Main


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 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 12, 2018

The Diversity That Matters Most Is Diversity of Thought



(p. A15) If you want anyone to pay attention to you in meetings, don't ever preface your opposition to a proposal by saying: "Just to play devil's advocate . . ." If you disagree with something, just say it and hold your ground until you're convinced otherwise. There are many such useful ideas in Charlan Nemeth's "In Defense of Troublemakers," her study of dissent in life and the workplace. But if this one alone takes hold, it could transform millions of meetings, doing away with all those mushy, consensus-driven hours wasted by people too scared of disagreement or power to speak truth to gibberish. Not only would better decisions get made, but the process of making them would vastly improve.


. . .


In the latter part of her book, Ms. Nemeth explores in more detail how dissent improves the way in which groups think. She is ruthless toward conventional "brainstorming," which tends toward the uncritical accumulation of bad ideas rather than the argumentative heat that forges better ideas. It's only through criticism that concepts receive proper scrutiny. "Repeatedly we find that dissent has value, even when it is wrong, even when we don't like the dissenter, and even when we are not convinced of his position," she writes. "Dissent . . . enables us to think more independently" and "also stimulates thought that is open, divergent, flexible, and original."


. . .


Ms. Nemeth's punchy book also has an invaluable section on diversity in groups. All too often, she writes, in pursuit of diversity we focus on everything but the way people think. We look at a group's gender, color or experience, and once the palette looks right declare it diverse. But you can have all of that and still have a group that thinks the same and reinforces a wrong-headed consensus.

By contrast, you can have a group that is demographically homogeneous yet violently heterogeneous in the way it thinks. The kind of diversity that leads to well-informed decisions is not necessarily the kind of diversity that gives the appearance of social justice. That will be a hard message for many organizations to swallow. But as with many of the arguments that Ms. Nemeth makes in her book, it is one that she gamely delivers and that all managers interested in the quality and integrity of their decision-making would do well to heed.



For the full review, see:

Philip Delves Broughton. "BOOKSHELF; Rocking The Boat." The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, May 9, 2018): A15.

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

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 10, 2018, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; 'In Defense of Troublemakers' Review: Rocking the Boat.")


The book under review, is:

Nemeth, Charlan. In Defense of Troublemakers: The Power of Dissent in Life and Business. New York: Basic Books, 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.")






May 28, 2018

Vending Machines for Cars in China



(p. B2) GUANGZHOU, China-- Eric Zhou is interested in buying a Ford Kuga sport-utility vehicle. So last week, he picked up the car for a three-day test drive from a vending machine.

Mr. Zhou never visited a dealership or spoke to a salesperson. He booked the test drive online, then showed up at a service center where employees can identify would-be buyers using facial-recognition technology. His SUV was then delivered from the eight-story "vending machine"--essentially an automated parking garage.

"This is so much more efficient and convenient than traditional dealerships," said Mr. Zhou, 38 years old.

It's the first of several such car-vending centers that Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. plans to open across China this year--part of the company's latest effort to translate its success in online retailing to the physical shopping world.



For the full story, see:

Liza Lin. "Car-Vending Machine Is Rolled Out." The Wall Street Journal (Friday, April 6, 2018): B2.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 5, 2018, and has the title "To Buy a Car in China, Hit the Vending Machine.")






May 27, 2018

Mark Twain's "Desperately Striving Entrepreneurship"



(p. A13) For a novelist with such a tart view of human character, Twain's gullibility is hard to fathom. No matter his dismal track record, he always appraised the next opportunity as a sure thing. The two fields he knew about, books and newspapers, caused him more grief than any other. He had success with Charles L. Webster & Co., the publisher he founded, which issued the memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant. But after that runaway hit, he published a string of lemons.

Even worse was his decade-long investment in a typesetting machine, the Paige Compositor, which, Twain noted, would be faster than a human typesetter and "does not get drunk" and "does not join the Printer's Union." But its inventor proved to be a hopeless perfectionist, his machine with its thousands of parts a tribute to complexity gone mad. Ultimately, Twain invested $175,000--an immense sum. With the mogul Rogers guiding him, the author transferred his assets to his wife and put his publishing company into bankruptcy. Only by embarking on a world-wide speaking tour was he able to pay his debts.

Mr. Crawford doesn't seem curious about whether Twain's financial capers informed his writing. He has nothing notable to say, for instance, on "The Prince and the Pauper," a wry commentary on the sort of class envy to which Twain himself was susceptible. Nor does Mr. Crawford attempt to reconcile the conventional view of Twain as a folksy raconteur with the evidence of his desperately striving entrepreneurship.



For the full review, see:

Roger Lowenstein. "BOOKSHELF; A Pudding Head and His Money; Given the novelist's tart view of human character, the financial misadventures of Mark Twain are hard to fathom." The Wall Street Journal (Friday, October 27, 2017): A13.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 26, 2017, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Review: A Pudding Head and His Money; Given the novelist's tart view of human character, the financial misadventures of Mark Twain are hard to fathom.")


The book under review, is:

Crawford, Alan Pell. How Not to Get Rich: The Financial Misadventures of Mark Twain. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017.






May 25, 2018

Clues to How Macron Achieves Major Free Market Reforms in France



(p. A9) PARIS -- The plush red velvet seats of France's National Assembly are filled with lawmakers who owe just about everything to President Emmanuel Macron.

Three-quarters of the 577 members are brand new, swept into power in the wake of his election last year. More than 60 percent are in his camp. Nearly one-third have never held public office, and 38 were under the age of 31 when they entered office.


. . .


On Thursday [March 22, 2018], tens of thousands of railway workers, teachers and air traffic controllers went on strike across France to protest salary freezes for civil servants and Mr. Macron's pledge to cut 120,000 public-sector jobs and introduce merit-based pay and use more private contractors.


. . .


The assembly has become a showcase of Mr. Macron's forceful powers of persuasion and the ways he wants to reshape and update all of France.

"There's been a complete cultural shock," said Jean-Paul Delevoye, a senior official in Mr. Macron's government who helped pick his candidates for Parliament.

"We've completely overturned the sociology of the assembly," he added.

Diet Coke replaced wine as the most popular item at the assembly's bar. Wine sales had plummeted, stunning the barmen, though they are creeping back up under the influence of long days. Mr. Macron's acolytes sit through them, unlike their predecessors.

Before the rule for a deputy was, arrive Tuesday morning and go home Wednesday evening. Now, many say, Mr. Macron's deputies come for the whole week.

So assiduous are they that "now, it's hard to find a spot at the restaurant, that's what strikes me," said Brigitte Bourguignon, another ex-Socialist who joined Mr. Macron.

Among the youthful deputies, common positions are worked out in advance on applications like Telegram, befuddling the old-timers. There is little patience for them in any case.


. . .


Parliament was barely to be seen last year when Mr. Macron forced through changes to France's rigid labor code to allow companies more flexibility in negotiating directly with workers, and to limit payouts after layoffs.

Instead, the president proceeded by special decree, using a rarely used procedure that allowed the National Assembly merely to vote thumbs up or down on the labor reforms -- it voted up -- but without the power to change or even discuss them.

Then, Mr. Macron rammed through the lifting of a tax on wealth, insisting that it was necessary to free capital for investment. Many economists agreed. But apart from a few opposition whimpers there was hardly any debate.

In coming weeks he proposes to take on the railway workers -- the bête noir of many a French government -- again by special decree. Mr. Macron wants to end the hiring-for-life, early retirement and enhanced medical insurance that have contributed to a whopping deficit. But he doesn't necessarily want Parliament debating it.


. . .


For his dedicated supporters in Parliament, subordination is not an issue. Asked whether he had been in disagreement with the government, Mr. Potterie replied: "Ah, no. No. At the margins maybe. But for the moment, no."

In the National Assembly, "it's true that we don't challenge the government," he added. "It's because we were elected to carry out their program."

That sense of purpose runs deep.

"It's not true that we are simply puppets," insisted Ms. Bourguignon, the former Socialist. "We've got a government that reforms, and we've got to follow the government."



For the full story, see:

ADAM NOSSITER. "Macron Fills the Role Of French Strongman." The New York Times (Friday, March 23, 2018): A9.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 22, 2018, and has the title "Emmanuel Macron Becomes France's Answer to Strongman Populism." The online version says that the article appeared on p. A13 of the New York edition. It appeared on p. A9 of my National edition.)






May 24, 2018

Grünberg Found Useful Effect That Went Against Then-Dominant Theory



(p. A25) Peter Grünberg, a Nobel-Prize-winning physicist who discovered how to store vast amounts of data by manipulating the magnetic and electrical fields of thin layers of atoms, making possible devices like the iPad and the smartphone, has died at 78.


. . .


Since the British physicist Lord Kelvin first wrote about the subject in 1857, it had long been known that magnetic fields could affect the electrical resistance of magnetic materials like iron. Current flowed more easily along the field lines than across them.

While this effect on electrical resistance was useful for sensing magnetic fields and, in electronic heads, reading magnetic disks, it amounted to only a small change in the resistance, and physicists did not think there were many prospects for improvement.

So it was a surprise in 1988 when groups led by Dr. Fert at the Laboratoire de Physique des Solides in Paris and by Dr. Grünberg found that super-slim sandwiches of iron and chromium that they had assembled showed large sensitivity to magnetic fields -- or "giant magnetoresistance," as Dr. Fert called it. The name stuck.

The reason for the effect has to do with what physicists call the spin of electrons -- their somewhat mysterious ability to have an orientation in space. When the magnetic layers of the sandwich have both their fields pointing in the same direction, electrons whose spin points along that direction can migrate freely through the sandwich. Electrons that point in another direction, however, are scattered.

If, however, one of the magnetic layers is perturbed by, say, reading a small signal, it can flip its direction so that its field runs opposite to the other one; this dramatically increases the electrical resistance of the sandwich.

As Philip Schewe, of the American Institute of Physics, explained, "You've leveraged a weak bit of magnetism into a robust bit of electricity."

Experts said the discovery was one of the first triumphs of the new field of nanotechnology, the ability to build and manipulate assemblies of atoms only a nanometer (a billionth of a meter) in size.



For the full obituary, see:

DENNIS OVERBYE. "Peter Grünberg, 78, Dies; Heart of Modern Gadgets Is Based on His Research." The New York Times (Friday, April 13, 2018): A25.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date APRIL 12, 2018, and has the title "Peter Grünberg, 78, Winner of an 'iPod Nobel,' Is Dead.")






May 21, 2018

Big Pharma Is Mellow about FDA Obstacles to Innovation



It sometimes appears that big pharma is comfortable with the hugely expensive FDA drug approval process. Perhaps big pharma firms have learned how to navigate the process and have the resources to do so. And perhaps the process discourages disruptive innovations from small medical startups that have not learned how to navigate the process, and do not have the resources to do so. If so, then the puzzling indifference of big pharma indicated in the passages quoted below, becomes easier to understand.

(There's a wonderful recent TV ad from big pharma supporting innovation by quoting the Dylan Thomas poem saying we should "rage, rage against the dying of the light." If only they really meant it.)



(p. A13) In recent years, the arrival of breakthrough drugs for everything from cancer to rare diseases has led to a surge in the number of patients wanting early access to treatments. The pleas -- sometimes driven by viral social media campaigns -- have proved vexing for companies that have invested millions to get a drug to market and are wary of doing anything to jeopardize their chances.

