripping them and putting them online.

Mr. Witt refers to this winsome if somewhat hapless manager, Dell Glover, as "the most fearsome digital pirate of them all."


. . .


Into these two narratives Mr. Witt inserts a third, the story of Doug Morris, who ran the Universal Music Group from 1995 to 2011. At some points you wonder if Mr. Morris has been introduced just so the author can have sick fun with him.

The German inventors and Mr. Glover operate as if they unwittingly have voodoo dolls of this man. Every time they make an advance, and prick the music industry, there's a jump to Mr. Morris for a reaction shot, screaming in his corner office.


. . .


Mr. Witt covers a lot of terrain in "How Music Got Free" without ever becoming bogged down in one place for long. He is knowledgeable about intellectual property issues. In finding his reporting threads, he doesn't miss the big picture: He gives us a loge seat to the entire digital music revolution.

He is especially good on the arrival of iTunes and the iPod.



For the full review, see:

DWIGHT GARNER. "Books of The Times; That Download Has a Back Story." The New York Times (Tues., JUNE 16, 2015): C1 & C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JUNE 15, 2015, and has the title "Books of The Times; Review: In 'How Music Got Free,' Stephen Witt Details an Industry Sea Change.")


The book under review is:

Witt, Stephen. How Music Got Free: The End of an Industry, the Turn of the Century, and the Patient Zero of Piracy. New York: Viking, 2015.






July 25, 2015

Computers Lack Intuition about How to Handle Novel Situations



(p. A29) It seems obvious: The best way to get rid of human error is to get rid of humans.

But that assumption, however fashionable, is itself erroneous. Our desire to liberate ourselves from ourselves is founded on a fallacy. We exaggerate the abilities of computers even as we give our own talents short shrift.


. . .


Human skill has no such constraints. Think of how Capt. Chesley B. Sullenberger III landed that Airbus A320 in the Hudson River after it hit a flock of geese and its engines lost power. Born of deep experience in the real world, such intuition lies beyond calculation. If computers had the ability to be amazed, they'd be amazed by us.


. . .


Computers break down. They have bugs. They get hacked. And when let loose in the world, they face situations that their programmers didn't prepare them for. They work perfectly until they don't.


. . .


We should view computers as our partners, with complementary abilities, not as our replacements.



For the full commentary, see:

NICHOLAS CARR. "Why Robots Will Always Need Us." The New York Times (Weds., MAY 20, 2015): A29.

(Note: ellipses added.)






July 8, 2015

Not Clear If Net Neutrality Is Good for Consumers



(p. B2) Of course, government antitrust and communications policy is supposed to benefit consumers, not any individual company or group of companies. "It's fair to say Netflix has gotten something of a free pass," said Scott Hemphill, visiting professor of antitrust and intellectual property at New York University School of Law. "This open Internet principle that's in ascendance is certainly good for Netflix. It's harder to say it's good for consumers."

. . .


Despite Netflix's arguments that it shouldn't have to pay fees to a broadband provider, that proposition is hardly self-evident. The fees Netflix so fiercely opposes are analogous to those found in many industries, such as credit cards, where both consumers and merchants pay the credit card companies. "It's hard to say if these fees are good or bad for consumers," Professor Hemphill said.



For the full story, see:

JAMES B. STEWART. "Common Sense; Netflix's Invisible Hand In Policy and Mergers." The New York Times (Fri., MAY 29, 2015): B2-B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the date of the online version of the story is MAY 28, 2015, and has the title "Her Majesty's Jihadists" which was also the title used on the cover, but not at the start of the actual article on p. 42, which has the title "Common Sense; How Netflix Keeps Finding Itself on the Same Side as Regulators.")






June 6, 2015

Science Fiction Creates "False Sense of Conflict between Humans and Machines"



(p. R4) "I think the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race," astrophysicist Stephen Hawking told the BBC. Tesla founder Elon Musk called AI "our biggest existential threat." Former Microsoft Chief Executive Bill Gates has voiced his agreement.


. . .


Taking part in the discussion [is] . . .; Guruduth S. Banavar, vice president of cognitive computing at IBM's Thomas J. Watson Research Center; . . .


. . .


WSJ: Does AI pose a threat to humanity?

MR. BANAVAR: Fueled by science-fiction novels and movies, popular treatment of this topic far too often has created a false sense of conflict between humans and machines. "Intelligent machines" tend to be great at tasks that humans are not so good at, such as sifting through vast data. Conversely, machines are pretty bad at things that humans are excellent at, such as common-sense reasoning, asking brilliant questions and thinking out of the box. The combination of human and machine, which we consider the foundation of cognitive computing, is truly revolutionizing how we solve complex problems in every field.


. . .


(p. R5) WSJ: Some experts believe that AI is already taking jobs away from people. Do you agree?


. . .


MR. BANAVAR: From time immemorial, we have built tools to help us do things we can't do. Each generation of tools has made us rethink the nature and types of jobs. Productivity goes up, professions are redefined, new professions are created and some professions become obsolete. Cognitive systems, which can enhance and scale the capabilities of our minds, have the potential to be even more transformative.

The key question will be how to build institutions to quickly train professionals to exploit cognitive systems as their assistants. Once learned, these skills will make every individual a better professional, and this will set a new bar for the nature of expertise.



For the full interview, see:

TED GREENWALD, interviewer. "Does Artificial Intelligence Pose a Threat?" The Wall Street Journal (Mon., May 11, 2015): R4-R5.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed word, added; bold in original online version.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date May 10, 2015.)







May 29, 2015

Studebaker Competed with "Unique Designs and Powerful Engines"



LangeGregWithStudebakerPresident2015-04-25.jpg

"Greg Lange, 53, with his two-tone 1955 Studebaker President, near his home in Edmonds, Wash." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. D4) I've always rooted for underdogs.


. . .


Studebaker wasn't a big Detroit corporation. It was a smaller company out of South Bend, Ind., and had to be highly imaginative to compete with Ford and General Motors. This resulted in unique designs and powerful engines. The one in my President is called a Passmaster (a 259 cubic inch V8); the meaning is obvious.



For the full interview, see:

Greg Lange as told to interviewer A.J. BAIME. "Studebaker: President Still in Office." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., April 8, 2015): D4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date April 7, 2015, and has the title "Studebaker: Still Stands Out After 60 Years." Where the online version differs from the print version, the quoted passage follows the online version.)






May 14, 2015

Automation Anxieties Unjustified



(p. 5B) In 1964, technology anxieties caused President Lyndon Johnson to create a national commission on automation. When it reported in 1966, the unemployment rate had dropped to 3.8 percent.

"Technological shocks have been happening for decades, and ... the U.S. economy has been adapting to them," writes economist Timothy Taylor (whose website recounts the 1960s episode).


. . .


Human contact is wanted or needed in places where it seems obsolete. Logically, ATMs should have decimated bank tellers. In reality, the number of tellers (about 600,000) is slightly above its 1990 level, notes Taylor, citing a study by James Bessen of Boston University law school.



For the full commentary, see:

ROBERT J. SAMUELSON. "Must we fear robots in workplace?" Omaha World-Herald (Mon., March 23, 2015): 5B.

(Note: ellipsis internal to quote, in original; ellipsis between paragraphs, added.)


The article by Bessen mentioned above, is:

Bessen, James. "Toil and Technology." Finance and Development 94, no. 1 (March 2015): 16-19.






April 30, 2015

Hamilton Fostered the Preconditions for Capitalism




(p. 345) In a nation of self-made people, Hamilton became an emblematic figure because he believed that government ought to promote self-fulfillment, self-improvement, and self-reliance. His own life offered an extraordinary object lesson in social mobility, and his unstinting energy illustrated his devout belief in the salutary power of work to develop people's minds and bodies. As treasury secretary, he wanted to make room for entrepreneurs, whom he regarded as the motive force of the economy. Like Franklin, he intuited America's special genius for business: "As to whatever may depend on enterprise, we need not fear to be outdone by any people on earth. It may almost be said that enterprise is our element."

Hamilton did not create America's market economy so much as foster the cultural and legal setting in which it flourished. A capitalist society requires certain preconditions. Among other things, it must establish a rule of law through enforceable contracts; respect private property; create a trustworthy bureaucracy to arbitrate legal disputes; and offer patents and other protections to promote invention. The abysmal failure of the Articles of Confederation to provide such an atmosphere was one of Hamilton's principal motives for promoting the Constitution. "It is known," he wrote, "that the relaxed conduct of the state governments in regard to property and credit was one of the most serious diseases under which the body politic laboured prior to the adoption of our present constitution and was a material cause of that state of public opinion which led to its adoption." He converted the new Constitution into a flexible instrument for creating the legal framework necessary for economic growth. He did this by activating three still amorphous clauses--the necessary-and-proper clause, the general-welfare clause, and the commerce clause--making them the basis for government activism in economics.



Source:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.






April 28, 2015

Creativity Was Permissionless on the Internet Before Obama Made It a Regulated Utility



(p. A15) Critics of President Obama's "net neutrality" plan call it ObamaCare for the Internet.

That's unfair to ObamaCare.

Both ObamaCare and "Obamanet" submit huge industries to complex regulations. Their supporters say the new rules had to be passed before anyone could read them. But at least ObamaCare claimed it would solve long-standing problems. Obamanet promises to fix an Internet that isn't broken.


. . .


Utility regulation was designed to maintain the status quo, and it succeeds. This is why the railroads, Ma Bell and the local water monopoly were never known for innovation. The Internet was different because its technologies, business models and creativity were permissionless.

This week Mr. Obama's bureaucrats will give him the regulated Internet he demands. Unless Congress or the courts block Obamanet, it will be the end of the Internet as we know it.



For the full commentary, see:

L. GORDON CROVITZ. "INFORMATION AGE; From Internet to Obamanet; BlackBerry and AT&T are already making moves that could exploit new 'utility' regulations." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Feb. 23, 2015): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 22, 2015,)






April 24, 2015

Remaining Airline Regulations Increase Fares and Reduce Services



(p. 256) Kenneth Button makes the case for "Really Opening Up the American Skies." "The deregulation of the 1970s, by removing entry quantitative controls, led to a considerable increase in services. It also increased the capability of individuals to access a wider range of destinations from their homes via the hub-and-spoke system of routings that emerged. This pattern has been reversed since 2007. The largest 29 airports in the United States lost 8.8 percent of their scheduled flights between 2007 and 2012, but medium-sized airports lost 26 percent and small airports lost 21.3 percent. . . . In sum, the 1978 Airline Deregulation Act only partially liberalized the U.S. domestic airline market. One important restriction that remains is the lack of domestic competition from foreign carriers. The U.S. air traveler benefited from the country being the first mover in deregulation, and this provided lower fares and consumer-driven service attributes some 15-20 years before they were enjoyed in other markets; the analogous reforms in Europe only fully materialized after 1997. But the world has changed, and so have the demands of consumers and the business models adopted by the airlines. . . . But remaining regulations still limit the amount of competition in the market and, with this, the ability of travelers to enjoy even lower fares and a wider range of services." Regulation, Spring 2014, pp. 40-45 http://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/serials/files/regulation/2014/4/regulation-v37n1-8.pdf.


Source:

Taylor, Timothy. "Recommendations for Further Reading." Journal of Economic Perspectives 28, no. 3 (Summer 2014): 249-56.

(Note: ellipses in original.)


The article quoted by Taylor is:

Button, Kenneth. "Really Opening up the American Skies." Regulation 37, no. 1 (Spring 2014): 40-45.






April 15, 2015

New Evidence on the Antikythera Mechanism




The Antikythera Mechanism was recovered in about 1901 and is believed to date from about 200 BC. Its complicated gear mechanism is believed to have been used to generate calendars or predict astronomical events. The technology never spread to benefit ordinary people. It was forgotten and mechanical gears had to be re-invented.

The Antikythera Mechanism raises a question: how is it that technologies with the potential to benefit humankind can fail to be adopted? This issue of the causes of technology adoption is an important issue for economic growth.



(p. D3) A riddle for the ages may be a small step closer to a solution: Who made the famed Antikythera Mechanism, the astronomical calculator that was raised from an ancient shipwreck near Crete in 1901?