Today, companies' policies on granting early access to drugs are a confusing patchwork that tends to favor affluent and well-connected patients at leading medical centers, who have the resources and know-how to navigate the system.

"You have to be pretty sophisticated," said Dr. Arthur L. Caplan, a bioethicist at New York University who has been working with companies, including Johnson & Johnson, to develop better early-access programs. But the bill passed this week, he said, "does somewhere between nothing and absolutely nothing to help you."

The bill's passage represented a victory for proponents of "right to try," a campaign championed by Vice President Mike Pence and initiated by the Goldwater Institute, a libertarian think tank that favors limiting the scope of the F.D.A. At least 38 states have passed local versions of right-to-try laws, which allow patients to sidestep F.D.A. approval once they have received permission from a company.

The right-to-try measures are opposed by a broad coalition of groups, which contend the bill will not help patients and will undermine the authority of the primary regulatory agency, the F.D.A. Four former F.D.A. commissioners, including two each from Democratic and Republican administrations, oppose the bills, as do dozens of patient groups, including the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and the American Lung Association.

The pharmaceutical industry, while not taking a position on the issue, has been circumspect. A spokesman for its main lobbying group, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said on Friday, "We believe any legislation must truly benefit and protect patients and not disrupt the future of clinical trials, U.S. Food and Drug Administration oversight and the research and approval of new medicines."


. . .


The F.D.A. already approves 99 percent of such applications, and the agency has streamlined the approval process. Drug companies also have many other reasons to bar access -- often, companies do not have enough extra product to give to patients, or they worry that the logistical work of granting access could slow efforts to get the drug approved, when it would become available to any patient who needed it.

There is also the possibility that the drug does not work -- many experimental products fail in late-stage trials.


. . .


"In our view, the F.D.A. plays a really important role," Dr. Joanne Waldstreicher, the chief medical officer of Johnson & Johnson, said in an interview Thursday. Johnson & Johnson initiated a program in 2015 that delegates decisions about early access to a program set up by Dr. Caplan. The F.D.A., Dr. Waldstreicher said, has "information that we don't have necessarily; they see safety and efficacy information on products that may be similar."



For the full story, see:

KATIE THOMAS. "For Terminally Ill People, a Convoluted Procedure Just to Give Drugs a Try." The New York Times (Saturday, March 24, 2018): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 23, 2018, and has the title "Why Can't Dying Patients Get the Drugs They Want?")






May 20, 2018

"A Litigious, Protective Culture Has Gone Too Far"



(p. A1) SHOEBURYNESS, England -- Educators in Britain, after decades spent in a collective effort to minimize risk, are now, cautiously, getting into the business of providing it.


. . .


Limited risks are increasingly cast by experts as an experience essential to childhood development, useful in building resilience and grit.

Outside the Princess Diana Playground in Kensington Gardens in London, which attracts more than a million visitors a year, a placard informs parents that risks have been "intentionally provided, so that your child can develop an appreciation of risk in a controlled play environment rather than taking similar risks in an uncontrolled and unregulated wider world."

This view is tinged with nostalgia for an earlier Britain, in which children were tougher and more self-reliant. It resonates both with right-wing tabloids, which see it as a corrective to the cosseting of a liberal nanny state; and with progressives, drawn to a freer and more natural childhood.


. . .


(p. A12) Britain is one of a number of countries where educators and regulators say a litigious, protective culture has gone too far, leaching healthy risks out of childhood. Guidelines on play from the government agency that oversees health and safety issues in Britain state that "the goal is not to eliminate risk."



For the full story, see:

ELLEN BARRY. "In Britain, Learning to Accept Risk, and the Occasional 'Owie'." The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, March 11, 2018): A1 & A12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 10, 2018, and has the title "In Britain's Playgrounds, 'Bringing in Risk' to Build Resilience.")






May 19, 2018

"Puttin' On the Ritz"



(p. C9) The Savoy, which opened in 1889, was glamorous and cosmopolitan, an antidote to Victorian stuffiness. Its owner, Richard D'Oyly Carte, the backer of Gilbert and Sullivan's comic operas, had a theater next door, and his ambition was to create a modern luxury hotel the likes of which had never been seen. To fulfill his vision, in 1890 he turned to Escoffier and the Swiss hotelier Ritz, a man known for his impeccable taste, and in short order the two men, who'd had a previous success at the Grand Hotel in Monte Carlo, made the Savoy into the most famous and profitable hotel and restaurant in the world.

"Ritz & Escoffier," Luke Barr's entertaining narrative history, reads like a novel (complete with cliff hangers and descriptions of the characters' private thoughts). Both of its subjects had grown up poor, but were opposites temperamentally.


. . .


Neither man had to use the stairs at the Savoy, since the hotel had six elevators, the largest ever seen in Europe, which D'Oyly Carte called "ascending rooms." There were 400 guestrooms and an unheard-of number of bathrooms--67 all told, many en suite and at no extra charge. (The recently opened Hotel Victoria provided just four for 500 guests.) The Savoy also had electric light that you could switch on or off in your room without getting out of bed, also at no extra charge.


. . .


. . ., D'Oyly Carte gave Escoffier and Ritz free rein from the start. The restaurant became enormously popular, a gathering place open to all who could afford it: aristocrats, the nouveau riche, royalty, Jewish bankers and fur traders (Jews weren't freely accepted in society at the time), and stars of the theater and opera. Formal evening dress was de rigueur in the dining room and women were admitted--except those of "doubtful reputation and uncertain revenue," who arrived unaccompanied, wearing makeup and large hats. Mr. Barr writes, "An extravagant hat worn in the evening, Ritz had discovered, was a sign of trouble." But Ritz not only gave ladies' banquets, he also successfully campaigned to change the laws against eating out on Sundays. Soon those formerly grim at-home evenings of "cold joint and gloom" became the most fashionable times of the week to dine at the Savoy.


. . .


Ritz had opened the hotel's doors to anyone with money wearing the right clothes. The old social rules were broken. Mr. Barr comments, "Indeed, there was an element of decadence in the Savoy's brand of luxury--it was this decadence that made it modern, the sense that pleasure was to be celebrated."



For the full review, see:

Moira Hodgson. "'Modern Hospitality." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, March 31, 2018): C9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 30, 2018, and has the title "'Ritz & Escoffier' Review: Modern Hospitality.")


The book under review, is:

Barr, Luke. Ritz and Escoffier: The Hotelier, the Chef, and the Rise of the Leisure Class. New York: Clarkson Potter, 2018.







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 13, 2018

Labor-Intensive Tinkering Can Advance Science



(p. A24) When John E. Sulston was 5 years old and growing up in Britain, the son of an Anglican priest, his parents sent him to a private school. There, he discovered, sports were his nemesis.

"I absolutely loathed games," he said. "I was hopeless."

When it came to schoolwork, he said, he was "not a books person."

He had only one consuming interest: science. He liked to tinker, to figure out how things were put together.


. . .


The Nobel he received, shared with two other scientists, recognized the good data he amassed in his work on the tiny transparent roundworm C. elegans in an effort to better understand how organisms develop.


. . .


At the time, it was widely believed that the 558 cells the worm had when it hatched were all it would ever have. But Dr. Sulston noticed that, in fact, the worm kept gaining cells as it developed. And by tracing the patterns of divisions that gave rise to those new cells, he found, surprisingly, that the worm also lost cells in a predictable way. Certain cells were destined to die at a specific time, digesting their own DNA.

Dr. Sulston's next major project was to trace the fate of every single cell in a worm. It was a task so demanding and labor-intensive that other scientists still shake their heads in amazement that he got it done.

Each day, bending over his microscope for eight or more hours, he would start with a worm embryo and choose one of its cells. He would then watch the cell as it divided and follow each of its progeny cells as, together, they grew and formed the organism. This went on for a total of 18 months.

In the end, he had a complete map of every one of the worm's 959 cells (not counting sperm and egg cells).



For the full obituary, see:

GINA KOLATA. "John Sulston, 75; Tiny Worm Guided Him to Nobel." The New York Times (Friday, March 16, 2018): A24.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date MARCH 15, 2018, and has the title "John E. Sulston, 75, Dies; Found Clues to Genes in a Worm.")






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 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 6, 2018

Dockless Bikes Flood Dallas as Officials Scramble to Regulate



(p. B4) . . . in recent months, Dallas has become ground zero for a nascent national bike-share war, as five startups armed with hundreds of millions of venture capital dollars have blanketed the city with at least 18,000 bikes.   . . .    . . . , the bikes flooding Dallas are "dockless." In other words, these bikes--popular in many Chinese cities--can be left almost anywhere when the rider is done.


. . .


City officials are scrambling to write regulations. "You drive down a street, you see bikes everywhere, all scattered out," said Dallas City Council member Tennell Atkins. "We've got to think it through. It's a mess."

Other U.S. cities are having a similar experience, if on a smaller scale. The startups, which include China's two leading bike-share companies, are in the early stages of a plan to blanket U.S. cities with hundreds of thousands of dockless bikes in the coming year.

Typically acting with cooperation and encouragement from city governments, companies seed a city with bikes placed on sidewalks, by bus stops and throughout downtowns. Users pay $1 per half-hour or hour for a bike they locate and unlock with an app on their smartphones, eliminating the need for a bike rack.



For the full story, see:

Eliot Brown. "It's the Wild West for Bike Sharing." The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, March 27, 2018): B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 26, 2018, and has the title "Dockless Bike Share Floods into U.S. Cities, With Rides and Clutter.")






May 3, 2018

"Searing Portrait" of Uber Entrepreneur Travis Kalanick



(p. B3) Mr. Lashinsky's book gives readers an inside view of the ride-hailing giant's creation and what created the broken corporate culture that yielded so many negative news stories this year.

"Wild Ride" offers a searing portrait of Uber's former chief executive, Travis Kalanick, whom Mr. Lashinsky shows to be both a genius and wildly headstrong (and not in a good way). Because of when it was published, the book does not include many of the episodes that consumed Uber in 2017, including Susan Fowler's viral blog post about the company's misogynistic culture and the ouster of Mr. Kalanick. But until that book is written -- and it surely will be -- "Wild Ride" is a good primer.



For the full commentary, see:

Sorkin, Andrew Ross. "DEALBOOK For a Year Filled With News, A List of Books Worth a Look." The New York Times (Tuesday, DEC. 26, 2017): B1 & B3.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date DEC. 25, 2017, and has the title "DEALBOOK; In a Year of Nonstop News, a Batch of Business Books Worth Reading.")


The Lashinsky book mentioned above, is:

Lashinsky, Adam. Wild Ride: Inside Uber's Quest for World Domination. New York: Portfolio, 2017.






May 1, 2018

Individualistic Cultures Foster Innovation



IndividualismProductivityGraph2018-04-20.pngSource of graph: online version of the WSJ commentary quoted and cited below.



(p. B1) Luther matters to investors not because of the religion he founded, but because of the cultural impact of challenging the Catholic Church's grip on society. By ushering in what Edmund Phelps, the Nobel-winning director of Columbia University's Center on Capitalism and Society, calls the "the age of the individual," Luther laid the groundwork for capitalism.


. . .


(p. B10) Mr. Phelps and collaborators Saifedean Ammous, Raicho Bojilov and Gylfi Zoega show that even in recent years, countries with more individualistic cultures have more innovative economies. They demonstrate a strong link between countries that surveys show to be more individualistic, and total factor productivity, a proxy for innovation that measures growth due to more efficient use of labor and capital. Less individualistic cultures, such as France, Spain and Japan, showed little innovation while the individualistic U.S. led.