. . .


. . . a new analysis of the dial used to predict eclipses, which is set on the back of the mechanism, provides . . . another clue to one of history's most intriguing puzzles. Christián C. Carman, a science historian at the National University of Quilmes in Argentina, and James Evans, a physicist at the University of Puget Sound in Washington, suggest that the calendar of the mysterious device began in 205 B.C., just seven years after Archimedes died.


. . .


Starting with the ways the device's eclipse patterns fit Babylonian eclipse records, the two scientists used a process of elimination to reach a conclusion that the "epoch date," or starting point, of the Antikythera Mechanism's calendar was 50 years to a century earlier than had been generally believed.


. . .


. . . Archimedes was killed by a Roman soldier in 212 B.C., while the commercial grain ship carrying the mechanism is believed to have sunk sometime between 85 and 60 B.C. The new finding suggests the device may have been old at the time of the shipwreck, but the connection to Archimedes now seems even less likely.

An inscription on a small dial used to date the Olympic Games refers to an athletic competition that was held in Rhodes, according to research by Paul Iversen, a Greek scholar at Case Western Reserve University.

"If we were all taking bets about where it was made, I think I would bet what most people would bet, in Rhodes," said Alexander Jones, a specialist in the history of ancient mathematical sciences at New York University.



For the full story, see:

JOHN MARKOFF. "On the Trail of an Ancient Mystery." The New York Times (Tues., NOV. 25, 2014): D3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 24, 2014.)






April 5, 2015

Railroad Regulation Helped Kill Passenger Service



(p. 1179) By 1970, passenger service was a not only losing money, but had deteriorated to such an extent that it was no more the elegant transportation mode as it once was. No more were the Hollywood stars long distance rail passengers. No more movies like "North by Northwest," which featured the New York Central's Twentieth Century Limited service from New York to Chicago. The book highlights the factors causing the decline of private rail passenger service and the creation of AMTRAK. The authors cite ICC regulation, the growth in alternative modes, which were heavily subsidized, the mix of freight and passenger service on the same lines, and public policy, which favored the airline industry.


. . .

One public policy that government got right is deregulation. This started with the 3R Act, then the 4R Act and then the Staggers Rail Act of 1980, which had a massive impact on the industry. Deregulation culminated in the ICC Elimination Act, in which the ICC was replaced by the Surface Transportation Board--or STB--with substantially diminished regulatory power. Gallamore worked in government when much of this legislation was passed and gives a firsthand account of the debates that took place in Congressional (p. 1180) hearings and the discussions in and out of government on the merits of deregulation.

In the concluding chapter of the over 500-page book, entitled "Decline and Renaissance of American Railroads in the Twentieth Century" the authors provide a summary of the history of the railroads and the lessons for public policy in the future. This chapter is such a great summary, that the reader may be best off starting with it, before reading the book. But don't forget the afterword, which provides the authors' recommendations for future U.S. policies for the railroads. It is a very insightful chapter.


. . .


American Railroads should be on the reading list of economists interested in transportation and logistics, economic historians, government officials, and rail fans who would like to know more about the history of the railroads in the twentieth century, and are interested in understanding the economics of the industry and the problems of government regulation. Gallamore and Meyer, at the end of the book, sum up why it should be read:

This book's authors love railroads because they have a great history, fascinating operations, intriguing technology and untold opportunity for the future, but we also love them because no other enterprises illustrate elegant economic principles quite so well (p. 435).


For the full review, see:

Pagano, Anthony M. "American Railroads: Decline and Renaissance in the Twentieth Century." Journal of Economic Literature 52, no. 4 (Dec. 2014): 1178-80.

(Note: ellipses added.)


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.






April 3, 2015

Chinese Communists Crush Innovative Entrepreneurs by Banning Open Internet



(p. A1) BEIJING -- Jing Yuechen, the founder of an Internet start-up here in the Chinese capital, has no interest in overthrowing the Communist Party. But these days she finds herself cursing the nation's smothering cyberpolice as she tries -- and fails -- to browse photo-sharing websites like Flickr and struggles to stay in touch with the Facebook friends she has made during trips to France, India and Singapore.

Gmail has become almost impossible to use here, and in recent weeks the authorities have gummed up Astrill, the software Ms. Jing and countless others depended on to circumvent the Internet restrictions that Western security analysts refer to as the Great Firewall.

By interfering with Astrill and several other popular virtual private networks, or V.P.N.s, the government has complicated the lives of Chinese astronomers seeking the latest scientific data from abroad, graphic designers shopping for clip art on Shutterstock and students submitting online applications to American universities.

If it was legal to protest and throw rotten eggs on the street, I'd definitely be up for that," Ms. Jing, 25, said.

China has long had some of the world's most onerous Internet restrictions. But until now, the authorities had effectively tolerated the proliferation of V.P.N.s as a lifeline for millions of people, from archaeologists to foreign investors, who rely heavily on less-fettered access to the Internet.

But earlier this week, after a number of V.P.N. companies, including StrongVPN and Golden Frog, complained that the Chi-(p. A6)nese government had disrupted their services with unprecedented sophistication, a senior official for the first time acknowledged its hand in the attacks and implicitly promised more of the same.

The move to disable some of the most widely used V.P.N.s has provoked a torrent of outrage among video artists, entrepreneurs and professors who complain that in its quest for so-called cybersovereignty -- Beijing's euphemism for online filtering -- the Communist Party is stifling the innovation and productivity needed to revive the Chinese economy at a time of slowing growth.

"I need to stay tuned into the rest of the world," said Henry Yang, 25, the international news editor of a state-owned media company who uses Facebook to follow American broadcasters. "I feel like we're like frogs being slowly boiled in a pot."


. . .


The vast majority of Chinese Internet users, especially those not fluent in English and other foreign languages, have little interest in vaulting the digital firewall. But those who require access to an unfiltered Internet are the very people Beijing has been counting on to transform the nation's low-end manufacturing economy into one fueled by entrepreneurial innovation.


. . .


Avery Goldstein, a professor of contemporary Chinese studies at the University of Pennsylvania, said the growing online constraints would not only dissuade expatriates from relocating here, but could also compel ambitious young Chinese studying abroad to look elsewhere for jobs.

"If they aren't able to get the information to do their jobs, the best of the best might simply decide not to go home," he said.

For those who have already returned to China and who crave membership in an increasingly globalized world, the prospect of making do with a circumscribed Internet is dispiriting. Coupled with the unrelenting air pollution and the crackdown on political dissent, a number of Chinese said the blocking of V.P.N.s could push them over the edge.

"It's as if we're shutting down half our brains," said Chin-Chin Wu, an artist who spent almost a decade in Paris and who promotes her work online. "I think that the day that information from the outside world becomes completely inaccessible in China, a lot of people will choose to leave."



For the full story, see:

ANDREW JACOBS. "China Further Tightens Grip on the Internet." The New York Times (Fri., JAN. 30, 2015): A1 & A12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 29, 2015.)






April 1, 2015

Is There "a Fortune to Be Made" in Selling to the Poor?



(p. B1) For years, multinational companies had little interest in lower-end consumers, figuring no money was to be made. Now, they are increasingly attractive to all types of industries, from consumer product makers to technology businesses. Google just announced plans to sell a stripped-down, cheaper version of its Android phone in India.

A decade ago, C. K. Prahalad, a University of Michigan business professor, in his book "The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid," detailed the potential, contending that such households were every bit as discriminating and aspirational as their counterparts at the other end of the income spectrum.

Mr. Prahalad, now dead, estimated there were four billion such consumers in a market worth $13 trillion. "People were saying, 'There's a fortune to be made. Let's go,' " said Mark B. Milstein, director of the Cen-(p. B6)ter for Sustainable Global Enterprise at Cornell University.

But many of the first efforts failed. "There was not much thinking about what those consumers needed or wanted or how they might be different from consumers with more disposable income," Mr. Milstein said.



For the full story, see:

STEPHANIE STROM. "Billions of Buyers." The New York Times (Thurs., Sept. 18, 2014): B1 & B6.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 17, 2014, and has the title "Multinational Companies Court Lower-Income Consumers.")


The book highlighted in the passage quoted is:

Prahalad, C. K. Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid Eradicating Poverty through Profits. Revised ed. Philadelphia, PA: Wharton School Publishing, 2009.






March 19, 2015

Over-Regulation Could Stifle Drones' Potential to Revolutionize Our Lives



(p. A15) In the early days of the automobile, Vermont enacted a law requiring someone to walk one-eighth of a mile in front of every car and wave a red flag to warn pedestrians. Iowa directed all motorists to call ahead to warn each town on their route that they were coming. Some jurisdictions set speed limits so low that drivers who obeyed them risked having their engines stall.

Those laws seem humorously quaint, but if they had been widely adopted and enforced, the automobile revolution might have been shut down and its manifold benefits denied to millions. Today over-regulation could stifle the development of drones, which have the potential to revolutionize many parts of the economy and our everyday lives.

To cite a few examples: Amazon hopes to launch Prime Air, which would use drones to deliver packages in less than 30 minutes after an order is placed. Texas Equusearch, which organizes missing-person recovery efforts, can replace the labor of 100 volunteers with one drone. Clayco Inc., a construction firm, intends to use drones for aerial imaging of construction projects--replacing either helicopters, which burn fossil fuels and can be dangerous to those below, or construction workers, who risk serious injury through falls when they must climb to reach high, hard-to-reach places to take photos.



For the full commentary, see:

JOSEPH R. PALMORE and CHRISTOPHER J. CARR. "Overregulated Drones Struggle for Take-Off; The FAA has been slow and stuck in the past--precisely what the technology is not." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Feb. 23, 2015): A15.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 22, 2015,)






March 18, 2015

Technology Getting Bum Rap for Job Woes




The job market has been anemic in a variety of ways, for several years. Some, as below, want to pin this on the advance of technology. I argue, to the contrary, that it is mainly due to our discouraging start-ups by bad policies (such as over-regulating and over-taxing). Start-ups, as Haltiwanger and his colleagues have been showing, are the main source of new jobs.



(p. A1) Lawrence H. Summers, the former Treasury secretary, recently said that he no longer believed that automation would always create new jobs. "This isn't some hypothetical future possibility," he said. "This is something that's emerging before us right now."

Erik Brynjolfsson, an economist at M.I.T., said, "This is the biggest challenge of our society for the next decade."

Mr. Brynjolfsson and other experts say they believe that society has a chance to meet the challenge in ways that will allow technology to be mostly a positive force. In addition to making some jobs obsolete, new technologies have also long complemented people's skills and enabled them (p. A3) to be more productive -- as the Internet and word processing have for office workers or robotic surgery has for surgeons.

More productive workers, in turn, earn more money and produce goods and services that improve lives.

"It is literally the story of the economic development of the world over the last 200 years," said Marc Andreessen, a venture capitalist and an inventor of the web browser. "Just as most of us today have jobs that weren't even invented 100 years ago, the same will be true 100 years from now."


. . .


There are certain human skills machines will probably never replicate, like common sense, adaptability and creativity, said David Autor, an economist at M.I.T. Even jobs that become automated often require human involvement, like doctors on standby to assist the automated anesthesiologist, called Sedasys.


. . .


Whether experts lean toward the more pessimistic view of new technology or the most optimistic one, many agree that the uncertainty is vast. Not even the people who spend their days making and studying new technology say they understand the economic and societal effects of the new digital revolution.

When the University of Chicago asked a panel of leading economists about automation, 76 percent agreed that it had not historically decreased employment. But when asked about the more recent past, they were less sanguine. About 33 percent said technology was a central reason that median wages had been stagnant over the past decade, 20 percent said it was not and 29 percent were unsure.

Perhaps the most worrisome development is how poorly the job market is already functioning for many workers. More than 16 percent of men between the ages of 25 and 54 are not working, up from 5 percent in the late 1960s; 30 percent of women in this age group are not working, up from 25 percent in the late 1990s. For those who are working, wage growth has been weak, while corporate profits have surged.



For the full story, see:

Claire Cain Miller. "Rise of Robot Work Force Stokes Human Fears." The New York Times (Tues., DEC. 16, 2014): A1 & A3.

(Note: ellipses are added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 15, 2014, and has the title "As Robots Grow Smarter, American Workers Struggle to Keep Up.")


A relevant Haltiwanger paper is:

Haltiwanger, John C., Ron S. Jarmin, and Javier Miranda. "Who Creates Jobs? Small Vs. Large Vs. Young." Review of Economics and Statistics 95, no. 2 (May 2013): 347-61.






March 8, 2015

Progress Depends on Removing Barriers to Innovation




In the quotation below, Bill Gates is referring to the late, and way-under-appreciated, economist Julian Simon.



(p. A3) ". . . Simon's view was that humans would have to change to innovate," Mr. Gates said. Innovation, in other words, is not preordained. Indeed, it's happened much more in some societies than in others. And it has happened, Mr. Gates was arguing, because people and institutions took steps to remove the barriers to progress.


. . .


. . . , much of the world is enjoying one of history's most rapid increases in prosperity. Life expectancy has risen more than six years just since 1990. The world, to quote the title of a book by the economist Charles Kenny, is "Getting Better." As Mr. Gates says: "The world is actually improving a lot. We're trying to deliver both the good news on the progress and the possibility to do more."



For the full commentary, see:

David Leonhardt. "Africa's Economy Is Rising, and Focus Turns to Food." The New York Times (Thurs., JAN. 22, 2015): A3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the title "Africa's Economy Is Rising. Now What Happens to Its Food?")


The book mentioned by Charles Kenny is:

Kenny, Charles. Getting Better: Why Global Development Is Succeeding--and How We Can Improve the World Even More. Philadelphia, PA: Basic Books, 2011.


One of the great books by Julian Simon is:

Moore, Stephen, and Julian L. Simon. It's Getting Better All the Time: 100 Greatest Trends of the Last 100 Years. Washington, D.C.: Cato Institute, 2000.






February 17, 2015

Congress Appropriates Funds to Test Concussion Theory of Rain



(p. 190) the first century A.D., when the Greek moralist Plutarch came up with the notion that rain followed military battles. Napoleon believed as much and fired cannons and guns at the sky to muddy up the ground between him and his attackers. Civil War veterans who wallowed in cold slop believed that ceaseless, close-range artillery fire had opened up the skies. In the late 1890s, as the first nesters started to dig their toeholds on the dry side of the one hundredth meridian, Congress had appropriated money to test the concussion theory in Texas. The tests were done by a man named Dyrenforth. He tried mightily, with government auditors looking over (p. 191) his shoulder, but Dyrenforth could not force a drop from the hot skies of Texas. From then on, he was called "Dry-Henceforth."

Government-sponsored failure didn't stop others from trying. A man who called himself "the moisture accelerator," Charles M. Hatfield, roamed the plains around the turn of the century. A Colonel Sanders of rainmaking, Hatfield had a secret mixture of ingredients that could be sent to the sky by machine. In the age before the widespread use of the telephone, it was hard to catch up with the moisture accelerator after he had fleeced a town and moved on.



Source:

Egan, Timothy. The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006.






February 16, 2015

Smart Phones Bring Power to the Patient



(p. A11) We instinctively reach for our smartphones when we need to take pictures, get directions, deposit checks or reserve a table. Eric Topol, a cardiologist and digital pioneer, thinks that they are ready to perform at least one more task: revolutionize health care. In "The Patient Will See You Now," he argues that smartphones will democratize medicine by bringing data and control directly to the people.

The power of doctors, says Dr. Topol, "can be likened to that of religious leaders and nobility" in centuries past, when knowledge and authority belonged to a small elite. He notes that we've never seen "a discrete challenge to the medical profession" akin to Luther 's challenge to the Roman Catholic Church or democracy's challenge to monarchy and despotism. "But we've not had the platform or landscape for that to be accomplished. Until now." Smartphones, he says, enable a range of medical applications to move from the hospital to the home, and they shift medicine's locus of control from doctor to patient.



For the full review, see:

DAVID A. SHAYWITZ. "BOOKSHELF; Doctor Android; In the same way that Luther challenged the Catholic Church, smartphones are poised to upend the medical profession." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Jan. 13, 2015): A11.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 12, 2015.)


The book under review is:

Topol, Eric. The Patient Will See You Now: The Future of Medicine Is in Your Hands. New York: Basic Books, 2015.






February 11, 2015

Ways Technology May Decrease Inequality



(p. 7) As the previous generation retires from the work force, many more people will have grown up with intimate knowledge of computers. And over time, it may become easier to work with computers just by talking to them. As computer-human interfaces become simpler and easier to manage, that may raise the relative return to less-skilled labor.

The future may also extend a growing category of employment, namely workers who team up with smart robots that require human assistance. Perhaps a smart robot will perform some of the current functions of a factory worker, while the human companion will do what the robot cannot, such as deal with a system breakdown or call a supervisor. Such jobs would require versatility and flexible reasoning, a bit like some of the old manufacturing jobs, but not necessarily a lot of high-powered technical training, again because of the greater ease of the human-computer interface. That too could raise the returns to many relatively unskilled workers.



For the full commentary, see:

TYLER COWEN "TheUpshot; Economic View; The Technological Fix to Inequality." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., DEC. 7, 2014): 7.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date DEC. 6, 2014, and has the title "TheUpshot; Economic View; How Technology Could Help Fight Income Inequality." )






February 9, 2015

The "Miracle Machines" of Farming



(p. 75) Nobody had washing machines, vacuum cleaners, or incandescent light bulbs. But the farmers did have their miracle machines. In fifteen years, the Lucas family had gone from a walking plow pulled along behind a mule, to a riding plow, in which horses carried the blade through the soil, to a fine-tuned internal combustion plow.

"Machinery is the new Messiah," said Henry Ford, and though that sounded blasphemous to a devout sodbuster, there was something to it. Every ten seconds a new car came off Ford's factory line, and some of them were now parked next to dugouts in No Man's Land.



Source:

Egan, Timothy. The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006.






January 22, 2015

As with Airplanes, Lives Must Be Risked to Achieve Routine Safety in Spaceships



(p. A21) SEATTLE -- ONE clear winter day in 1909, in Hampshire, England, a young man named Geoffrey de Havilland took off in a twin-propeller motorized flying machine of his own design, built of wood, piano wire and stiff linen hand-stitched by his wife. The launch was flawless, and soon he had an exhilarating sensation of climbing almost straight upward toward the brilliant blue sky. But he soon realized he was in terrible trouble.

The angle of ascent was unsustainable, and moments later de Havilland's experimental plane crashed, breaking apart into a tangled mass of shards, splinters and torn fabric, lethal detritus that could easily have killed him even if the impact of smashing into the ground did not. Somehow, he survived and Sir Geoffrey -- he was ultimately knighted as one of the world's great aviation pioneers -- went on to build an astonishing array of military and civilian aircraft, including the world's first jet airliner, the de Havilland Comet.

I thought immediately of de Havilland on Friday when I heard that Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo, a rocket-powered vehicle designed to take well-heeled tourists to the edge of space, had crashed on a flight over the Mojave Desert, killing one test pilot and seriously injuring the other.


. . .


Certainly the Wright brothers and others like de Havilland were involved in what we now view as an epic quest, but many experts of the day were certain that flight, however interesting, was destined to be not much more than a rich man's hobby with no practical value.

"The public has greatly over-estimated the possibilities of the aeroplane, imagining that in another generation they will be able to fly over to London in a day," said a Harvard expert in 1908. "This is manifestly impossible." Two other professors patiently explained that while laymen might think that "because a machine will carry two people another may be constructed that will carry a dozen," in fact "those who make this contention do not understand the theory of weight sustentation in the air."


. . .


There will be tragedies like the crash of SpaceShipTwo and nonlethal setbacks such as the fiery explosion, also last week, of a remote-controlled rocket intended for a resupply mission to the International Space Station. There will be debates about how to improve regulation without stifling innovation. Some will say private industry can't do the job -- though it's not as if the NASA-sponsored Apollo or space shuttle missions went off without a hitch (far from it, sadly).

But at the heart of the enterprise there will always be obsessives like Sir Geoffrey, who forged ahead with his life's work of building airplanes despite his own crash and, incredibly, the deaths of two of his three sons while piloting de Havilland aircraft, one in an attempt to break the sound barrier. Getting to routine safety aloft claimed many lives along the way, and a hundred years from now people will agree that in that regard, at least, spaceships are no different from airplanes.



For the full commentary, see:

SAM HOWE VERHOVEK. "Not a Flight of Fancy." The New York Times (Tues., NOV. 4, 2014): A21.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date NOV. 3, 2014.)






January 19, 2015

Leading Computability Expert Says Humans Can Do What Computers Cannot



(p. B4) What does Turing's research tell us?

"There is some scientific basis for the view that humans are doing something that a machine isn't doing--and that we don't even want our machine to do," says S. Barry Cooper, a mathematician at Leeds and the foremost scholar of Turing's work.

The math behind this is deep, but here's the short version: Humans seem to be able to decide the validity of statements that should stump us, were we strictly computers as Turing described them. And since all modern computers are of the sort Turing described, well, it seems that we've won the race against the machines before it's even begun.


. . .


The future of technology isn't about replacing humans with machines, says Prof. Cooper--it's about figuring out the most productive way for the two to collaborate. In a real and inescapable way, our machines need us just as much as we need them.



For the full commentary, see:

Mims, Christopher. "KEYWORDS; Why Humans Needn't Fear the Machines All Around Us; Turing's Heirs Realize a Basic Truth: The Machines We Create Are Not, Indeed Cannot Be, Replacements for Humans." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., DEC. 1, 2014): B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Nov. 30, 2014, and has the title "KEYWORDS; Why We Needn't Fear the Machines; A Basic Truth: Computers Can't Be Replacements for Humans.")



One of the major books by the Turing and computability expert quoted in the passages above, is:

Cooper, S. Barry. Computability Theory, Chapman Hall/CRC Mathematics Series. Boca Raton, Florida: Chapman and Hall/CRC Mathematics, 2003.






January 14, 2015

Bezos Devices Aim to Create a Virtuous Cycle 'Flywheel'



(p. B1) Amazon now makes four different kinds of devices. There are dedicated e-readers, multipurpose tablets and, starting this year, a TV streaming device and a smartphone, the Fire Phone. Just this week, Amazon introduced another streaming machine, the Fire TV Stick, a $39 gadget that is the size of a USB stick and promises to turn your television into an Amazon-powered video service.


. . .


(p. B9) What is Amazon's endgame with all these devices? Mr. Bezos has always said that his mission, with hardware, is to delight users with devices that are priced fairly. The devices also contribute to Mr. Bezos's famous "flywheel," the virtuous cycle by which greater customer satisfaction leads to more sellers in his store, which leads to more products, greater efficiencies, lower prices and, in turn, more customers.

"Everything is about getting that flywheel spinning, and it isn't necessarily about building a big and successful tablet business of their own," said Benedict Evans, an analyst who works at the investment firm Andreessen Horowitz and has studied Amazon closely. "Whether they actually drive meaningful commerce isn't entirely clear, but Amazon is rigorously focused on data, so if they're doing it, you can trust that there must be data that justifies it."

And if this year's devices don't take off, you can bet that Mr. Bezos will try a slightly different tack next year.



For the full commentary, see:

Farhad Manjoo. "STATE OF THE ART; Amazon's Grand Design for Devices." The New York Times (Thurs., OCT. 30, 2014): B1 & B9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date OCT. 29, 2014, and has the title "STATE OF THE ART; Amazon's Grand Design in Devices.")


Bezos's enthusiasm for Jim Collins's "flywheel" idea is discussed in:

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






January 7, 2015

Pentagon Bureaucracy "Hindered Progress" on Drones



(p. A13) Compared with, say, a B-2 Bomber, drones are simple things. An empty B-2 weighs 158,000 pounds. The largest version of the Predator--the unmanned aerial vehicle now playing a critical role in every theater where the American military is engaged--weighs just under 5,000. Yet these small aircraft are revolutionizing warfare. Given the simplicity of drones, why did it take so long to put them into operation?