As Mr. Bojilov points out, correlation doesn't prove causation, so they looked at the effects of country of origin on the success of second, third and fourth-generation Americans as entrepreneurs. The effects turn out to be significant but leave room for debate about how important individualistic attitudes are to financial and economic success.



For the full commentary, see:

James Mackintosh. "STREETWISE; What Martin Luther Says About Capitalism." The Wall Street Journal (Friday, Nov. 3, 2017): B1 & B10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Nov. 2, 2017, and has the title "STREETWISE; What 500 Years of Protestantism Teaches Us About Capitalism's Future." Where there are minor differences in wording in the two versions, the passages quoted above follow the online version.)






April 29, 2018

Case Study of Effects of Closing a Factory



(p. B1) Perhaps the most illuminating business book of the year, for me, is Amy Goldstein's "Janesville: An American Story." If you really want to understand what's going on in today's real economy -- beyond the headlines about new stock-market highs, tax policy or the latest list of billionaires -- spend some time with this true tale of what happened in the middle-class town of Janesville, Wis., after General Motors closed a factory there.

Ms. Goldstein admirably shows all sides of this story, capturing in microcosm all of the issues that so many communities across the United States are facing. You will probably be left doing some hard thinking about what is driving the politics of the moment, although Ms. Goldstein brilliantly, and respectfully, paints the book's characters with such nuance that readers from across the ideological spectrum are likely to arrive at different conclusions about heroes and villains.

In crafting this deeply reported and riveting read, Ms. Goldstein spent considerable time in Janesville. As a result, you get a palpable sense of what life is like there; of the financial and psychological impact that a major plant closing has; and of the knock-on effects such an event has on other businesses and institutions. She paints vivid portraits of characters who include laid-off workers seeking retraining, union officials and local politicians, Speaker Paul D. Ryan among them. If you liked "Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis," J. D. Vance's best-seller about growing up in Ohio and the decline of the industrial Midwest, I think you'll find that "Janesville" makes these issues real in a new and compelling way.



For the full commentary, see:

Sorkin, Andrew Ross. "DEALBOOK For a Year Filled With News, A List of Books Worth a Look." The New York Times (Tuesday, DEC. 26, 2017): B1 & B3.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date DEC. 25, 2017, and has the title "DEALBOOK; In a Year of Nonstop News, a Batch of Business Books Worth Reading.")


The Goldstein book mentioned above, is:

Goldstein, Amy. Janesville: An American Story. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017.






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 16, 2018

Pursuit of Slow Hunch Pays Off with Flu Drug



(p. B3) As Americans suffer through the worst influenza outbreak in almost a decade, a Japanese drugmaker says it has developed a pill that can kill the virus within a day.


. . .


"The data that we've seen looks very promising," said Martin Howell Friede, who leads the World Health Organization's advisory on vaccines, including for influenza. "This could be a breakthrough in the way that we treat influenza."


. . .


Shionogi scientists began researching a novel flu drug more than a decade ago, shelving almost 2,500 compounds in the process. Then, the 140-year-old Osaka company, which has created blockbuster drugs used to treat HIV and high cholesterol, had a breakthrough.

Shionogi scientists knew from their research that an anti-HIV drug the company had developed with a joint venture of Pfizer Inc. and GlaxoSmithKline Co. worked by blocking a metallic enzyme that HIV uses as a weapon to hijack human cells. They found the flu virus was also exploiting a metallic enzyme.

"So we said, 'why don't we build on our HIV knowledge to find a way to treat the flu?' And we did," said Takeki Uehara, who led the compound's development.



For the full story, see:

Preetika Rana. "Drugmaker: Pill Kills Flu in a Day." The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Feb. 12, 2018): B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Feb. 10, 2018, and has the title "Experimental Drug Promises to Kill the Flu Virus in a Day.")






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 10, 2018

FDA Regulations Stop Vape Shop Innovations



(p. A19) After Kimberly Manor lost her husband to lung cancer, she was inspired to make a dramatic career change. Kimberly now owns and operates Moose Jooce in Lake, Mich., a "vape shop" that sells various electronic nicotine devices. These products use battery-powered coils to vaporize liquids, with differing levels of nicotine or none at all. Thus, vapers may inhale nicotine without the tar or other harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke, since there is no tobacco and no combustion. Scientific evidence suggests this is a much safer alternative to smoking.

Ms. Manor estimates that her business has helped more than 500 people quit smoking, most of them longtime smokers in their 50s or older. Yet the Food and Drug Administration is discouraging more such enterprises. In a regulation issued in 2016 known as the "deeming rule," the agency ordered that vaping products would be subject to the same regulations developed for the cigarette industry under the Tobacco Control Act of 2009.

The deeming rule has been devastating to businesses like Ms. Manor's. To give just one example, vape shop owners frequently experiment by mixing new flavors for the liquid "juice." Now, each separate creation requires its own prohibitively expensive application for FDA approval, which means that vape shops have been forced to stop innovating.



For the full commentary, see:

Todd Gaziano and Tommy Berry, "Career Civil Servants Illegitimately Rule America; Leslie Kux has never been elected or confirmed by the Senate. She's issued nearly 200 regulations." The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, March 1, 2018): A19.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 28, 2018.)






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.






April 4, 2018

Italian Bureaucracy Leaves Innovative Restaurateur Feeling "Psychologically Violated"



(p. A7) ROME--The campaign leading up to Italy's national elections on March 4 [2018] has featured populist promises of largess but neglected what economists have long said is the real Italian disease: The country has forgotten how to grow.

Take Gianni Angelilli's pizzeria in downtown Rome. He uses an innovative dough mix and flexible cooking methods, drawing long lines and rave reviews. But Italy is too bureaucratic, the locals have no money and his ambition isn't what it used to be, Mr. Angelilli said. If he opens more outlets, they will be abroad.

"Now, foreigners have more desire to eat well than Italians," he said. "Italy is dead. Italy is finito."


. . .


Italian politics have become measurably more chaotic since the country's old party system--largely frozen during the Cold War--collapsed amid corruption scandals in the early 1990s. Data collected by Einaudi economist Luigi Guiso and others show that since 1992, coalitions have become more likely to crumble, lawmakers to defect and governments to need confidence votes in parliament. Politicians jostling for attention push more frequent, longer and more-complicated legislation.

"An excess has cluttered the bureaucratic machine," says Mr. Guiso. "The country has become cumbersome."

Yet the weakness of transient politicians has paradoxically made the public administration more powerful, at the same time as constant legal changes immobilize it, he says.

Mr. Guiso has practical experience. He is helping to set up a government-supported program to send young Italians to learn about entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley and at U.S. business schools, and he said Italian civil servants decided a tender offer inviting U.S. organizations to participate could be published in Italian only. After much persuasion, the civil servants agreed to publish the tender in English too--but insisted all applications must be in Italian, said Mr. Guiso. He said political friends apologized, saying there was nothing they could do.

Mr. Angelilli said his encounters with Italian bureaucracy while running his Pinsere pizzeria have left him feeling "psychologically violated." He said he had to pay a fine recently because his oven's air extraction, made to comply with European, national and regional laws, ran afoul of new city rules.



For the full story, see:

Marcus Walker and Giovanni Legorano. "The Real Italian Job: Rev Up Productivity." The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018): A7.

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

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Feb. 27, 2018, and has the title "Italy: The Country That Forgot How to Grow.")






March 30, 2018

Decline in Startups Reduces Labor Market Dynamism



DynamismDeclineGraph2018-03-02.pngSource of graphs: online version of the NYT commentary quoted and cited below.



(p. B1) . . . a broad sweep of statistics reveals a peculiar weariness spreading through the economy. Belying breathless headlines about the fabulous opportunities that technology is about to bestow on society, it suggests that many rich market democracies have lost much of their dynamism. Their companies are getting old, and their labor markets are getting stuck. Productivity growth has slumped. And many workers in their prime are peeling off from the labor force.


. . .


(p. B4) . . . , the economy's ability to generate and support new businesses -- agents of creative destruction that bring new products and methods into the marketplace -- appears to be faltering across the world. In the United States, the rate of company formation is half what it was four decades ago. And it is slowing in many industrialized countries.


. . .


In a study published on Tuesday [February 6, 2018] by the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution, Jay Shambaugh, Ryan Nunn and Patrick Liu explore what economists have figured out about the American economy's inertia and the fallout for wages and living standards.

The evidence paints a distinct picture of decline: Fewer start-ups mean fewer new ideas and fewer young, productive businesses to replace older, less productive ones. Researchers have found that the decline in companies entering the market since 1980 has trimmed productivity growth by about 3.1 percent.

The dearth of new businesses is also cutting off one of the main paths to workers' advancement: the outside job offer. Changing jobs allows workers to shift to positions in which they are more productive, and better paid. But labor market fluidity -- job switching, creation and destruction -- has been declining since the 1980s.

Clear though the pattern may be, the researchers acknowledge that we haven't yet figured out what is holding the economy's dynamism back. "This is one of those big, economywide trends," Mr. Shambaugh told me. "There is room for a lot of stories."



For the full commentary, see:

Porter, Eduardo. "ECONOMIC SCENE; What to Worry About: Decrease in Start-Ups Is a Sign of Stagnation." The New York Times (Wednesday, February 7, 2018): B1 & B4.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date FEB. 6, 2018, and has the title "ECONOMIC SCENE; Where Are the Start-Ups? Loss of Dynamism Is Impeding Growth.")


The paper by Shambaugh, Nunn, and Liu, that is mentioned above, is:

Shambaugh, Jay, Ryan Nunn, and Patrick Liu. "How Declining Dynamism Affects Wages." In Revitalizing Wage Growth Policies to Get American Workers a Raise, edited by Jay Shambaugh and Ryan Nunn, Washington, D.C.: Brookings, 2018, pp. 11-23.






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 28, 2018

Rival Retailers Failed in Effort to Cut Off Ikea's Supplies



(p. B5) Ingvar Kamprad, born on a farm in the rock-strewn Swedish region of Småland, got his start as a merchant at around age 5 by buying matches in bulk and reselling them to neighbors.

He went on to pull off a rare feat: Creating a global retailing powerhouse, the furniture chain IKEA, with over 400 stores, in a business that generally has defied globalization. IKEA's furniture has delighted bargain seekers for decades and made millions of dorm rooms and first apartments habitable, despite maddening the many customers who found the assembly instructions baffling.


. . .


One of his most successful notions was that furniture could be shipped and warehoused much more cheaply in disassembled form.


. . .


Rival retailers in Sweden, shocked by IKEA's low prices, pressured furniture makers to cut off supplies to Mr. Kamprad's company. That served only to make IKEA stronger as Mr. Kamprad found he could buy furniture much more cheaply from Polish plants. The search for foreign suppliers also helped IKEA turn itself into an international company.


. . .


Mr. Kamprad remained a penny-pincher, flying economy class and lecturing his employees that waste was sinful, according to "Leading by Design," a 1999 biography by Bertil Torekull.



For the full obituary, see:

James R. Hagerty and Saabira Chaudhuri. "IKEA's Founder Dies at 91." The Wall Street Journal (Monday, January 29, 2018): B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Jan. 28, 2018, and has the title "Ingvar Kamprad Built Global IKEA Chain From a Single Furniture Store in Sweden.")