. . .


The most alarming take-away from Mr. Whittle's history is the persistent opposition of officials in the Pentagon who, for bureaucratic reasons, hindered progress at every step of the way.

A case in point: Two months after 9/11, the Predator was employed to incinerate one of al Qaeda's senior operatives, Mohammed Atef. The same blast also incinerated--metaphorically--a study released two weeks earlier by the Pentagon's office of operational testing and evaluation. The study had declared Predator "not operationally effective or suitable" for combat. If one seeks to understand why the drone revolution was late in coming--too late to help avert 9/11--the hidebound mentality behind that Pentagon document is one place to start.



For the full review, see:

Gabriel Schoenfeld. "BOOKSHELF; Building Birds of Prey; Red tape at the Pentagon prevented the development of a drone that could have helped avert the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Sept. 16, 2014): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sept. 15, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Predator' by Richard Whittle; Red tape at the Pentagon prevented the development of a drone that could have helped avert the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.")


The book under review is:

Whittle, Richard. Predator: The Secret Origins of the Drone Revolution. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Co., 2014.






January 6, 2015

Netflix Proved TV Programs Can Be Delivered on Web



(p. B1) Netflix pointed a way forward by not only establishing that programming could be reliably delivered over the web, but showing that consumers were more than ready to make the leap. The reaction of the incumbents has been fascinating to behold.

As a reporter, I watched as newspapers, books and music all got hammered after refusing to acknowledge new competition and new consumption habits. They fortified their defenses, doubled down on legacy approaches and covered their eyes, hoping the barbarians would recede. That didn't end up being a good idea.

Television, partly because its files are so much larger and tougher to download, was insulated for a time, and had the benefit of having seen what happens when you sit still -- you get run over.


. . .


For any legacy business under threat of disruption, the challenge is to get from one room -- the one with the tried and true profitable approach -- to another, (p. B5) where consumers are headed and innovators are setting up shop. To get there, you have to enter a long, dark hallway, a scary place.



For the full commentary, see:

David Carr. "The Stream Finally Cracks the Dam of Cable TV." The New York Times (Mon., OCT. 20, 2014): B1 & B5.

(Note: bolded words, and last ellipsis, in original; other ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date OCT. 19, 2014.)






January 2, 2015

Somewhere in a Garage Is the Next Google



(p. B6) . . . Monday [Oct. 13, 2014] Eric Schmidt, Google's executive chairman used a speech in Berlin to talk about Amazon's success in search, how Facebook crushed Google on social networking and his conviction that somewhere in the world there is a garage-based company that will take out Google.


. . .


Here are some excerpts from Mr. Schmidt's speech:


. . .


THE NEXT GOOGLE: "But more important, someone, somewhere in a garage is gunning for us. I know, because not long ago we were in that garage. ... The next Google won't do what Google does, just as Google didn't do what AOL did."



For the full story, see:

CONOR DOUGHERTY. "Google Chairman on Competition." The New York Times (Mon., OCT. 20, 2014): B6.

(Note: bolded words, and last ellipsis, in original; other ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 14, 2014, and has the title "Google Executive Chairman: Amazon Is a Lovely Place to Shop and Search." There are minor differences between the print and online versions. In the passages quoted above, where the two differ, I follow the print version.)






January 1, 2015

FAA Requires Drones to Carry Onboard Manuals



(p. B1) BERLIN--In four years, Service-drone.de GmbH has emerged as a promising player here in the rapidly expanding commercial-drone industry. The 20-employee startup has sold more than 400 unmanned aircraft to private-sector companies and now is pitching its fourth-generation device.

Over the same period, Seattle-based Applewhite Aero has struggled to get permission from the Federal Aviation Administration just to fly its drones, which are designed for crop monitoring. The company, founded the same year as Service-drone, has test-flown only one of its four aircraft, and is now moving some operations to Canada, where getting flight clearance is easier.

"We had to petition the FAA to not carry the aircraft manual onboard," said Applewhite founder Paul Applewhite. "I mean, who's supposed to read it?" Mr. Applewhite, like many of his U.S. peers, fears the drone industry "is moving past the U.S., and we're just getting left behind."



For the full story, see:

JACK NICAS. "U.S. Rules Clips Drone Makers' Wings." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Oct. 6, 2014): B1 & B4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Oct. 5, 2014, and has the title "Regulation Clips Wings of U.S. Drone Makers.")






December 25, 2014

U.S. Patents and Start-Ups Fall When We Exclude Tech Immigrants



(p. A19) The process of bringing skilled immigrants to the U.S. via H-1B visas and putting them on the path to eventual citizenship has been a political football for at least a decade. It has long been bad news for those immigrants trapped in this callous process. Now the U.S. economy is beginning to suffer, too.

Every year, tens of thousands of disappointed tech workers and other professionals give up while waiting for a resident visa or green card, and go home--having learned enough to start companies that compete with their former U.S. employers. The recent historic success of China's Alibaba IPO is a reminder that a new breed of companies is being founded, and important innovation taking place, in other parts of the world. More than a quarter of all patents filed today in the U.S. bear the name of at least one foreign national residing here.

The U.S. no longer has a monopoly on great startups. In the past, the best and brightest people would come to the U.S., but now they are staying home. In Silicon Valley, according to a 2012 survey by Duke and Stanford Universities and the University of California at Berkeley, the percentage of new companies started by foreign-born entrepreneurs has begun to slide for the first time--down to 43.9% during 2006-12, from 52.4% during 1995-2005.



For the full commentary, see:

MICHAEL S. MALONE. "OPINION; The Self-Inflicted U.S. Brain Drain; Up to 1.5 million skilled workers are stuck in immigration limbo. Many give up and go home." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., OCT. 16, 2014): A19.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date OCT. 15, 2014.)


The 2012 survey is discussed further in:

Wadhwa, Vivek, AnnaLee Saxenian, and F. Daniel Siciliano. "Then and Now: America's New Immigrant Entrepreneurs, Part VII." Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, October 2012.


An in-depth discussion of the issues raised by Malone can be found in:

Wadhwa, Vivek. The Immigrant Exodus: Why America Is Losing the Global Race to Capture Entrepreneurial Talent. pb ed. Philadelphia, PA: Wharton Digital Press, 2012.






December 24, 2014

How Creative Destruction Reuses Capital



(p. B1) The Internet is moving to a shopping center near you.

In Fort Wayne, Ind., a vacated Target store is about to be home to rows of computer servers, network routers and Ethernet cables courtesy of a local data-center operator. In Jackson, Miss., a former McRae's department store will get the same treatment next year. And one quadrant of the Marley Station Mall south of Baltimore is already occupied by a data-center company that last year offered to buy out the rest of the building.

As America's retailers struggle to keep up with online shopping, the Internet is starting to settle into some of the very spaces where brick-and-mortar customers used to shop.



For the full story, see:

DREW FITZGERALD and PAUL ZIOBRO. "This Used to Be a Shopping Mall." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., NOV. 4, 2014): B1 & B6.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 3, 2014, and has the title "Malls Fill Vacant Stores With Server Rooms.")






December 22, 2014

Charismatic Prophets of Technological and Organizational Innovation



(p. C7) Walter Isaacson's last book was the best-selling biography of Steve Jobs --the charismatic business genius of Apple Computer and one of the beatified icons of modern technology and entrepreneurship. Mr. Isaacson's fine new book, "The Innovators," is a serial biography of the large number of ingenious scientists and engineers who, you might say, led up to Jobs and his Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak --"forerunners" who, over the past century or so, produced the transistor, the microchip and microprocessor, the programmable computer and its software, the personal computer, and the graphic interface.


. . .


Mr. Isaacson's heart is with the engineers: the wizards of coding, the artists in electrons, silicon, copper, networks and mice. But "The Innovators" also gives space to the revolutionary work done with men as well as mice: experiments in the organizational forms in which creativity might be encouraged and expressed; in the aesthetic design of personal computers, phones and graphical fonts; in predicting and creating what consumers did not yet know they wanted; and in the advertising and marketing campaigns that make them want those things. Not the least of the revolutionaries' inventions was their own role as our culture's charismatic prophets, uniquely positioned to pronounce on which way history was going and then to assemble the capital, the motivated workers and the cheering audiences that helped them make it go that way.



For the full review, see:

ALEXANDRA KIMBALL. "The Best Way to Predict the Future." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 4, 2014): C9.

(Note: ellipsis added. The first word of the title in the print version was "They." Above, I have corrected the typo.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 3, 2014, and has the title "Book Review: 'The Innovators' by Walter Isaacson.")


The book under review is:

Isaacson, Walter. The Innovators: How a Group of Inventors, Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014.






December 18, 2014

The Washing Machine Is a Great Bulwark of Women's Liberation



(p. C9) If the past is foreign country because they do things differently there, we're lucky to have such a knowledgeable cicerone as Ruth Goodman.


. . .


"I like to put time and effort into studying the objects and tools that people made and used, and I like to try methods and approaches out for myself," she writes in "How to Be a Victorian." This sounds straightforward enough but hardly hints at the leaps of imaginative empathy the author is so good at: When she visits a museum to examine a Victorian farm worker's wool coat, for example, she sees both the husband "who sweated and left stains on his clothes, who physically felt the cold" and the wife who "spent hours carefully and neatly sewing up the tear."

Ms. Goodman observes that the wife's technique for repair matches one taught in working-class textbooks, a fact that raises questions in her mind. "How widespread was such needlework education, and was it likely to have been women who carried out such repairs?" she wonders. "If it takes me over an hour to do the work, would my Victorian forebears have been quicker? When would they have fitted such a chore into their day?" That little rip in the man's coat, it turns out, is like a tiny window into "the great sweeps of political and economic life" that in turn "bring us back to the personal." Trade disruptions in textiles during the American Civil War, for instance, "pushed up the price of the labourer's coat, making that repair more necessary."


. . .


Many, many things about daily life are far better now: "My own historical laundry experiences have led me to see the powered washing machine as one of the great bulwarks of women's liberation, an invention that can sit alongside contraception and the vote."



For the full review, see:

ALEXANDRA KIMBALL. "Living Like a Queen; You might get used to using soot to brush your teeth. But steel corsets? Never." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 4, 2014): C9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 3, 2014, and has the title "Book Review: 'How to Be a Victorian" by Ruth Goodman; You might get used to using soot to brush your teeth. But steel corsets? Never.")


The book under review is:

Goodman, Ruth. How to Be a Victorian: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Victorian Life. New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2014.






December 17, 2014

Most Venture Capital Firms Do Not Back "Ambitious, Long-Shot Projects"



(p. B4) Successful venture capitalism is about managing risk, so partners at most VC firms invest in businesses they think will become viable, or at least worthy of an acquisition, in the shortest time possible.

That doesn't leave much appetite among VCs for startups working on ambitious, long-shot projects, the sort that require basic research, and that's a shame.



For the full commentary, see:

CHRISTOPHER MIMS. "KEYWORDS; Our Last Great Hope: Venture Capital." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Oct. 21, 2014): B1 & B4.

(Note: italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Oct. 20, 2014, and the title "KEYWORDS; Humanity's Last Great Hope: Venture Capitalists.")






December 14, 2014

"What Valuable Company Is Nobody Building?"



(p. A15) Peter Thiel is larger than life even for a Silicon Valley billionaire. He co-founded PayPal, was the first investor in Facebook , and funded LinkedIn, Spotify, SpaceX and Airbnb. Now he has written a much-needed explanation of the information economy, masquerading as a breezy how-to book for entrepreneurs. "Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future" is based on lectures Mr. Thiel gave at Stanford.

He hopes more entrepreneurs will focus on big ideas for health, energy and transportation; his venture firm's tag line is "They promised us flying cars and all we got was 140 characters," a reference to Twitter. His explanation of innovation is also a primer on how free markets work. He encourages entrepreneurs to ask: "What valuable company is nobody building?"



For the full commentary, see:

L. GORDON CROVITZ. "INFORMATION AGE; Three Cheers for 'Creative Monopolies'." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Oct. 13, 2014): A15.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Oct. 12, 2014.)


The book praised in the passage quoted above is:

Thiel, Peter, and Blake Masters. Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future. New York: Crown Business, 2014.






December 1, 2014

Serendipitous Discovery of CorningWare



(p. A15) S. Donald Stookey, a scientist with Corning Glass Works who in the 1950s accidentally discovered a remarkably strong material that could be used not just to make the nose cone of a missile but also to contain a casserole in both a refrigerator and hot oven -- its durable culinary incarnation was called CorningWare -- died on Tuesday [November 4, 2014] in Rochester.


. . .


Dr. Stookey had not planned to invent it. Experimenting at Corning one day in 1953, he put photosensitive glass into a furnace, intending to heat it to 600 degrees.

"When I came back, the temperature gauge was stuck on 900 degrees, and I thought I had ruined the furnace," he said in an interview several years ago. "When I opened the door to the furnace, I saw the glass was intact and had turned a milky white. I grabbed some tongs to get it out as fast as I could, but the glass slipped out of the tongs and fell to the floor. The thing bounced and didn't break. It sounded like steel hitting the floor."



For the full obituary, see:

WILLIAM YARDLEY. "S. Donald Stookey, Scientist, Dies at 99; Among His Inventions Was CorningWare." The New York Times (Sat., NOV. 8, 2014): A15.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date NOV. 6, 2014.)






November 30, 2014

Esther Dyson Sees a Lot of Silicon Valley as Just Motivated to Make Money



(p. C11) The U.S. Commerce Department recently said that it plans to relinquish its oversight of Icann, handing that task to an international body of some kind. The details are still being worked out, but Ms. Dyson hopes that governments won't be the new regulators. . . .

For now, she thinks there are many Silicon Valley Internet companies with inflated market values. "There is the desire to make money that motivates a lot of that in Silicon Valley, and yes, I think it's totally a bubble," she says. "It's not like the last bubble in that there are a lot of real companies there [now], but there are a lot of unreal companies and...many of them will disappear." She thinks too many people are starting similar companies. "You have people being CEOs of teeny little things who would be much better as marketing managers of someone else's company," she says.

And though her work often takes her to California, she's happy to stay in New York. These days, she finds Silicon Valley "very fashionable," she says, "and I don't really like fashion."



For the full interview, see:

ALEXANDRA WOLFE, interviewer. "WEEKEND CONFIDENTIAL; Esther Dyson's Healthy Investments; The investor is hoping to produce better health through technology with a new nonprofit." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 3, 2014): C11.

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

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date May 2, 2014, and has the title "WEEKEND CONFIDENTIAL; Esther Dyson's Healthy Investments; The investor is hoping to produce better health through technology with a new nonprofit.")






November 26, 2014

Robotic Milkers Are Less Costly, Easier to Manage and More Humane to Cows



(p. A1) EASTON, N.Y. -- Something strange is happening at farms in upstate New York. The cows are milking themselves.

Desperate for reliable labor and buoyed by soaring prices, dairy operations across the state are charging into a brave new world of udder care: robotic milkers, which feed and milk cow after cow without the help of a single farmhand.

Scores of the machines have popped up across New York's dairy belt and in other states in recent years, changing age-old patterns of daily farm life and reinvigorating the allure of agriculture for a younger, tech-savvy -- and manure-averse -- generation.


. . .


The cows seem to like it, too.

Robots allow the cows to set their own hours, lining up for automated milking five or six times a day -- turning the predawn and late-afternoon sessions (p. A19) around which dairy farmers long built their lives into a thing of the past.

With transponders around their necks, the cows get individualized service. Lasers scan and map their underbellies, and a computer charts each animal's "milking speed," a critical factor in a 24-hour-a-day operation.


. . .


The Bordens and other farmers say a major force is cutting labor costs -- health insurance, room and board, overtime, and workers' compensation insurance -- particularly when immigration reform is stalled in Washington and dependable help is hard to procure.

The machines also never complain about getting up early, working late or being kicked.

"It's tough to find people to do it well and show up on time," said Tim Kurtz, who installed four robotic milkers last year at his farm in Berks County, Pa. "And you don't have to worry about that with a robot."

The Bordens say the machines allow them to do more of what they love: caring for animals.

"I'd rather be a cow manager," Tom Borden said, "than a people manager."



For the full story, see:

JESSE McKINLEY. "With Farm Robotics, the Cows Decide When It's Milking Time." The New York Times (Weds., APRIL 23, 2014): A1 & A19.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 22, 2014.)






November 18, 2014

Japanese Try to Sell the iPhone of Toilets in United States



(p. B8) TOKYO--Yoshiaki Fujimori wants to be the Steve Jobs of toilets.

Like iPhones, app-packed commodes are objects of desire in Mr. Fujimori's Japan. The lids lift automatically. The seats heat up. Built-in bidets make cleanup a breeze. Some of them even sync with users' smartphones via Bluetooth so that they can program their preferences and play their favorite music through speakers built into the bowl.

Three-quarters of Japanese homes contain such toilets, most of them made by one of two companies: Toto Ltd., Japan's largest maker of so-called sanitary ware, or Lixil Corp., where Mr. Fujimori is the chief executive.

Now Mr. Fujimori is leading a push to bring them to the great unwashed. In May, Lixil plans to add toilets with "integrated bidets" to the lineup of American Standard Brands, which Lixil acquired last year for $542 million, including debt.


. . .


Few people realized they needed smartphones until Apple's iPhone came along. So it will be in the U.S. with American Standard's new toilets, Mr. Fujimori said.

"Industry presents iPhone--industry presents shower toilet," Mr. Fujimori said in an interview at Lixil's headquarters in Tokyo. "We can create the same type of pattern."


. . .


Mr. Fujimori maintained that once American consumers try such toilets, they won't go back.

"This improves your standard of living," he said. "It doesn't hurt you. People like comfort, they like ease, they like automatic. And people like clean."



For the full story, see:

ERIC PFANNER and ATSUKO FUKASE. "Smart Toilets Arrive in U.S." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., May 27, 2014): B8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 26, 2014.)






November 14, 2014

High Skill Foreign Workers Raise Wages for Native Workers



WageGrowthRelatedToChangesInForeignSTEMworkersGraph2014-10-08.jpgSource of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. A6) "A lot of people have the idea there is a fixed number of jobs," said . . . , Giovanni Peri of the University of California, Davis. "It's completely turned around."

Immigrants can boost the productivity of the overall economy, he said, "because then the pie grows and there are more jobs for other people as well and there's not a zero-sum trade-off between natives and immigrants."

Mr. Peri, along with co-authors Kevin Shih at UC Davis, and Chad Sparber at Colgate University, studied how wages for college- and noncollege-educated native workers shifted along with immigration. They found that a one-percentage-point increase in the share of workers in STEM fields raised wages for college-educated natives by seven to eight percentage points and wages of the noncollege-educated natives by three to four percentage points.

Mr. Peri said the research bolsters the case for raising, or even removing, the caps on H-1B visas, the program that regulates how many high-skilled foreign workers employers can bring into the country.



For the full story, see:

JOSH ZUMBRUN and MATT STILES. "Study: Skilled Foreign Workers a Boon to Pay." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., May 23, 2014): A6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 22, 2014, and has the title "Skilled Foreign Workers a Boon to Pay, Study Finds.")


The paper discussed in the passage quoted above, is:

Peri, Giovanni, Kevin Shih, and Chad Sparber. "Foreign Stem Workers and Native Wages and Employment in U.S. Cities." National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, NBER Working Paper Number 20093, May 2014.






October 23, 2014

The Invention of the Vacuum Tube as a Revolutionary Event



(p. A11) Mr. Bryce's engrossing survey has two purposes. The first is to refute pessimists who claim that technology-driven economic growth will burn through the planet's resources and lead to catastrophe. "We are living in a world equipped with physical-science capabilities that stagger the imagination," he writes. "If we want to bring more people out of poverty, we must embrace [technological innovation], not reject it." The book's other purpose is to persuade climate-change fundamentalists that they are standing on the wrong side of history. Instead of saving the planet by going backward to Don Quixote's windmills, they need to take a progressive approach to technology itself, he says, striving to make nuclear power safer, for instance, and using the hydrocarbon revolution sparked by fracking and deep-offshore exploration to bridge the way to the future.


. . .


Mr. Bryce focuses in particular on the vacuum tube, designed in 1906 by Lee de Forest, the man also credited with inventing the radio.

The discovery of the vacuum tube, Mr. Bryce says, was a revolutionary event. By trapping the energy generated from the free flow of electrons and directing it to boost a small AC current into a much larger one, de Forest created electric amplification--which the transistor and integrated circuit would multiply exponentially.



For the full review, see:

ARTHUR HERMAN. "BOOKSHELF; How to Defuse the Power Elite; To compel the switch from fossil fuels to wind and solar power is to consign billions of people to a life of poverty and darkness." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., May 22, 2014): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 21, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Smaller Faster Lighter Denser Cheaper' by Robert Bryce; To compel the switch from fossil fuels to wind and solar power is to consign billions of people to a life of poverty and darkness.")


The book being reviewed is:

Bryce, Robert. Smaller Faster Lighter Denser Cheaper: How Innovation Keeps Proving the Catastrophists Wrong. New York: PublicAffairs, 2014.






October 22, 2014

Nevada Government Lets Tesla Sell Directly to Consumers



(p. A13) . . . in addition to rubber-stamping the agreement that waived Tesla's property, sales and business taxes for a decade or more--while throwing in discount power rates--the Nevada legislature also approved a bill last week that would exempt the auto maker from franchising regulations outlawing the company's retail approach. The state's auto dealers, who only weeks ago threatened to sue over the matter, shifted gears and endorsed the legislation.

"My car dealers want to assist in any way they can," John Sande of the Nevada Franchise Auto Dealers Association told the Reno Gazette Journal. "Nevada law does not allow Tesla to come in and sell directly to the consumer, so we are going to have to come in and change it so they can sell directly to the consumer."

No doubt the dealers balanced the pros and cons of agitating for their own self-interest against overwhelming political support for the deal and the spending potential of thousands of new, well-paid workers who may prefer a Ford or Chevy pickup over a $70,000 Tesla Model S. But the fact that Nevada legislators so quickly jettisoned a key provision of the state's dealership-franchise provisions speaks volumes about how essential these statutes really are to the well-being of their constituents.

There is no rational reason Tesla--or any other automobile manufacturer--should be restricted from selling new cars directly to those who seek to buy them.



For the full commentary, see:

JOHN KERR. "OPINION; Tesla Breaks the Auto Dealer Cartel; Nevada lets the electric car maker sell directly to consumers. Too bad everyone else still can't." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Sept. 17, 2014): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 16, 2014.)







October 9, 2014

Feds Allow Hollywood to Use Drones



(p. B1) LOS ANGELES -- The commercial use of drones in American skies took a leap forward on Thursday [Sept. 25, 2014] with the help of Hollywood.

The Federal Aviation Administration, responding to applications from seven filmmaking companies and pressure from the Motion Picture Association of America, said six of those companies could use camera-equipped drones on certain movie and television sets. Until now, the F.A.A. has not permitted commercial drone use except for extremely limited circumstances in wilderness areas of Alaska.

Put bluntly, this is the first time that companies in the United States will be able to legally use drones to fly over people.

The decision has implications for a broad range of industries including agriculture, energy, real estate, the news media and online retailing. "While the approval for Hollywood is very limited in scope, it's a message to everyone that this ball is rolling," said Greg Cirillo, chairman of the aviation practice at Wiley Rein, a law firm in Washington.

Michael P. Huerta, the administrator of the F.A.A., said at least 40 similar applications were pending from companies beyond Hollywood. One is Amazon, which wants permission to move forward with a drone-delivery service. Google has acknowledged "self-flying vehicle" tests in the Australian outback.

"Today's announcement is a significant milestone in broadening commercial use," Anthony R. Foxx, secretary of transportation, told reporters in a conference call.



For the full story, see:

BROOKS BARNES. "Drone Exemptions for Hollywood Pave the Way for Widespread Use." The New York Times (Fri., SEPT. 26, 2014): B1 & B7.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 25, 2014.)