The autobiography of Kamprad, mentioned above, is:

Kamprad, Ingvar, and Bertil Torekull. Leading by Design: The Ikea Story New York: HarperCollins, 1999.






March 27, 2018

Occupational Licensing Hurts Military Spouses



(p. A15) Heather Kokesch Del Castillo launched a dietary advice business in Monterey, Calif., in 2014. The business grew and Ms. Del Castillo eventually established a nationwide client base as a "health coach." But when her husband, who is in the Air Force, was transferred to a base in Florida, her business hit a roadblock. A Florida Department of Health investigator showed up at the door of their new home with a cease-and-desist letter and a $750 fine.

After nearly two years of operating her business in Florida, Ms. Del Castillo learned that she had run afoul of a law requiring any person offering dietary advice to possess a state-issued license. Qualifying for that permit requires a bachelor's degree in dietetics, a 900-hour internship, a passing grade on an exam administered by the state Commission on Dietetic Registration, and a $355 fee. A licensed dietitian had tipped off the Health Department that Ms. Del Castillo was giving unauthorized advice. She retained the Institute for Justice, a public-interest law firm, to fight the law that stripped her of her livelihood.

State licensing laws pose a particular burden on military spouses like Ms. Del Castillo. About 1 in 4 Americans need licenses to perform their occupations. In some states, florists, taxidermists and even fortune-tellers need licenses to operate. Far too often, these licenses serve less as safeguards of public health and safety than as barriers to entry. In many cases, the state-appointed boards that issue licenses are stocked with industry insiders seeking to restrict competition.


. . .


Military spouses were 10 times as likely to have moved to a new state in the past year than the average American, according to a combined 2012 study by the Treasury and Defense departments. Surveys suggest that anywhere from 35% to 50% of military spouses work in professions that require licensure, and nearly 75% of them would need to be relicensed upon transferring to a new state. Perhaps as a result, the unemployment rate for military spouses is 16%, while the national unemployment rate is only 4.1%



For the full commentary, see:

Shoshana Weissmann and C. Jarrett Dieterle. "Why Do You Need a College Degree to Give Diet Advice?; State licensing laws overly burden military spouses, who move frequently only to find they can't work." The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, February 1, 2018): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Jan. 31, 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 23, 2018

Reporters Celebrate Union Before Losing Jobs



(p. A23) A week ago, reporters and editors in the combined newsroom of DNAinfo and Gothamist, two of New York City's leading digital purveyors of local news, celebrated victory in their vote to join a union.

On Thursday [November 2, 2018], they lost their jobs, as Joe Ricketts, the billionaire founder of TD Ameritrade who owned the sites, shut them down.



For the full story, see:

ANDY NEWMAN and JOHN LELAND. "DNAinfo and Gothamist Shut Down After Workers Join a Union." The New York Times (Tuesday, November 3, 2017): A23.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 2, 2017, and has the title "DNAinfo and Gothamist Are Shut Down After Vote to Unionize." The online version says that the page number of the New York edition was A21. The page number of my edition, probably midwest, was A23.)






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 18, 2018

"We Have to Entrepreneurialize Society"



Economist Klaus Schwab is the founder and organizer of the annual Davos gatherings of government and corporate insiders.


(p. R15) MR. BAKER: There has been a tremendous growth in industrial concentration, big companies getting bigger. Small companies are essentially being squeezed out. There's a concern that it's not just bureaucracies and supernational institutions, but companies themselves, are just too big and too remote. What can be done to address those concerns?

PROF. SCHWAB: We have to entrepreneurialize society. If we look where jobs will come from, they will come mainly from new enterprises, from medium-size enterprises. So companies and countries have to create an ecosystem which allows young people to create their own companies. We have to create new Facebook s, new Googles, and so on. Then we have the necessary dynamic situation which maintains a certain degree of competition in the economy.



For the full interview, see:

Gerard Baker, interviewer. "Nationalism vs. Globalism: A Question of Balance; Klaus Schwab, executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, on how to deal with a fractured world." The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018): R15.

(Note: bold in original.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has a date of Jan. 22, 2018.)






March 17, 2018

Taboo Geoengineer Outlaws Could Counter Global Warming



(p. D3) A quarter-century ago, Pinatubo, a volcano in the Philippines, blew its top in a big way: It spewed a cubic mile of rock and ash and 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide gas into the atmosphere. The gas spread around the world and combined with water vapor to make aerosols, tiny droplets that reflected some sunlight away from the Earth. As a result, average global temperatures dropped by about one degree Fahrenheit for several years.

Powerful volcanic eruptions like Pinatubo's in 1991 are one of the biggest natural influences on climate. So NASA researchers and other scientists are planning a rapid-response program to study the next big one.

But the climate impact of a Pinatubo-size eruption is also a natural analog of an idea that has existed on the fringes of science for years: geoengineering, or intervening in the atmosphere to deliberately cool the planet.

One geoengineering approach would use high-flying jets to spray similar chemicals in the stratosphere. So by studying the next big volcanic eruption, scientists would also gain insights into how such a scheme, known as solar radiation management, or S.R.M., might work.

"This is important if we're ever going to do geoengineering," said Alan Robock, a Rutgers University researcher who models the effects of eruptions and who has been involved in discussions about the rapid-response project.


. . .


Geoengineering has long had an outlaw image among much of the scientific community, viewed as risky last-resort measures to solve climate problems that would be better dealt with by cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Even discussing geoengineering concepts has long been considered taboo among many scientists.


. . .


But in the past few years, some scientists and policymakers have begun to argue for limited direct research into geoengineering concepts to better understand their potential as well as risks, and be better prepared should global warming reach a point where some kind of emergency action were deemed necessary.

A few scientists have proposed small-scale outdoor experiments to study aspects of solar radiation management, and last month the American Geophysical Union, one of the nation's largest scientific societies, endorsed the idea of some research into what it called "climate intervention."



For the full story, see:

Henry Fountain. "A Volcanic Idea for Cooling the Earth." The New York Times (Tuesday, February 6, 2018): D3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 1, 2018, and has the title "The Next Big Volcano Could Briefly Cool Earth. NASA Wants to Be Ready.")






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 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 13, 2018

Level of Loneliness About the Same as 70 Years Ago



(p. 8) . . . is loneliness, as many political officials and pundits are warning, a growing "health epidemic"?


. . .


The main evidence for rising isolation comes from a widely reported sociology journal article claiming that in 2004, one in four Americans had no one in their life they felt they could confide in, compared with one in 10 during the 1980s. But that study turned out to be based on faulty data, and other research shows that the portion of Americans without a confidant is about the same as it has long been. Although one of the authors has distanced himself from the paper (saying, "I no longer think it's reliable"), scholars, journalists and policymakers continue to cite it.

The other data on loneliness are complicated and often contradictory, in part because there are so many different ways of measuring the phenomenon. But it's clear that the loneliness statistics cited by those who say we have an epidemic are outliers. For example, one set of statistics comes from a study that counted as lonely people who said they felt "left out" or "isolated," or "lacked companionship" -- even just "some of the time." That's an exceedingly low bar, and surely not one we'd want doctors or policymakers to use in their work.

One reason we need to be careful about how we measure and respond to loneliness is that, as the University of Chicago psychologist John Cacioppo argues, an occasional and transitory feeling of loneliness can be healthy and productive. It's a biological signal to ourselves that we need to build stronger social bonds.

Professor Cacioppo has spent much of his career documenting the dangers of loneliness. But it's notable that he relies on more measured statistics in his own scientific papers than the statistics described above. One of his articles, from last year, reports that around 19 percent of older Americans said they had felt lonely for much of the week before they were surveyed, and that in Britain about 6 percent of adults said they felt lonely all or most of the time. Those are worrisome numbers, but they are quite similar to the numbers reported in Britain in 1948, when about 8 percent of older adults said they often or always felt lonely, and to those in previous American studies as well.



For the full commentary, see:

ERIC KLINENBERG. "Is Loneliness a Health Epidemic?" The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sunday, February 11, 2018): 8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date FEB. 9, 2018.)






March 12, 2018

Mars Is Humanity's "Backup Plan"



(p. C3) The stated goal of the U.S. Mars program is to create a permanent base there. That is difficult to imagine in the planet's harsh environment, which was depicted with such stark realism in the 2015 film "The Martian."

But there are possibilities on the planet for making bases more viable. Mars explorers could use natural lava tubes in extinct volcanoes to create an underground base shielded against harmful radiation. Underground deposits of ice discovered in recent years could be used for drinking water and to provide oxygen for breathing, as well as hydrogen for rocket fuel. In theory, astronauts could eventually establish agricultural stations to create a self-sustaining colony, using genetically modified plants that could thrive in a cold environment rich in carbon dioxide.

A new spirit of exploration and discovery is certainly part of the push for this new space age, but concerns about the future of the Earth are also a motive. There is a growing realization that life on the planet is extremely fragile, that killer asteroids, super volcanoes and ice ages have nearly extinguished life in the past, and that climate change may spin out of control. Even if the Earth remains habitable, we know that one day the sun itself will expire.

So the choice ultimately will be simple: Colonize outer space, or perish. We need an insurance policy, a backup plan. The dinosaurs didn't have a space program. We may need ours to evade their fate.



For the full commentary, see:

Michio Kaku. "To the Moon, Mars and Beyond." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018): C3.

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated Feb. 6, 2018, and has the title "SpaceX Rocket Launch Is Latest Step Toward the Moon, Mars and Beyond.")


Kaku's commentary is related to his book:

Kaku, Michio. The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny Beyond Earth. New York: Doubleday, 2018.






March 10, 2018

Blobel Pursued a Slow Hunch for Over 30 Years



(p. B19) Günter Blobel, a molecular biologist who was awarded the 1999 Nobel Prize in Medicine for discovering that proteins in any living cell have virtual ZIP codes that guide them to where they can help regulate body tissues, organs and chemistry, died on Sunday [February 18, 2018] in Manhattan. He was 81.


. . .


The cause was cancer.


. . .


He spent nearly all his working life at Rockefeller University, what he regarded as the Valhalla of research.

Like many scientific advances, Dr. Blobel's had no moment of "Eureka!" It unfolded over 30 years of painstaking, often frustrating, but occasionally thrilling investigation: a process of building on others' work, intuitive thinking to form new hypotheses, and testing, using the results to modify his theories, and then testing and modifying again and again.

Driven to find underlying causes of diseases that were being treated for symptoms, and funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, he successively developed five models of his original "beautiful idea." Along the way he won many prestigious awards, some for essentially the same insights recognized later by the Nobel committee.



For the full obituary, see:

ROBERT D. McFADDEN. "Günter Blobel, Nobel Laureate Who Found Cell 'ZIP Codes,' Dies at 81." The New York Times (Saturday, Feb. 20, 2018): B19.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has a date of Feb. 19, 2018.)






March 5, 2018

Silicon Valley's Intolerance of Intellectual Diversity



(p. B4) Billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel has said he plans to leave Silicon Valley in part because of its perceived cultural uniformity. He isn't the only one.

Several tech workers and entrepreneurs also have said they left or plan to leave the San Francisco Bay Area because they feel people there are resistant to different social values and political ideologies. Groupthink and homogeneity are making it a worse place to live and work, these workers said.


. . .


Tim Ferriss, the tech investor and best-selling author of the "4 Hour Workweek," moved to Austin, Texas, in December, after living in the Bay Area for 17 years, partly because he felt people there penalized anyone who didn't conform to a hyper liberal credo.