October 6, 2014

Shellshock Bug Shows Low Quality of Open Source Software



(p. B1) Long before the commercial success of the Internet, Brian J. Fox invented one of its most widely used tools.

In 1987, Mr. Fox, then a young programmer, wrote Bash, short for Bourne-Again Shell, a free piece of software that is now built into more than 70 percent of the machines that connect to the Internet. That includes servers, computers, routers, some mobile phones and even everyday items like refrigerators and cameras.

On Thursday [Sept. 25, 2014], security experts warned that Bash contained a particularly alarming software bug that could be used to take control of hundreds of millions of machines around the world, potentially including Macintosh computers and smartphones that use the Android operating system.

The bug, named "Shellshock," drew comparisons to the Heartbleed bug that was discovered in a crucial piece of software last spring.

But Shellshock could be a bigger threat. While Heartbleed could be used to do things like steal passwords from a server, Shellshock can be used to take over the entire machine. And Heartbleed went unnoticed for two years and affected an estimated 500,000 machines, but Shellshock was not discovered for 22 years.


. . .


Mr. Fox maintained Bash -- which serves as a sort of software interpreter for different commands from a user -- for five years before handing over the reins to Chet Ramey, a 49-year-old programmer who, for the last 22 years, has maintained the software as an unpaid hobby. That is, when he is not working at his day job as a senior technology architect at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio.


. . .


(p. B2) The mantra of open source was perhaps best articulated by Eric S. Raymond, one of the elders of the open-source movement, who wrote in 1997 that "given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow." But, in this case, Steven M. Bellovin, a computer science professor at Columbia University, said, those eyeballs are more consumed with new features than quality. "Quality takes work, design, review and testing and those are not nearly as much fun as coding," Mr. Bellovin said. "If the open-source community does not develop those skills, it's going to fall further behind in the quality race."



For the full story, see:

NICOLE PERLROTH. "Flaw in Code Puts Millions At Big Risk." The New York Times (Fri., SEPT. 26, 2014): B1-B2.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 25, 2014, and has the title "Security Experts Expect 'Shellshock' Software Bug in Bash to Be Significant.")






September 17, 2014

Bill Gates on Xerox's Inventions and Mistakes



(p. C3) Not long after I first met Warren Buffett back in 1991, I asked him to recommend his favorite book about business. He didn't miss a beat: "It's 'Business Adventures,' by John Brooks, " he said. "I'll send you my copy." I was intrigued: I had never heard of "Business Adventures" or John Brooks.

Today, more than two decades after Warren lent it to me--and more than four decades after it was first published--"Business Adventures" remains the best business book I've ever read. John Brooks is still my favorite business writer. (And Warren, if you're reading this, I still have your copy.)


. . .


One of Brooks's most instructive stories is "Xerox Xerox Xerox Xerox." (The headline alone belongs in the Journalism Hall of Fame.) The example of Xerox is one that everyone in the tech industry should study. Starting in the early '70s, Xerox funded a huge amount of R&D that wasn't directly related to copiers, including research that led to Ethernet networks and the first graphical user interface (the look you know today as Windows or OS X).

But because Xerox executives didn't think these ideas fit their core business, they chose not to turn them into marketable products. Others stepped in and went to market with products based on the research that Xerox had done. Both Apple and Microsoft, for example, drew on Xerox's work on graphical user interfaces.

I know I'm not alone in seeing this decision as a mistake on Xerox's part. I was certainly determined to avoid it at Microsoft. I pushed hard to make sure that we kept thinking big about the opportunities created by our research in areas like computer vision and speech recognition. Many other journalists have written about Xerox, but Brooks's article tells an important part of the company's early story. He shows how it was built on original, outside-the-box thinking, which makes it all the more surprising that as Xerox matured, it would miss out on unconventional ideas developed by its own researchers. (To download a free e-book of "Xerox Xerox Xerox Xerox," go to GatesNotes.com.)



For the full review, see:

BILL GATES. "My Favorite Business Book." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., July 12, 2014): C3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the last quoted sentence is in the location, and has the wording, of the printer version, not the online version.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 11, 2014, and has the title "Bill Gates's Favorite Business Book.")


The book being reviewed is:

Brooks, John. Business Adventures: Twelve Classic Tales from the World of Wall Street. pb ed. New York: Open Road Integrated Media, Inc., 2014.






September 5, 2014

"Malthus Was Wrong"



(p. 20) The biggest problem with Malthusiasm, as Mayhew addresses at length, is that Malthus was wrong. He thought England was nearing the limits of its ability to provide for its growing population. But as that population continued to grow in the 19th century, the country proved more than able to feed itself by increasing agricultural productivity and importing food that it could easily pay for with its industrial wealth. And toward the end of the century, birthrates began falling and population growth slowed.


. . .


There is evidence enough in this book for a pretty withering attack on Malthusianism, if not on Malthus. Mayhew, however, prefers the role of calm and evenhanded guide. At the end he's even hinting that today's Malthusian prophets of environmental doom are on to something. They may be: Just because Malthus was wrong about nature's limits in 1798 doesn't prove we won't ever hit those limits. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Still, you'd think it would put more of a damper on people's Malthusiasm.



For the full review, see:

JUSTIN FOX. "Head Count." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., Aug. 3, 2014): 20.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 1, 2014. )


The book being reviewed is:

Mayhew, Robert J. Malthus: The Life and Legacies of an Untimely Prophet. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2014.






September 3, 2014

Predictors of Technological Doom Have "All Been Wrong"



GrowingAndDecliningJobsGraph2014.jpgSource of graph: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. 4) JUST over 50 years ago, the cover of Life magazine breathlessly declared the "point of no return for everybody." Above that stark warning, a smaller headline proclaimed, "Automation's really here; jobs go scarce."

As events unfolded, it was Life that was nearing the point of no return -- the magazine suspended weekly publication in 1972. For the rest of America, jobs boomed; in the following decade, 21 million Americans were added to the employment rolls.

Throughout history, aspiring Cassandras have regularly proclaimed that new waves of technological innovation would render huge numbers of workers idle, leading to all manner of economic, social and political disruption.

As early as 1589, Queen Elizabeth I refused a patent on a knitting machine for fear it would put "my poor subjects" out of work.

In the 1930s, the great John Maynard Keynes predicted widespread job losses "due to our discovery of means of economising the use of labour outrunning the pace at which we can find new uses for labour."

So far, of course, they've all been wrong. But that has not prevented a cascade of shrill new proclamations that -- notwithstanding centuries of history -- "this time is different": . . .



For the full commentary, see:

Steven Rattner. "Fear Not the Coming of the Robots." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., JUNE 22, 2014): 4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 21, 2014.)






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 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 27, 2014

Big Increase in Costs of Adhering to Moore's Law



(p. 219) Harald Bauer, Jan Veira, and Florian Weig consider "Moore's Law: Repeal or Renewal?" "Moore's law states that the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles every two years, and for the past four decades it has set the pace for progress in the semiconductor industry. . . . Adherence to Moore's law has led to continuously falling semiconductor prices. Per-bit prices of dynamic random-access memory chips, for example, have fallen by as much as 30 to 35 percent a year for several decades. . . . Some estimates ascribe up to 40 percent of the global productivity growth achieved during the last two decades to the expansion of information and communication technologies made possible by semiconductor performance and cost improvements." But this continued technological progress comes at an ever-higher price. "A McKinsey analysis shows that moving from 32nm (p. 220) to 22nm nodes on 300-millimeter (mm) wafers causes typical fabrication costs to grow by roughly 40 percent. It also boosts the costs associated with process development by about 45 percent and with chip design by up to 50 percent. These dramatic increases will lead to process-development costs that exceed $1 billion for nodes below 20nm. In addition, the state-of-the art fabs needed to produce them will likely cost $10 billion or more. As a result, the number of companies capable of financing next-generation nodes and fabs will likely dwindle." McKinsey Global Institute, December 2013, http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/high_tech_telecoms_internet/moores_law_repeal_or_renewal.


Source:

Taylor, Timothy. "Recommendations for Further Reading." Journal of Economic Perspectives 28, no. 2 (Spring 2014): 213-20.

(Note: ellipses 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 11, 2014

Lynas Apologizes for Organizing Anti-GM (Genetic Modification) Movement



(p. 115) More than a decade and a half since the commercialization of first-generation agricultural biotechnology, concerns about transgenic crop impacts on human and environmental health remain, even though the experience across a cumulative 1.25 billion hectares suggests the relative safety of first-generation genetically engineered seed. The risks posed by agricultural biotechnology warrant continued attention, and new transgenic crops may pose different and bigger risks. Weighing against uncertain risks are benefits from increased food production, reduced insecticide use, and avoided health risks to food consumers and farm workers. At the same time, adoption is shown to increase herbicide use while reducing herbicide toxicity, save land by boosting yields while also making previously unfarmed lands profitable. Adoption benefits food consumers and farmers but also enriches seed companies that enjoy property right protections over new seed varieties. The (p. 116) balance of scientific knowledge weighs in favor of continued adoption of genetically engineered seed, which may explain why some longtime critics have reversed course. For example, Lord Melchett, who was the head of Greenpeace, has been advising biotechnology companies on overcoming constraints to the technology (St. Clair and Frank forthcoming). Mark Lynas, a journalist and organizer of the anti-GM (genetic modification) movement, publicly apologized for helping start the movement in his "Lecture to Oxford Farming Conference" (2013).

Agricultural biotechnology remains regulated by regimes developed at the introduction of the technology. Whereas precaution may have been appropriate before the relative magnitudes of risks and benefits could be empirically observed, accumulated knowledge suggests overregulation is inhibiting the introduction of new transgenic varieties. Regulation also discourages developing-country applications, where benefits are likely greatest. In the future, new genetic traits may promise greater benefits while also posing novel risks of greater magnitudes than existing traits. Efficient innovation and technology adoption will require different and, perhaps, more stringent regulation in the future, as well as continued insights from researchers, including economists, in order to assess evolving costs and benefits.



Source:

Barrows, Geoffrey, Steven Sexton, and David Zilberman. "Agricultural Biotechnology: The Promise and Prospects of Genetically Modified Crops." Journal of Economic Perspectives 28, no. 1 (Winter 2014): 99-120.






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.






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 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 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 14, 2014

Forecasts of Mass Unemployment from Robots Were Wrong



(p. 215) Frank Levy and Richard J. Murnane consider the interaction between workers and machinery in "Dancing with Robots: Human Skills for Computerized Work." "On March 22, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson received a short, alarming memorandum from the Ad Hoc Committee on the Triple Revolution. The memo warned the president of threats to the nation beginning with the likelihood that computers would soon create mass unemployment: 'A new era of production has begun. Its principles of organization are as different from those of the industrial era as those of the industrial era were different from the agricultural. The cybernation revolution has been brought about by the combination of the computer and the automated self-regulating machine. This results in a system of almost unlimited productive capacity which requires progressively less human labor. Cybernation is already reorganizing the economic and social system to meet its own needs.' The memo was signed by luminaries including Nobel Prize winning chemist Linus Pauling, Scientific American publisher Gerard Piel, and economist Gunnar Myrdal (a future Nobel Prize winner). Nonetheless, its warning was only half right. There was no mass unemployment--since 1964 the economy has added 74 million jobs. But computers have changed the jobs that are available, the skills those jobs require, and the wages the jobs pay. For the foreseeable future, the challenge of "cybernation" is not mass unemployment but the need to educate many more young people for the jobs computers cannot do." Third Way, 2013, http://content.thirdway.org /publications/714/Dancing-With-Robots.pdf.


Source:

Taylor, Timothy. "Recommendations for Further Reading." Journal of Economic Perspectives 27, no. 4 (Fall 2013): 211-18.

(Note: italics in original.)






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 9, 2014

French Protest Amazon, but Buy There for Low Prices



(p. B1) LONDON -- On weekends, Guillaume Rosquin browses the shelves of local bookstores in Lyon, France. He enjoys peppering the staff with questions about what he should be reading next. But his visits, he says, are also a protest against the growing power of Amazon. He is bothered by the way the American online retailer treats its warehouse employees.

Still, as with millions of other Europeans, there is a limit to how much he will protest.

"It depends on the price," said Mr. Rosquin, 49, who acknowledged that he was planning to buy a $400 BlackBerry smartphone on Amazon because the handset was not yet available on rival French websites. "If you can get something for half-price at Amazon, you may put your issues with their working conditions aside."



For the full story, see:

MARK SCOTT. "Principles Are No Match for Europe's Love of U.S. Web Titans." The New York Times (Mon., JULY 7, 2014): B1 & B3.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JULY 6, 2014.)







July 1, 2014

Natural Resources Increase through Innovation



SolarPanelsDunhuangChina2014-05-31.jpg "A worker inspects solar panels in Dunhuang, China. We have an estimated supply of one million years of tellurium, a rare element used in some panels." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. C1) How many times have you heard that we humans are "using up" the world's resources, "running out" of oil, "reaching the limits" of the atmosphere's capacity to cope with pollution or "approaching the carrying capacity" of the land's ability to support a greater population? The assumption behind all such statements is that there is a fixed amount of stuff--metals, oil, clean air, land--and that we risk exhausting it through our consumption.


. . .


But here's a peculiar feature of human history: We burst through such limits again and again. After all, as a Saudi oil minister once said, the Stone Age didn't end for lack of stone.


. . .


Economists call the same phenomenon innovation. What frustrates them about ecologists is the latter's tendency to think in terms of static limits. Ecologists can't seem to see that when whale oil starts to run out, petroleum is discovered, or that when farm yields flatten, fertilizer comes along, or that when glass fiber is invented, demand for copper falls.


. . .


(p. C2) . . ., Mr. Ausubel, together with his colleagues Iddo Wernick and Paul Waggoner, came to the startling conclusion that, even with generous assumptions about population growth and growing affluence leading to greater demand for meat and other luxuries, and with ungenerous assumptions about future global yield improvements, we will need less farmland in 2050 than we needed in 2000. (So long, that is, as we don't grow more biofuels on land that could be growing food.)


. . .


The economist and metals dealer Tim Worstall gives the example of tellurium, a key ingredient of some kinds of solar panels. Tellurium is one of the rarest elements in the Earth's crust--one atom per billion. Will it soon run out? Mr. Worstall estimates that there are 120 million tons of it, or a million years' supply altogether.


. . .


Part of the problem is that the word "consumption" means different things to the two tribes. Ecologists use it to mean "the act of using up a resource"; economists mean "the purchase of goods and services by the public" (both definitions taken from the Oxford dictionary).

But in what sense is water, tellurium or phosphorus "used up" when products made with them are bought by the public? They still exist in the objects themselves or in the environment. Water returns to the environment through sewage and can be reused. Phosphorus gets recycled through compost. Tellurium is in solar panels, which can be recycled. As the economist Thomas Sowell wrote in his 1980 book "Knowledge and Decisions," "Although we speak loosely of 'production,' man neither creates nor destroys matter, but only transforms it."


. . .

If I could have one wish for the Earth's environment, it would be to bring together the two tribes--to convene a grand powwow of ecologists and economists. I would pose them this simple question and not let them leave the room until they had answered it: How can innovation improve the environment?



For the full commentary, see:

MATT RIDLEY. "The Scarcity Fallacy; Ecologists worry that the world's resources come in fixed amounts that will run out, but we have broken through such limits again and again." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., April 26, 2014): C1-C2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 25, 2014, and has the title "The World's Resources Aren't Running Out; Ecologists worry that the world's resources come in fixed amounts that will run out, but we have broken through such limits again and again.")






June 27, 2014

Instead of 50 Silicon Valleys, Andreessen Sees 50 Kinds of Silicon Valley



AndreessenMarcCofounderNetscape2014-05-31.jpg "Marc Andreessen, co-founder of the first major web browser, Netscape, has a record for knowing what's coming next with technology." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. B8) Mr. Andreessen said new valleys will eventually emerge. But they won't be Silicon Valley copycats.

Over the past couple of years, venture firms have invested in start-ups in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and all over China. Los Angeles, for example, is home to Snapchat, Tinder, Whisper, Oculus VR and Beats, some of the big tech stories of the year. Mr. Andreessen said another hot place is Atlanta, the home of Georgia Tech.

But he offers a caveat.

"My personal view is that Silicon Valley will continue to take a disproportionate share of the No. 1 positions in great new markets, and I think that's just a reflection that the fact that the valley works as well as it does," Mr. Andreessen said.

There is a caveat to his caveat.

In Mr. Andreessen's view, there shouldn't be 50 Silicon Valleys. Instead, there should be 50 different kinds of Silicon Valley. For example, there could be Biotech Valley, a Stem Cell Valley, a 3-D Printing Valley or a Drone Valley. As he noted, there are huge regulatory hurdles in many of these fields. If a city wanted to spur innovation around drones, for instance, it might have to remove any local legal barriers to flying unmanned aircraft.



For the full interview, see:

NICK BILTON. "DISRUPTIONS; Forecasting the Next Big Moves in Tech." The New York Times (Mon., MAY 19, 2014): B8.

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date MAY 18, 2014, and has the title "DISRUPTIONS; Marc Andreessen on the Future of Silicon Valley(s), and the Next Big Technology." )






June 15, 2014

"Apple Bonds Are Giffen Goods"



AppleCampus2014-05-31.jpg "New bonds sold by Apple have been called "Giffen goods," after Sir Robert Giffen, a Scottish economist who noted that the prices of some goods can defy the laws of supply and demand." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. B1) . . . Hans Mikkelsen, a credit strategist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, promptly proclaimed that "Apple bonds are Giffen goods."

Giffen goods, named after Sir Robert Giffen, a 19th-century Scottish statistician and economist who discovered they could exist, defy the normal law of supply and demand. Raise the price, and people will buy more.

They are extremely rare.

The classic example -- and the only one I had heard of before Apple sold its new bonds -- was potatoes at a time when they were the chief source of nourishment for Irish peasants. If potato prices fell, the peasants could afford more meat and would therefore eat fewer potatoes. When potato prices rose, they could no longer afford meat and would consume more potatoes.



For the full story, see:

RAPHAEL MINDER. "Tempting Europe With Ugly Fruit." The New YorkTimes, First Section (Sun., MAY 25, 2014): 6 & 8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 24, 2014. )



GiffenSirRobertScottishEconomist2014-05-31.jpg











"Sir Robert Giffen was a Scottish economist." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.







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 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 3, 2014

Public Cannot Go into Space Because of Government Run Space Programs



BransonRichard2014-04-25.jpg "'You don't have to be a rocket scientist to be able to run a spaceship company,' says Richard Branson." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. C11) Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, is just months away from launching what he considers "the biggest Virgin company we've ever built." At 63, he's already founded multiple businesses worth billions, including a record label and a mobile company. But it's his foray into outer space with Virgin Galactic that has Mr. Branson excited.


. . .


Safety has been one of the biggest challenges in building Virgin Galactic. In 2007, two workers died after a tank explosion during a rocket test, and three were seriously wounded. The accident, which occurred at a partner company's facility, delayed the program for an estimated 18 months.

Risk factors weigh on the minds of potential customers as well, especially after NASA's 1986 Challenger disaster, in which seven crew members, including a schoolteacher, died. Mr. Branson thinks that today most people would want to go into space if they could be guaranteed a safe return trip. "Sadly, I think because the space program was run by governments, there was never any real interest in enabling members of the public to go to space after they tried once" with the Challenger, he explains. "After that, they decided not to take any risks whatsoever." He adds, "I would say 90% of people my age thought they would go to space because they saw the moon landing."



For the full story, see:

ALEXANDRA WOLFE. "WEEKEND CONFIDENTIAL; Richard Branson; The Virgin Group founder on his out-of-this world venture: space travel." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Nov. 2, 2013): C11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 1, 2013, and has the title "WEEKEND CONFIDENTIAL; Richard Branson on Space Travel; The Virgin Group founder on his latest out-of-this world venture, Virgin Galactic'.")






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.






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 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 19, 2014

Open Source Heartbleed Bug Sends Internet "into a Panic"




Opponents of patents often point to the open source movement as an alternative. The Heartbleed bug illustrates a big downside to open source:


(p. B1) The encryption flaw that punctured the heart of the Internet this week underscores a weakness in Internet security: A good chunk of it is managed by four European coders and a former military consultant in Maryland.

Most of the 11-member team are volunteers; only one works full time. Their budget is less than $1 million a year. The Heartbleed bug, revealed Monday, was the product of a fluke introduced by a young German researcher.


. . .


The OpenSSL Project was founded in 1998 to create a free set of encryption tools that has since been adopted by two-thirds of Web servers. Websites, network-equipment companies and governments use OpenSSL tools to protect personal and other sensitive information online.

So when researchers at Google Inc. and Codenomicon on Monday stated that Heartbleed could allow hackers to steal such data, the Internet went into a panic.


. . .


(p. B3) Earlier in the day, a German volunteer coder admitted that he had unintentionally introduced the bug on New Year's Eve 2011 while working on bug fixes for OpenSSL. . . .

Errors in complex code are inevitable--Microsoft Corp., Apple Inc. and Google announce flaws monthly. But people close to OpenSSL, which relies in part on donations, say a lack of funding and manpower exacerbated the problem and allowed it to go unnoticed for two years.


. . .


The OpenSSL Project counts a sole full-time developer: Stephen Henson, a 46-year-old British cryptographer with a Ph.D. in mathematics. Two other U.K. residents and a developer in Germany fill out the project's management team.

Associates describe Mr. Henson as brilliant but standoffish and overloaded with work.


. . .


Geoffrey Thorpe, an OpenSSL volunteer on the development team, said he has little time to spend on the project because of his day job at a hardware technology company.



For the full story, see:

DANNY YADRON. "Internet Security Relies on Very Few." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., April 12, 2014): B1 & B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated April 11, 2014, and has the title "TECHNOLOGY; Heartbleed Bug's 'Voluntary' Origins; Internet Security Relies on a Small Team of Coders, Most of Them Volunteers; Flaw Was a Fluke.")






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 10, 2014

Television Improved Test Scores



GentzkowMatthewChicagoBatesClark2014-04-26.jpg "Economist Matthew Gentzkow found media slant to be a function of audience preference." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A2) An economist known for pioneering work on slanted coverage in the news media won the John Bates Clark Medal, one of the profession's most prestigious honors.

Matthew Gentzkow, a professor at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business, on Thursday was awarded the Clark medal by the American Economic Association, which every year honors the nation's most promising economist under age 40.


. . .


A big theme in Mr. Gentzkow's work is finding innovative ways to tackle questions that expand economists' tool kits.

. . . , in 2008, he and Mr. Shapiro examined the fact that different parts of the U.S. got access to television at different times to gauge TV's effects on high-school students in the 1960s.

The economists found that children who lived in cities that gave them more exposure to TV in early childhood performed better on tests than those with less exposure. The work also suggested TV helped American children in non-English-speaking households do better in school.



For the full story, see:

NEIL SHAH. "Economist Honored for Work on Media Slant." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., April 18, 2014): 12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 17, 2014.)


The Gentzkow and Shapiro paper on the effects of television, is:

Gentzkow, Matthew, and Jesse M. Shapiro. "Preschool Television Viewing and Adolescent Test Scores: Historical Evidence from the Coleman Study." Quarterly Journal of Economics 123, no. 1 (Feb. 2008): 279-323.






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.






April 27, 2014

Government Wire Inspectors Only Showed Up to Get Their Pay



(p. 121) Edison had originally planned to offer service to the entirety of south Manhattan, south of Canal Street and north of Wall Street, but engineering considerations forced him to carve out a smaller district, bounded by Wall, Nassau, Spruce, and Ferry Streets. Still, his company had to place underground some eighty thousand linear feet of electrical wire. This had never been attempted before, so it should not have been a surprise when H. O. Thompson, the city's commissioner of public works, summoned Edison to his office to explain that the city would have to be assured that the lines were installed safely. Thompson was assigning five inspectors to oversee the work, whose cost would be covered by an assessment of $5 per day, per inspector, payable (p. 122) each week. When Edison left Thompson's office, he was crestfallen, anticipating the harassment and delays ahead that would be caused by the inspectors' interference. On the day that work began, however, the inspectors failed to appear. Their first appearance was on Saturday afternoon, to draw their pay. This set the pattern that the inspectors followed as the work proceeded through 1881 and into 1882.