People in Silicon Valley "openly lie to one another out of fear of losing their jobs or being publicly crucified," said Mr. Ferriss in a recent discussion on Reddit.


. . .


Preethi Kasireddy said she wasn't surprised when she heard the news that Mr. Thiel is moving to Los Angeles from San Francisco. Ms. Kasireddy, a 27-year-old startup entrepreneur, said she made the same move last November because, like Mr. Thiel, she felt surrounded by people who shared identical beliefs, particularly about how to build a successful company.

Sometimes Silicon Valley venture-capital investors and startup founders "have a certain way of thinking, and if you don't fit into that way of thinking you're not in the cool club," said Ms. Kasireddy, who declined to state her political beliefs but said they didn't influence her decision to move. She also said she realized many of the resources she needed to build her next project--a blockchain startup--didn't require her to be in Silicon Valley.



For the full story, see:

Douglas MacMillan. "'Thiel Isn't Alone In Tech Departure." The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, February 20, 2018): B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has a date of Feb. 18, 2018, and has the title "Like Peter Thiel, Tech Workers Feel Alienated by Silicon Valley 'Echo Chamber'.")






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.)






February 25, 2018

Over-Regulated, Quasi-Governmental Health Sector Is Often Slow in Face of Crisis




The nurse interviewed in the passages quoted below, also appeared at about the same period, on Anderson Cooper's CNN 360 show. On that she had a wonderful riff on how the hospital was irresponsible in taking so long to get the right protective gear. She says that they could, and should, have gotten it overnight through Amazon Prime.



(p. B4) DALLAS -- A nurse who observed and participated in the care of Ebola patients at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital spoke out publicly on Thursday about what she characterized as inadequate training and infection control there.


. . .


Ms. Aguirre said she and other nurses were "horrified" at the protocols used to care for Ms. Pham. She said they received instruction only once about the proper use of personal protective equipment -- gloves, masks, gowns, hoods and shields -- before entering Ms. Pham's room, and then were shown how to remove the potentially contaminated gear while in the room. The garb left a triangle of skin exposed on the front of her neck.

"The very first time I was being instructed to put the stuff on I immediately voiced my concerns," Ms. Aguirre said. "Why would I be wearing two pairs of gloves, three pairs of bootees, have my entire body covered in plastic, have two hoods on and have an area so close to my mouth and my nose exposed? And they said, 'We know, we've addressed it and basically our verdict on that at this time is we're taping that area closed.' "



For the full story, see:

KEVIN SACK. "Controls Poor at Hospital, Nurse Says." The New York Times (Fri., October 17, 2014): A14.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 16, 2014, and has the title "WHEELS; The Internal Combustion Engine Is Not Dead Yet." The online version says that the New York print version was on p. A14. My paper, probably the midwest version, was on p. A18.)






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 20, 2018

Audacious Heart Surgery During WW II Was Proof of Concept



(p. C9) The battle to operate meaningfully within the heart was a source of wonder and inspiration. Innovative in the extreme, brave to the point of recklessness, only exceptional characters could succeed. Some people claimed that only psychopaths could thrive in this environment. They were correct. More sensitive souls, like John Gibbon, who launched open-heart surgery in 1953, gave up after a spate of child deaths.

Thomas Morris tells this history well. "The Matter of the Heart" provides a thoroughly researched and detailed account of the major advances in cardiac surgery as derived from surgical literature, media reports and textbooks.


. . .


On Feb. 19, 1945, the courageous U.S. military surgeon Dwight Harken was attempting to remove bullets and shrapnel from in and around wounded soldiers' hearts as a group of senior British surgeons looked on. His operating theater consisted of a ramshackle hut with corrugated iron roof in the English Cotswolds. "Working as quickly as he could, Harken now made a small incision in the heart wall and inserted a pair of forceps to widen the opening," Mr. Morris recounts. "Through this aperture he introduced a clamp and fastened it around the elusive piece of metal. For a moment all was quiet. And then . . . 'suddenly, with a pop as if a champagne cork had been drawn, the fragment jumped out of the ventricle, forced by the pressure within the chamber. Blood poured out in a torrent.' . . . Harken put a finger over it, and picking up a needle started to sew it shut. . . . He discovered that he had sewn his glove to the wall of the heart. Finally his assistant cut him loose, and the job was done. Opening the heart, removing the shell fragment and repairing the incision had taken three minutes. His distinguished guests were deeply impressed: this was surgery of a sophistication and audacity which none had seen before." This was the case that persuaded the English and American allies that heart surgery was indeed a possibility.



For the full review, see:

Stephen Westaby. "How the Beat Goes On; A daring attempt to pick shrapnel from a soldier's heart opened the door to cardiac surgery." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018): C9.

(Note: ellipsis between paragraphs, added; ellipses internal two second quoted paragraph, in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 26, 2018, and has the title "Review: How the Beat Goes On in 'The Matter of the Heart'; A daring attempt to pick shrapnel from a soldier's heart opened the door to cardiac surgery.")


The book under review, is:

Morris, Thomas. The Matter of the Heart: A History of the Heart in Eleven Operations. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2018.






February 18, 2018

Renewed Tinkering on the Farm



(p. B1) The green tractor trundling across a Manitoba field with an empty cab looks like it's on a collision course with Matt Reimer's combine--until it neatly turns to pull alongside so he can pour freshly harvested wheat into its trailer.

The robot tractor isn't a prototype or top-of-the-line showpiece. It's an eight-year-old John Deere that the 30-year-old Mr. Reimer modified with drone parts, open-source software and a Microsoft Corp. tablet. All told, those items cost him around $8,000. He said that's about how much he saved on wages for drivers helping with last year's harvest.

Mr. Reimer's alterations, which he hopes to replicate for other farmers this year, are part of a technology revolution sweeping North America's breadbasket. Farmers, many of them self-taught, are building their own robotic equipment, satellite-navigation networks and mobile applications, moving their tinkering projects out of machine sheds and behind a computer screen.

This homespun hacking--which sometimes leapfrogs innovations by big equipment companies like Deere & Co. and navigation specialists like Trimble Navigation Ltd. --reflects dwindling farm incomes, the low price of electronic hardware and, sometimes, off-season boredom.



For the full story, see:

Jacob Bunge. "Farmers Harvest Homegrown Tech."The Wall Street Journal (Tues., April 19, 2016): B1-B2.

(Note: the online version of the story was last updated on May 2, 2016, and has the title "Farmers Reap New Tools From Their Own High-Tech Tinkering.")






February 17, 2018

Knowledge from Self-Experimentation Should Be Publishable



(p. D4) When Bob Hariri developed a product he thought could be useful as a human-skin replacement for burn victims, he had no trouble finding a subject willing to test it--himself.

An entrepreneur and a neurosurgeon with both a medical degree and a doctorate, Dr. Hariri is one of a number of scientists who have experimented on themselves with new or yet-to-be approved medical products or technologies, and who say such practice can be indispensable in the development of innovative biomedical treatments.

Some scientists are pushing for self-experimentation data to be reported publicly and more systematically to aid scientific progress. Alex Zhavoronkov, chief executive of an aging-research company called InSilico Medicine Inc., and others hope to start a peer-reviewed journal on self-experimentation, where scientists and other qualified individuals would publish high-quality case studies of tests performed on themselves. He plans to launch a crowdfunding operation in the next few months to fund it.

The idea is "to unlock the knowledge [of self-experimentation] that resides there anyway," says Dr. Zhavrononkov, who takes an old diabetes drug called metformin that is supposed to have antiaging properties, even though it hasn't been approved for that purpose.


. . .


Advocates say self-experimentation can yield information that is hard to get from a clinical trial. The experimenter feels what it's like to be the patient and gets insight into how to improve testing procedures. Also, a number of individual reports, when cobbled together, can start to yield a picture of whether a new treatment is likely to work or not, though one wouldn't rely on those reports alone to conclude safety or effectiveness.



For the full story, see:

Wang, Shirley S. "Why Medical Researchers Experiment on Themselves."The Wall Street Journal (Tues., January 26, 2016): D4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Jan. 25, 2016, and has the title "IN THE LAB; More Medical Researchers Engage In Self-Experimentation.")






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 10, 2018

With Cuts in Red Tape, Firms Invest More



(p. A1) WASHINGTON -- A wave of optimism has swept over American business leaders, and it is beginning to translate into the sort of investment in new plants, equipment and factory upgrades that bolsters economic growth, spurs job creation -- and may finally raise wages significantly.

While business leaders are eager for the tax cuts that take effect this year, the newfound confidence was initially inspired by the Trump administration's regulatory pullback, not so much because deregulation is saving companies money but because the administration has instilled a faith in business executives that new regulations are not coming.

"It's an overall sense that you're not going to face any new regulatory fights," said Granger MacDonald, a home builder in Kerrville, Tex. "We're not spending more, which is the main thing. We're not seeing any savings, but we're not seeing any increases."


. . .


(p. A10) Only a handful of the federal government's reams of rules have actually been killed or slated for elimination since Mr. Trump took office. But the president has declared that rolling back regulations will be a defining theme of his presidency. On his 11th day in office, Mr. Trump signed an executive order "on reducing regulation and controlling regulatory costs," including the stipulation that any new regulation must be offset by two regulations rolled back.

That intention and its rhetorical and regulatory follow-ons have executives at large and small companies celebrating. And with tax cuts coming and a generally improving economic outlook, both domestically and internationally, economists are revising growth forecasts upward for last year and this year.


. . .


. . . economists see a plausible connection between Mr. Trump's determination to prune the federal rule book and the willingness of businesses to crank open their vaults. Measures of business confidence have climbed to record heights during Mr. Trump's first year.


. . .


"We have spent the past dozen years or longer operating in environments that have had an increasing regulatory burden," said Michael S. Burke, the chairman and chief executive of Aecom, a Los Angeles-based multinational consulting firm that specializes in infrastructure projects. "That burden has slowed down economic growth, it's slowed down investment in infrastructure. And what we've seen over the last year is a big deregulatory environment."


. . .


The White House sees its efforts as having their intended effect. Mr. Trump boasted about his deregulatory efforts last month at an event where he stood in front of a small mountain of printouts representing the nation's regulatory burden and ceremonially cut a large piece of "red tape."

The chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, Kevin Hassett, said in an interview that the administration's freeze on new regulations, in particular, appeared to have buoyed confidence. Though he cautioned that it could take years of research to pin down the magnitude of the effects, he said deregulation was "the most plausible story" to explain why economic growth in 2017 had outstripped most forecasts.

"Our view is, the 'no new regulations' piece has to be more powerful than we thought," he said.



For the full story, see:

BINYAMIN APPELBAUM and JIM TANKERSLEY. "With Red Tape Losing Its Grip, Firms Ante Up." The New York Times (Tues., January 2, 2018): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 1, 2018, and has the title "The Trump Effect: Business, Anticipating Less Regulation, Loosens Purse Strings.")






February 9, 2018

Cuts in Red Tape Build Business Confidence



TrumpCutsRedTape2018-01-31.jpg"President Trump described his administration's deregulation efforts in remarks at the White House on Thursday. He then stood between two piles of paper representing government regulations in 1960, (20,000 pages, he said), and today -- a pile that was about six feet tall (said to be 185,000 pages)." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. A22) WASHINGTON -- President Trump said on Thursday that his administration was answering "a call to action" by rolling back regulations on environmental protections, health care, financial services and other industries as he made a push to showcase his accomplishments near the end of his first year in office.

The remarks highlighted an area where Mr. Trump has perhaps done more to change the policies of his predecessor than any other, with regulatory shifts that have affected wide sections of the economy.

. . .


Echoing his days as a real estate developer with the flair of a groundbreaking, Mr. Trump used an oversize pair of scissors to cut a ribbon his staff had set up in front of two piles of paper, representing government regulations in 1960 (20,000 pages, he said), and today -- a pile that was about six feet tall (said to be 185,000 pages).


. . .


. . . , several economic indicators -- and comments from companies large and small -- suggest that a shift in federal regulatory policy is building business confidence and accelerating economic growth, developments Mr. Trump certainly took credit for on Thursday [December 14, 2017].

A survey of chief executives released this month by the Business Roundtable found that, for the first time in six years, executives did not cite regulation as the top cost pressure facing their companies.

"C.E.O.s appear to be responding to the administration's energetic focus on regulation," Joshua Bolten, the roundtable's president, said this month.



For the full story, see:


ERIC LIPTON and DANIELLE IVORY. "Most Far-Reaching' Rollback of Rule." The New York Times (Sat., DEC. 15, 2017): A22.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 14, 2017, and has the title "Trump Says His Regulatory Rollback Already Is the 'Most Far-Reaching'." The online page for this article says that it appeared on p. A16 of the New York edition. My page number above is from my paper, which was probably the midwest edition.)






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 3, 2018

Weather Channel Entrepreneur Was a Global Warming Skeptic



(p. B1) John S. Coleman, a co-founder of the Weather Channel, the original meteorologist on ABC's "Good Morning America" and, later in his career, a vocal climate change skeptic, died on Saturday [January 20, 2018] at Summerlin Hospital Medical Center in Las Vegas. He was 83.


. . .


His career took him through broadcast positions in Omaha, Milwaukee and Peoria, Ill. He joined the fledgling "Good Morning America" in 1975 and stayed for seven years.

"He was sort of a weather rock star at the time," said Joseph D'Aleo, whom Mr. Coleman recruited out of academia to lend a hand at "Good Morning America" and to help him develop his idea for a 24-7 weather channel.

"He was dedicated to everything he did; he'd sometimes take off after the morning shows, get on an airplane, go halfway across the country and meet with venture capitalists to present his idea," Mr. D'Aleo said in an interview.

But after a year of false starts, Mr. D'Aleo said, Mr. Coleman "felt a little bit like Sancho Panza behind Don Quixote and his impossible dream."


. . .


The American Meteorological Society named Mr. Coleman broadcast meteorologist of the year in 1983, citing his "many years of service in presenting weather reports of high informational, educational and professional quality."


. . .


By the time he retired in 2014, he had become a lightning rod for controversy over his views on climate change.

At the top of his personal blog, he wrote: "There is no significant man-made global warming at this time, there has not been any in the past and there is no reason to fear any in the future."



For the full obituary, see:

TIFFANY Hsu. "John Coleman, 83, TV Weather Pioneer." The New York Times (Weds., January 24, 2018): B14.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date JAN. 21, 2018, and has the title "John S. Coleman, Weather Channel Co-Founder, Dies at 83.")






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 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 19, 2018

"Eat Meat, Not Animals"



(p. 18) Run through anyone's list of "disruptive" innovations in the works today and they begin to seem like small-time stuff as we contemplate "Clean Meat: How Growing Meat Without Animals Will Revolutionize Dinner and the World." Driverless cars, virtual reality, robots--these are interesting possibilities. But slaughter-free flesh for humanity, meat without misery, dinner without death: Now we're talking "transformational."

Who would not wish--all the more so if it meant giving up nothing--to make the abattoirs of the world fall silent? Suppose, as Paul Shapiro asks us to imagine, that after 10,000 or so years of raising other creatures for the killing, and some 60 years of raising them in the pitiless conditions of factory farms, we produced meat and other animal products from cultured cells, with no further need of the animals themselves, or at least no need that required their suffering.


. . .


To assume that the entrepreneurs and scientists described in "Clean Meat" cannot one day match precisely the beef, pork, chicken, duck and all the rest that carnivores demand is a bet against human ingenuity. Consider how close plant-based alternatives to meat, milk and eggs have come already. Not for nothing has Tyson Foods acquired a 5% stake in the startup Beyond Meat, through a venture fund focused, as Tyson announced, on "breakthrough technologies," including clean meat.

"Eat Meat, Not Animals"--a slogan of the future, Mr. Shapiro hopes.



For the full review, see:

Matthew Scully. "Making Livestock Obsolete; Manufacturing meat without raising animals will soon shift from fantasy to reality. Early investors include Bill Gates, Richard Branson and Cargill Inc.--already the world's largest supplier of ground beef." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018): 18.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 5, 2018, and has the title "Review: 'Clean Meat' Could Make Livestock Obsolete; Manufacturing meat without raising animals will soon shift from fantasy to reality. Early investors include Bill Gates, Richard Branson and Cargill Inc.--already the world's largest supplier of ground beef.")


The book under review, is:

Shapiro, Paul. Clean Meat: How Growing Meat without Animals Will Revolutionize Dinner and the World. New York: Gallery Books, 2018.






January 11, 2018

Will Ending Firm Hierarchy Create "a Blissful Business Utopia"?



(p. 18) "The Kingdom of Happiness" doesn't take place in Silicon Valley per se, but it is definitively about tech culture. Groth follows Tony Hsieh, the creator of Zappos, as he pours $350 million of his personal wealth into downtown Las Vegas with the goal of reinventing the area as . I won't be giving away the story by pointing out that it doesn't end well for Hsieh, . . ."


. . .


When she's sober, Groth documents Hsieh's attempt to integrate "holacracy" into his organizations, a term that rids a company of hierarchy and titles, and instead creates an all-for-one do-what-you-want mentality. (No, I'm not kidding.) It gave me a panic attack just thinking of working in a place like that.



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipses 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:

Groth, Aimee. The Kingdom of Happiness: Inside Tony Hsieh's Zapponian Utopia. New York: Touchstone, 2017.






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.






January 2, 2018

France's "Mille-Feuille" Regulations



(p. A1) France has long been known for its open hostility to corporations and its suspicion of personal wealth. Taxes were high, regulations were baffling and "It's not possible" was the default answer to any question -- if a company could even find the right person to ask.

Now, the country is in the midst of a sweeping attempt at national rebranding. Labor laws are being changed to make hiring and firing easier. New legislation has slashed a "wealth tax" that was said to drive millionaires out of the country.


. . .


(p. A5) "When you grow up in France, none of the heroes you learn about are entrepreneurs," said Brigitte Granville, a professor of economics at Queen Mary University of London, who was raised in France. "When someone gets rich in France, people immediately ask, 'What did he do to make this money? He must be a nasty person.'"


. . .


Now, a new crop of French leaders, most notably the free market-supporting president, Emmanuel Macron, are vigorously trying to shed this anticapitalist reputation. During his campaign, he visited London, home to as many as 400,000 French expatriates, urging them to return to France and "innovate."


. . .


France's economic makeover has inspired some derision outside of the country, too. It has the faint smell of desperation to people like Nicolas Mackel, the chief executive of Luxembourg for Finance, a public-private partnership that promotes the country as a business hub.


. . .


"You'll accuse me of bashing the French," he said over tea recently, "but earlier this year, they announced that they would have regulators who speak English. We didn't need to do that because our regulators already speak English and always have."

For France, English-speaking government officials would be little more than a promising start. The country has so many bewildering layers of regulations that its system is known, unaffectionately, as mille-feuille, a reference to a densely layered pastry.



For the full story, see:

DAVID SEGAL. "Paris Tries On A Fresh Look: Less Red Tape." The New York Times (Mon., DEC. 11, 2017): A1 & A5.

(Note: ellipses added.)


(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 10, 2017, and has the title "As Brexit Looms, Paris Tries a Business Makeover.")






December 30, 2017

For Jane Jacobs, "Self-Certainty" Was Better than a Doctorate



(p. 17) Like the critic Pauline Kael and the conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly, Jane Jacobs arrived to churn the fertile soil of American cultural ideology in the 1960s, brandishing a disciplined populist intellect and a comfort with courting enmity. All three were middle-aged mothers by the time they would shake things up. That Jacobs, nee Butzner in 1916, would force a reconsideration of the nature and purpose of cities was an outcome her young adulthood would have hardly suggested. An unexceptional student at Central High in Scranton, Pa., she later studied at Columbia before failing to gain formal admission to Barnard and abandoning the pursuit of a degree entirely. These experiences, Robert Kanigel maintains in his biography "Eyes on the Street: The Life of Jane Jacobs," left her with a distaste for the academy that she carried throughout her career.

Where others had doctorates, Jacobs had a self-certainty that was manifest early on. In a chronicling of her childhood so thorough it includes the number of times she was late for homeroom during her first semester of high school (seven), Kanigel recounts an incident in which Jane was expelled from third grade for urging her classmates to dismiss the entreaties of a hygiene instructor, who asked them to pledge to brush their teeth twice a day for the rest of their lives. In Jane's view, the promise would be impossible to keep, making the request absurd.



For the full review, see:

GINIA BELLAFANTE. "Fighting the Power Broker." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, OCT. 9, 2016): 17.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date OCT. 7, 2016, and has the title "Two New Books About Jane Jacobs, Urban Visionary.")


The book under review, is:

Kanigel, Robert. Eyes on the Street: The Life of Jane Jacobs. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016.






December 20, 2017

Lobstermen Retooling as Oyster Farmers



(p. A10) COREA, Me. -- The boats start up around 3:30 in the morning, stirring the village with the babble of engines before they motor out to sea. They will return hours later, loaded with lobster.

Joe Young's boat has not gone out lately. Instead, he puts on waders and sloshes into the salt pond behind his house, an inlet where water rushes in and out with the tides. After a lifetime with most of his income tied to what he finds in the sea, this lobsterman -- and sixth-generation fisherman -- is trying his hand at something new. He is farming oysters.

"Said I would never have a garden," Mr. Young, 64, says, as he tends to his briny nursery. Tens of thousands of oysters the size of peanuts are growing inside porous boxes, stacked up like underwater file drawers, in a contraption called an "oyster condo." He gives one of the boxes a shake, hoping to dislodge a slimy orange growth that has taken up residence, and flings away a green crab. Nearby, kelp he is growing sways lazily from a long underwater rope.

Reaching into the glassy water, Mr. Young plucks larger oysters from among the smooth stones, popping the mottled mollusks into a big white bucket.

"It's different from lobstering," Mr. Young said, "because I'm in the whole process."


. . .


"Lobstermen are saying, 'Boy, not (p. A11) only personally, but community level, we're all invested in lobsters,' " Jon Lewis, the director of the state's aquaculture division, said. " 'Natural resources tend to come and go. If this happens, what do I do?' "


. . .


To Mr. Young, aquaculture does not look so different from catching lobsters. "Fishermen are farmers," he said. "There's one crop, and it's lobster."



For the full story, see:

JESS BIDGOOD. "A Lobsterman Tries a New Line: Oyster Farmer." The New York Times (Mon., OCT. 23, 2017): A10-A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 10, 2017, and has the title "A FISHERMAN TRIES FARMING.")






December 19, 2017

Innovation Benefits from Constructive Arguments



(p. 7) When Wilbur and Orville Wright finished their flight at Kitty Hawk, Americans celebrated the brotherly bond. The brothers had grown up playing together, they had been in the newspaper business together, they had built an airplane together. They even said they "thought together."