Source:

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






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 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 9, 2014

Patent Trial and Appeal Board May Be Invalidating Low Quality Patents




One of the common complaints about the U.S. patent system for the past couple of decades is that the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) has been approving too many low quality patents, that are then used by patent holders to extort licensing fees or out-or-court settlements from alleged infringers. One way in which the America Invents Act, signed in September 2011, tried to respond to the complaint was to strengthen the post-approval re-examination process for patents. The article quoted below suggests that the strengthened process may be having the intended effect.



(p. B4) The Patent Trial and Appeal Board is a little known but powerful authority that often allows a company embroiled in a lawsuit to skip the question of whether it infringed a patent--and challenge whether the patent should have been issued in the first place.

The board was launched in September 2012 as part of the massive patent overhaul passed by Congress the previous year and is currently staffed by 181 judges, many of whom have deep experience in intellectual property or technical fields like chemical and electrical engineering. Through last Thursday it had received 1,056 requests to challenge patents, far more than were received by any federal court over the same time period.

The board is part of the Patent and Trademark Office. But so far, it hasn't shied away from upending the office's decisions to issue certain patents. As of last week, the board had issued 25 written decisions concerning patent challenges, and upheld parts of challenged patents in only a few of them.


. . .


In recent months, Randall Rader, the chief judge of the Federal Circuit, has been one of the board's most outspoken critics. At a conference of intellectual-property lawyers last fall, the judge called the board's panels "death squads...killing property rights."

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Rader said the board is too quick to toss out patents that demonstrate only modest innovation. "The board needs to incentivize human progress--and understand that it often happens one small step at a time," he said.

But many company lawyers think the board is doing exactly as it should--taking a skeptical look at patents that have added little to the world.



For the full story, see:

ASHBY JONES. "New Weapon in Intellectual Property Wars; Panel Can Upend Patent Decisions, but Some Say It Goes Too Far; 'Like Getting CAT-Scanned, MRI-ed, and X-Rayed'." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., March 11, 2014): B4.

(Note: ellipsis between paragraphs, added; ellipsis inside paragraph, in original.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 10, 2014, and has the title "A New Weapon in Corporate Patent Wars; Patent Trial and Appeal Board Can Upend PTO Decisions, but Some Say It Goes Too Far.")






April 8, 2014

Government Regulations Slow U.S. Use of Drones



DronesThreeSophisticatedCommerical2014-04-03.jpgThree sophisticated drones. From top to bottom, the Insitu ScanEagle, the Yamaha RMAX, and the Trimble UX5. Source and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. B1) After Greek land surveyor George Papastamos bought his first drones a year ago, he let go most of his workers. Now, instead of a team of 12, he shows up to work sites with just a drone and an assistant.

"I could see this was the future," said Mr. Papastamos, a second-generation surveyor from Athens. The drones have improved his maps and lowered his costs, enabling him to win more business. "It is much, much more profitable," he said.

As U.S. regulators and courts grapple with when and how to allow the use of drones for commercial purposes, flying robots already are starting to change the way companies do business in countries from Australia to Japan to the U.K. They are showing the potential to provide cheaper and more effective alternatives to manned aircraft--and human workers--in industries like mining, construction and filmmaking.

The U.S. is "the world leader in producing drones," but "the reality is the rest of the world has moved further ahead of us in terms of commercial applications," said drone researcher Missy Cummings, director of the Humans and Autonomy Lab at Duke University.



For the full story, see:

JACK NICAS. "From Farms to Films, Drones Find Commercial Uses." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., March 11, 2014): B1 & B6.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 10, 2014, and has the title "Drones Find Fans Among Farmers, Filmmakers; FAA Still Debating Rules but Drones are Spraying 40% of Japan's Rice Fields.")






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 4, 2014

Gary Becker's Grandson Ponders Opportunity Cost of College



HarboeLouisYoungTechEntrepreneur2014-03-30.jpg



"Louis Harboe with his parents, Frederik Harboe and Catherine Becker. Louis, now 18, got his first freelance tech job at age 12. Last year, he attended the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.




(p. 1) Ryan was headed to South by Southwest Interactive, the technology conference in Austin. There, he planned to talk up an app that he and a friend had built. Called Finish, it aimed to help people stop procrastinating, and was just off its high in the No. 1 spot in the productivity category in the Apple App store.


. . .


Ryan is now 17, a senior at Boulder High. He is among the many entrepreneurially minded, technologically skilled teenagers who are striving to do serious business. Their work is enabled by low-cost or free tools to make apps or to design games, and they are encouraged by tech companies and grown-ups in the field who urge them, sometimes with financial support, to accelerate their transition into "the real world." This surge in youthful innovation and entrepreneurship looks "unprecedented," said Gary Becker, a University of Chicago economist and a Nobel laureate.

Dr. Becker is assessing this subject from a particularly intimate vantage point. His grandson, Louis Harboe, 18, is a friend of (p. 6) Ryan's, a technological teenager who makes Ryan look like a late bloomer. Louis, pronounced Louie, got his first freelance gig at the age of 12, designing the interface for an iPhone game. At 16, Louis, who lives with his parents in Chicago, took a summer design internship at Square, an online and mobile payment company in San Francisco, earning $1,000 a week plus a $1,000 housing stipend.

Ryan and Louis, who met online in the informal network of young developers, are hanging out this weekend in Austin at South by Southwest. They are also waiting to hear from the colleges to which they applied last fall -- part of the parallel universe they also live in, the traditional one with grades and SATs and teenage responsibilities. But unlike their peers for whom college is the singular focus, they have pondered whether to go at all. It's a good kind of problem, the kind faced by great high-school athletes or child actors who can try going pro, along with all the risk that entails.

Dr. Becker, who studies microeconomics and education, has been telling his grandson: "Go to college. Go to college." College, he says, is the clear step to economic success. "The evidence is overwhelming."

But the "do it now" idea, evangelized on a digital pulpit, can feel more immediate than academic empiricism. "College is not a prerequisite," said Jess Teutonico, who runs TEDxTeen, a version of the TED talks and conferences for youth, where Ryan spoke a few weeks ago. "These kids are motivated to take over the world," she said. "They need it fast. They need it now."



For the full story, see:

MATT RICHTEL. "The Youngest Technorati." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Fri., MARCH 9, 2014): 1 & 6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 8, 2014.)






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.






March 30, 2014

Edison Sold Half-Interest in Some Patents, to Fund His Inventing




Stross discusses Edison's inventing at age 21:


(p. 8) Edison soon sought investors who would provide funds in exchange for half-interest in resulting patents.


Source:

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






March 18, 2014

Nasaw Claims Carnegie Believed in Importance of Basic Scientific Research




But notice that the two main examples of what Carnegie himself chose to fund (the Wilson Observatory and the yacht to collect geophysical data), were empirically oriented, not theoretically oriented.


(p. 480) Carnegie was, as Harvard President James Bryant Conant would comment in 1935 on the centenary of his birth, "more than a generation ahead of most business men of this country [in understanding] the importance of science to industry." He recognized far better than his peers how vital basic scientific research was to the applied research that industry fed off. George Ellery Hale, an astronomer and astrophysicist, later to be the chief architect of the National Research Council, was astounded when he learned of Carnegie's commitment to pure research. "The provision of a large endowment solely for scientific research seemed almost too good to be true.... Knowing as I did the difficulties of obtaining money for this purpose and (p. 481) devoted as I was to research rather than teaching, I could appreciate some of the possibilities of such an endowment." Hale applied for funds to build an observatory on Mount Wilson in California, and got what he asked for. It would take until 1909 to build and install a 60-inch reflecting telescope in the observatory; in 1917, a second 100-inch telescope, the largest in the world, was added.

The Mount Wilson Observatory-- and the work of its astronomers and astrophysicists-- was only one of the projects funded in the early years of the new institution. Another, of which Carnegie was equally proud, was the outfitting of the Carnegie, an oceangoing yacht with auxiliary engine, built of wood and bronze so that it could collect geophysical data without the errors inflicted on compass readings by iron and steel. The ship was launched in 1909; by 1911, Carnegie could claim that the scientists on board had already been able to correct several significant errors on navigational maps.



Source:

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

(Note: ellipsis, and italics, in original.)

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






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 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 20, 2014

The Young, with Managerial Experience, Are Most Likely to Become Entrepreneurs



(p. A13) In a current study analyzing the most recent Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) survey, my colleagues James Liang, Jackie Wang and I found that there is a strong correlation between youth and entrepreneurship. The GEM survey is an annual assessment of the "entrepreneurial activity, aspirations and attitudes" of thousands of individuals across 65 countries.

In our study of GEM data, which will be issued early next year, we found that young societies tend to generate more new businesses than older societies. Young people are more energetic and have many innovative ideas. But starting a successful business requires more than ideas. Business acumen is essential to the entrepreneur. Previous positions of responsibility in companies provide the skills needed to successfully start businesses, and young workers often do not hold those positions in aging societies, where managerial slots are clogged with older workers.

In earlier work (published in the Journal of Labor Economics, 2005), I found that Stanford MBAs who became entrepreneurs typically worked for others for five to 10 years before starting their own businesses. The GEM data reveal that in the U.S. the entrepreneurship rate peaks for individuals in their late 20s and stays high throughout the 30s. Those in their early 20s have new business ownership rates that are only two-thirds of peak rates. Those in their 50s start businesses at about half the rate of 30-year-olds.

Silicon Valley provides a case in point. Especially during the dot-com era, the Valley was filled with young people who had senior positions in startups. Some of the firms succeeded, but even those that failed provided their managers with valuable business lessons.

My co-author on the GEM study, James Liang, is an example. After spending his early years as a manager at the young and rapidly growing Oracle, he moved back to China to start Ctrip, one of the country's largest Internet travel sites.



For the full commentary, see:

EDWARD P. LAZEAR. "The Young, the Restless and Economic Growth; Countries with a younger population have far higher rates of entrepreneurship." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Dec. 23, 2013): A13.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 22, 2013.)


The Lazear paper mentioned above, is:

Lazear, Edward P. "Entrepreneurship." Journal of Labor Economics 23, no. 4 (October 2005): 649-80.






February 16, 2014

Incandesce



(p. A11) When I am asked if I want a Compact Fluorescent Light, the only thought I have is that I don't want my light to be compact, nor do I wish it to be florescent. I want a light that will incandesce across my room, filling it with a familiar yellow surf, and remind me that it was not with wax or kerosene, but with incandescent bulbs that man conquered the night.


. . .


I imagine what will happen when the filaments in my final incandescent bulbs grow weak, and I can hardly read my notes before me. Will I no longer be able to write at night? Or worse, will living with CFLs and LEDs make every day feel like I have just spent nine hours plastered before a computer screen? One day, soon, I will turn on my light and hear for the last time the signature, explosive death rattle of an incandescent bulb, and I'll hold a vigil for the light that shaped and witnessed more than a century of human history. Tender is the light, Keats might say.

In my lightless room, I'll sit for a moment and wonder how many more times in my life I'll watch a bulb go out again. As I look to my dead bulb, I'll think of the poet again and whisper: Darkling, you were not a piece of technology born for death.



For the full commentary, see:

ALEXANDER ACIMAN. "Tender Is the Light of My Incandescents; Bracing myself for life once the filaments in my beloved bulbs grow weak." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Jan. 31, 2014): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 30, 2014.)






February 12, 2014

It Does Not Take a Government to Raise a Railroad



(p. A17) . . . , All Aboard Florida (the train will get a new name this year), is not designed to push political buttons. It won't go to Tampa. It will zip past several aggrieved towns on Florida's Treasure Coast without stopping.

Nor will the train qualify as "high speed," except on a stretch where it will hit 125 miles an hour. Instead of running on a dedicated line, the new service will mostly share existing track with slower freight trains operated by its sister company