These are our images of creativity: filled with harmony. Innovation, we think, is something magical that happens when people find synchrony together. The melodies of Rodgers blend with the lyrics of Hammerstein. It's why one of the cardinal rules of brainstorming is "withhold criticism." You want people to build on one another's ideas, not shoot them down. But that's not how creativity really happens.

When the Wright brothers said they thought together, what they really meant is that they argued together. One of their pivotal decisions was the design of a propeller for their plane. They squabbled for weeks, often shouting back and forth for hours. "After long arguments we often found ourselves in the ludicrous position of each having been converted to the other's side," Orville reflected, "with no more agreement than when the discussion began." Only after thoroughly decimating each other's arguments did it dawn on them that they were both wrong. They needed not one but two propellers, which could be spun in opposite directions to create a kind of rotating wing. "I don't think they really got mad," their mechanic marveled, "but they sure got awfully hot."

. . .


Wilbur and Orville Wright came from a wobbly family. Their father, a preacher, never met a moral fight he wasn't willing to pick. They watched him clash with school authorities who weren't fond of his decision to let his kids miss a half-day of school from time to time to learn on their own. Their father believed so much in embracing arguments that despite being a bishop in the local church, he had multiple books by atheists in his library -- and encouraged his children to read them.


. . .


The Wright brothers weren't alone. The Beatles fought over instruments and lyrics and melodies. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony clashed over the right way to win the right to vote. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak argued incessantly while designing the first Apple computer. None of these people succeeded in spite of the drama -- they flourished because of it. Brainstorming groups generate 16 percent more ideas when the members are encouraged to criticize one another. The most creative ideas in Chinese technology companies and the best decisions in American hospitals come from teams that have real disagreements early on. Breakthrough labs in microbiology aren't full of enthusiastic collaborators cheering one another on but of skeptical scientists challenging one another's interpretations.

If no one ever argues, you're not likely to give up on old ways of doing things, let alone try new ones. Disagreement is the antidote to groupthink. We're at our most imaginative when we're out of sync. There's no better time than childhood to learn how to dish it out -- and to take it.



For the full commentary, see:

Grant, Adam. "Kids, Would You Please Start Fighting?" The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., NOV. 5, 2017): 7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

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






December 15, 2017

Knowledge Transforms a Weed into a Resource



(p. A10) ZADAR, Croatia -- For generations, residents of Zadar, an idyllic town on the Adriatic coast of Croatia, used the dry, stringy stems and yellow blossoms of a common variety of a wild daisy as kindling, mostly to singe the hair off pigs destined for the spit.

But about five years ago, cosmetics manufacturers and the essential oils industry started using a rare extract from the flower -- known as the curry plant for its spicy aroma -- as a critical ingredient in high-end creams, ointments and tinctures, sold for their purported rejuvenating powers.

So let the pigs shave themselves, local residents decided, turning their attention to gathering bushels of the once widely ignored weed, in hopes of creating a new local industry to add to an economy based on construction, fruit farming, olive oil and a touch of tourism.



For the full story, see:

JOSEPH OROVIC. "ZADAR JOURNAL; Croatian Farmers' Hopes of New Life Rest on a Weed Called Immortelle." The New York Times (Fri., NOV. 24, 2017): A10.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 23, 2017, and has the title "ZADAR; JOURNAL; Can a Wild Daisy Rejuvenate Croatia's Farming Economy?")






December 12, 2017

Startups 'Push the Flywheel' Longer than They Admit



(p. A8) Some startups that spend years developing their product say the clock doesn't start with those years. They count time from the day they came upon a solution that worked--never mind time spent looking for ideas or toiling at approaches that failed.

Milpitas, Calif.-based View Inc., which makes window glass that changes tint electronically, incorporated as Echromics and was in development as early as 2007. When its first technical approach failed, almost the entire staff turned over, said CEO Rao Mulpuri. He took over in December 2008.

A spokeswoman says the company considers 2009--the year it made breakthroughs that made its product possible--as the year it "really started its journey." The company changed its name to View in 2012.

When it comes to the question of founding a company, Mr. Mulpuri says, "there's a technical answer, which is the official answer. When was the company founded in the state of Delaware? But as a team, it's not as simple as that."

Silicon Valley investors are used to the idea that a "pivot" or new name takes off the years like a shot of Botox--though not all are thrilled.

David Gurle, chief executive of Palo Alto, Calif.-based Symphony Communication Services LLC, isn't amused by startups that play the age game.

He founded private-messaging startup Perzo in 2012. After Symphony, another startup, acquired it in 2014, it began targeting financial-services clients. He proudly cites 2012 as Symphony's founding year, despite its permutations.

"If you told me that a flower only started growing when it was out of the earth, then I would say, 'No, it's already been growing,'" Mr. Gurle said.



For the full story, see:

Patience Haggin. "Forever Young: Tech Startups, Like Hollywood Celebrities, Fudge Their Age; To look like overnight successes, new companies are playing around with their origin stories." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Aug. 12, 2017): A1 & A8.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 11, 2017, and has the title "The Secret to Startup Success? Fudge Your Age; To look like overnight successes, new companies are playing around with their origin stories." The passages quoted from the online version, above, are about a sentence and a half longer than the similar passages in the print version.)






December 8, 2017

After 30 Years, Medical Entrepreneur Rosenberg's Slow Hunch Pays Off



(p. B3) In the another significant development, the cancer institute's prominent cancer researcher and chief of surgery, Steven A. Rosenberg, detailed for the first time an immunotherapy success against metastatic breast cancer, in a talk earlier this month.

In the lecture at a Boston meeting of the American Association of Cancer Research, Dr. Rosenberg reported on the first patient with metastatic breast cancer who is disease-free nearly two years after her first immunotherapy treatment. In the therapy, a person's own cells are multiplied billions of times and reinfused into the patient. Dr. Rosenberg's lab has already reported successes in treatment of melanoma, lymphoma, colorectal cancer and bile-duct cancer.

That patient is Judy Perkins, a 51-year-old structural engineer from Port St. Lucie, Fla. She was diagnosed with metastatic cancer--cancer that spread beyond the original location--in 2013.


. . .


Ms. Perkins is only one case. But the fact that she had metastatic breast cancer that is no longer detectable makes it very consequential. It follows reports from the Rosenberg lab about other internal-organ cancers, specifically colorectal and bile-duct.


. . .


Dr. Rosenberg's interest in immunotherapy was piqued three decades ago, when he was struck by a chance encounter with a stomach-cancer patient who improbably recovered despite no treatment. This became a lifelong quest to discover how that patient had in effect cured himself. Scores of recoveries at the cancer institute of melanoma and lymphoma patients followed after immunotherapy treatment from his lab.

Now, his lab is exploring the promise of treating and accomplishing tumor regressions in far-more-common solid-tumor cancers of internal organs, including the breast, colon and bile-duct.



For the full story, see:

Thomas M. Burton. "Immunotherapy Treatments for Cancer Gain Momentum." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Oct. 13, 2017): B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Oct. 12, 2017.)






December 6, 2017

Reinvesting Profits Enables the Scaling Up of Success



(p. A17) Muhammad Yunus has big goals: zero world poverty, zero unemployment and zero net carbon emissions.


. . .


Mr. Yunus has long been a hero of mine for his innovative faith in the resourcefulness of low-income people.


. . .


If you want to motivate support for social enterprise, a utopian promise of "A World of Three Zeros" makes for a better book title than "Helping 60 Albanian Farmers Grow Herbs." And Mr. Yunus's paean to entrepreneurship does indeed deliver inspiration about the power of human creativity. But problematic arguments remain, especially his imprecise criticisms of the current economic system and the implausibility of replacing the whole system with social entrepreneurship.

A major problem is one of scale. Mr. Yunus's many social-enterprise examples are all on the same micro level as the 60 Albanian herb farmers. And while there's nothing wrong with making a large number of small-scale efforts to help a great many people, it doesn't qualify as a whole new system for the $76 trillion global economy. Mr. Yunus doesn't confront the scaling problem. He could have noted, for instance, that successful social entrepreneurs, unlike successful private entrepreneurs, by definition don't get the high profits to reinvest in scaling up successes.



For the full review, see:

William Easterly. "BOOKSHELF; How to Solve Global Poverty." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 3, 2017): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 2, 2017.)


The book under review, is:

Yunus, Muhammad. A World of Three Zeros: The New Economics of Zero Poverty, Zero Unemployment, and Zero Net Carbon Emissions. New York: PublicAffairs, 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 22, 2017

"The Regulations Are Absurd"



(p. A6) CIUDAD del ESTE, Paraguay--This remote South American country, long known for contraband traffickers and a 35-year dictatorship, is now becoming something else: a manufacturing hub.

Paraguay has attracted scores of foreign factories since 2013, as predominantly Brazilian companies respond to new incentives by flocking to this gritty border city to make everything from toys to motor scooters for export.

Koumei SA, a family-run Brazilian light-fixtures company, is typical. Its owners moved the plant and about 150 jobs here last year, saying they were fed up with Brazil's high taxes and complicated labor rules.

"It's just easier here," said Seijii Abe, who directs the company with his father.


. . .


Brazil ranked 123rd out of 190 in the World Bank's 2017 survey on ease of doing business, right behind Uganda and Egypt. Companies there say they are bedeviled by rules that smother entrepreneurial impetus. They point to labor regulations that make hiring and firing difficult, high energy bills, a legal system that encourages employee lawsuits and taxes of up to 35% on imported goods.

"The regulations are absurd," said João Carlos Komuchena, owner of Kompar SA, a company which makes small plastic bottles used for packing soy sauce and other products that moved to Paraguay from Brazil last year. "We need to wake up in Brazil; there is a lot of prejudice against business."



For the full story, see:

Jeffrey T. Lewis. "Businesses Flee Brazil Rules for Paraguay." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Aug. 28, 2017): A6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 26, 2017, and has the title "Brazil's Woes Multiply as Manufacturers Move to Paraguay.")






November 20, 2017

Those with Full Bladders Are More Financially Prudent



(p. 12) The "your brain, warts and more warts" genre is well represented by the new book "Brain Bugs: How the Brain's Flaws Shape Our Lives," by Dean Buonomano, a neuroscientist at U.C.L.A.


. . .


. . . researchers have reported that subjects with full bladders exercised more self-control in a completely unrelated realm (financial decisions) than subjects who had been permitted to relieve themselves first -- a finding that earned them this year's Ig Nobel Prize in medicine, awarded annually to unusual or ridiculous-seeming scientific research.



For the full review, see:

CHRISTOPHER F. CHABRIS. "Think Again." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, October 16, 2011): 12-13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date OCT. 14, 2011, and has the title "Is the Brain Good at What It Does?")


The book under review, is:

Buonomano, Dean. Brain Bugs: How the Brain's Flaws Shape Our Lives. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.






November 18, 2017

Will the Breakthrough Innovative Founder Always Overshadow His Successor?



JobsSteveAndTimCook2017-10-01.jpg"Ten years after Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone, Tim Cook, his successor, opened the latest Apple product launch." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.




(p. B2) Mr. Jobs, who died in 2011, loomed over Tuesday's nostalgic presentation. The Apple C.E.O., Tim Cook, paid tribute, his voice cracking with emotion, Mr. Jobs's steeple-fingered image looming as big onstage as Big Brother's face in the classic Macintosh "1984" commercial. Mr. Cook even revived Mr. Jobs's patented "One more thing ..." line, but reverentially: "We have great respect for these words, and we don't use them lightly."


. . .


Mr. Cook is an amiable presenter, but he doesn't pretend to have Mr. Jobs's magnetism.



For the full commentary, see:

JAMES PONIEWOZIK. "CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK; Selling Us a Better Vision of Ourselves." The New York Times (Weds., SEPT. 13, 2017): B1-B2.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date SEPT. 12, 2017, and has the title "CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK; At the Apple Keynote, Selling Us a Better Vision of Ourselves.")






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 16, 2017

Can "Radical Transparency" Work "in Today's Polarized and Litigious World"?



(p. B1) In 1993, Ray Dalio, the chairman of what is today the largest hedge fund in the world, Bridgewater Associates, received a memo signed by his top three lieutenants that was startlingly honest in its assessment of him.

It was a performance review of sorts, and not in a good way. After mentioning his positive attributes, they spelled out the negatives. "Ray sometimes says or does things to employees which makes them feel incompetent, unnecessary, humiliated, overwhelmed, belittled, pressed or otherwise bad," the memo read. "If he doesn't manage people well, growth will be stunted and we will all be affected."

To Mr. Dalio, the message was both devastating and a wake-up call. His reaction: "Ugh. That hurt and surprised me."

That moment helped push Mr. Dalio to rethink how he approached people and to begin developing a unique -- and sometimes controversial -- culture inside his firm, one based on a series of "principles" that place the idea of "radical transparency" above virtually all else.


. . .


(p. B5) Of course, the larger question is whether Mr. Dalio's version of utopia -- a place where employees feel comfortable offering blunt and in some cases brutal feedback -- can exist outside Bridgewater's controlled environment of mostly self-selecting individuals who either embrace the philosophy or quickly exit. Given the intense environment, as you might expect, there are horror stories of employees who have left in tears. Turnover among new employees is high.

Mr. Dalio's critics -- and there are many -- say his principles offer permission to be verbally barbaric, and they question whether the $160 billion firm's success is a product of such "radical transparency" or whether he can afford such a wide-ranging social experiment simply because the firm is so financially successful.

In truth, it is hard to imagine how harsh individual critiques in the workplace can work at many other organizations in today's polarized and litigious world, where people are increasingly looking for "safe spaces" and those who say they are offended by a particular argument are derided as "fragile snowflakes."



For the full commentary, see:

Sorkin, Andrew Ross. "DEALBOOK; Bridgewater's Ray Dalio Dives Deeper Into the 'Principles' of Tough Love." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Sept. 5, 2017): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 4, 2017, and has the title, "DEALBOOK; Bridgewater's Ray Dalio Dives Deeper Into the 'Principles' of Tough Love." )


The Dalio book, discussed above, is:

Dalio, Ray. Principles: Life and Work. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017.






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 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.)






November 4, 2017

Retail Entrepreneur J.C. Penney's Utopian Community Collapsed



(p. A19) Many American entrepreneurs have obsessed over how to make good use of their wealth. The money of steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie built 1,689 public libraries. Julius Rosenwald, the genius behind Sears, Roebuck, devoted much of his fortune to funding schools for African-American children in the rural South. Oil magnate John D. Rockefeller gave vast sums to medical research, higher education and Baptist missions. For James Cash Penney, the obsession was farming. As David Delbert Kruger shows in "J.C. Penney: The Man, the Store, and American Agriculture," the famed merchant's devotion to his rural roots brought not just commercial success but also meaning in life.


. . .


Penney's farming ventures began in 1921, when he bought 720 acres near Hopewell Junction, N.Y., hired a veteran breeder and worked with him to select the best Guernsey cattle he could find. Emmadine Farm would operate for more than 30 years, supplying breeding stock to small farmers around the country and eventually furnishing a large commercial dairy.

Four years later, Penney purchased 120,000 acres in northeast Florida, intending to create a utopian community where committed, morally upright families could build a future on 20-acre plots, living rent-free for a year and using buildings and equipment provided by Penney to grow their first crop before deciding whether to buy the land. He hired experts who encouraged the farmers to be self-sufficient and advised them on when and how to plant vegetables and fruit trees. Initially, Penney Farms flourished, but then disaster struck: crop prices collapsed, the farmers moved away and in 1930 Penney's own fortune was wiped out. The following year, the entrepreneur was hospitalized following a nervous breakdown.



For the full review, see:

Marc Levinson. "BOOKSHELF; The Cowboy Capitalist." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Sept. 25, 2017): A19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sept. 24, 2017.)


The book under review, is:

Kruger, David Delbert. J. C. Penney: The Man, the Store, and American Agriculture. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2017.






October 29, 2017

"We Grow at Night, While the Government Sleeps"



HarareNightStreetMarket2017-09-10.jpg"In Harare, unauthorized street vendors wait until dark to avoid the police. The government says 95 percent of the work force is involved in the informal economy." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



I remember my Wabash College economics professor, Ben Rogge, telling us that during one of his visits to Brazil, many decades ago, he asked an entrepreneur how the Brazilian economy managed to grow in spite of the heavy government regulations. With a smile, the entrepreneur told Ben: "We grow at night, while the government sleeps."



(p. 6) HARARE, Zimbabwe -- Dusk falls and thousands of vendors fan out across central Harare. Through the night, they hawk their wares -- vegetables, clothes, kitchen utensils, cellphones -- from carts, wheelbarrows or even the pavement, transforming the city's staid business district into a giant, freewheeling village market.

On Robert Mugabe Road, around the corner from the city's remaining colonial-era luxury hotel, the Meikles, Victor Chitiyo has sold dress shirts since losing his job as a machine operator at a textile factory several years ago.

"Since then, I've never been employed," Mr. Chitiyo, 38, said under the dim light of a street lamp. "If the economy improves, I'd want to be employed at a company again. But I don't think that will happen. It's been a long time since we were optimistic in Zimbabwe."

Harare's night market is the most visible evidence of Zimbabwe's swelling informal economy, which the government estimates now employs all but a small share of the country's work force.

Even as Zimbabwe's government, banks, listed companies and other members of the formal economy lurch from one crisis to another, the thriving informal economy of street vendors, traders and others unrepresented in official statistics helps keep the country afloat. For the government of President Robert Mugabe, that parallel economy is both a source of stability -- and a potential challenge.

Once one of Africa's most advanced economies, Zimbabwe has rapidly deindustrialized and shed formal wage-paying jobs, forcing millions like Mr. Chitiyo to hustle on the streets in cities and towns.

From 2011 to 2014, the percentage of Zimbabweans scrambling to make a living in the informal economy shot up to an astonishing 95 percent of the work force from 84 percent, according to the government. And of that small number of salaried workers, about half are employed by the government, including patronage beneficiaries with few real duties.


. . .


The government has occasionally cracked down -- sometimes violently -- on the street vendors, who are not licensed, describing their activities, near the seat of government and businesses, as an eyesore. Some of the vendors have also staged protests against Mr. Mugabe's rule.

But the government mostly turns a blind eye, clearly calculating that a permanent crackdown on the livelihoods of an increasing number of its citizens would result in greater political instability. According to an unspoken rule, the street vendors are allowed to operate only after dark on weekdays and starting in late afternoon on weekends.

"If I come too early, the police will take my wares away and I'll be broke," said Norest Muza, 28, who sold popcorn and chips while carrying her 2-year-old son on her back. "Evenings, the police don't come."

Many of the street vendors arrive in Harare's business district at dusk and spend the night on the streets before going home at dawn with the morning's first taxis and buses.


. . .


Mr. Mugabe's violent seizure of white-owned farms starting in 2000 precipitated a decline in manufacturing and a process of deindustrialization. Manufacturing peaked in 1992, accounting for about 30 percent of the gross domestic product. Now it is 11 percent and declining.


. . .


With the government now strictly controlling the transfer of dollars outside Zimbabwe, companies dependent on trade are finding it increasingly difficult to import critical goods.

"We have companies scaling down or discontinuing certain lines that are heavy on import requirements," said Busisa Moyo, president of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries.


. . .


As the formal economy keeps shrinking, more and more people have been crowding the area where Mr. Chitiyo sells shirts on Robert Mugabe Road.

Across the street, a girl's voice was crying, "Twenty-five cents for a cob!" It belonged to Tariro Dongo, 13, on her first evening working as a street vendor. It was past 9 p.m. Tariro said she was good in school and wanted to become a teacher.

She had bought 20 corn cobs for $2 near her home in Epworth, a poor township outside Harare. If she sold everything, her profit, after transportation, would amount to a couple of dollars. Sitting on a black bucket and fanning the coals in a small charcoal burner with a piece of cardboard, Tariro roasted the cobs.

She was happy with the money she had made on her first day, Tariro said.

"Twenty-five cents," she cried. "One cob left!"



For the full story, see:

NORIMITSU ONISHI and JEFFREY MOYO. "Trade on the Streets, and Off the Books, Keeps Zimbabwe Afloat." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., MARCH 5, 2017): 6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 4, 2017, and has the title "Trade on Streets, and Off Books, Keeps Zimbabwe Afloat.")






October 28, 2017

Connecticut Upholds Car Dealerships' "Lucrative Stranglehold" on New Car Market



(p. A23) Connecticut and Tesla should be a perfect fit. But lawmakers failed to act on a bill in this year's regular legislative session (for the third straight year) that would have legalized direct sales by Tesla, whose business model is rooted in selling directly to consumers.

The culprit? Heavy lobbying by the state's car dealerships.

Thanks to Connecticut's decades-old franchise laws, new cars can be sold only through licensed franchises independent of carmakers. Even though only about 5,500 zero-emission cars have sold in Connecticut since 2011, Tesla's effort to cut out the middlemen would undermine the lucrative stranglehold that car dealerships have on the new car market.


. . .


. . . , the National Automobile Dealers Association claimed franchise laws "keep prices competitive and low." However, a 2009 paper by an economist at the Justice Department's Antitrust Division instead concluded that "car customers would benefit from elimination of state bans on auto manufacturers' making direct sales to consumers." The paper pointed to a study by a Goldman Sachs analyst in 2000 that found that direct manufacturer sales could lower costs by 8.6 percent, with most of the savings resulting from more efficient matching between consumer demand and supply, and a subsequent reduction in inventory.

No wonder the Federal Trade Commission has criticized franchise laws as a "special protection" for these dealers -- "a protection that is likely harming both competition and consumers."



For the full commentary, see:

NICK SIBILLA. "'Connecticut Should Be Tesla Turf." The New York Times (Fri., JULY 7, 2017): A23.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the title "Connecticut Should Be Tesla Country.")


The Department of Justice research paper, mentioned above, is:


Bodisch, Gerald R. "Economic Effects of State Bans on Direct Manufacturer Sales to Car Buyers." U.S. Department of Justice, Economic Analysis Group, Competition Advocacy Paper # EAG 09-1 CA. May 2009.







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 13, 2017

Tinkerer Won Nobel for Gene Targeting



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


. . .


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


. . .


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

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

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


. . .


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



For the full obituary, see:

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

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

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






October 12, 2017

Price Gouging Rewards Conservation and Increases Supply



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

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


. .


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

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

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

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



For the full commentary, see:

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

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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


The article by Zwolinski, mentioned above, is:

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






October 10, 2017

For Kiva Funding, Entrepreneurs Must First Convince Friends or Family



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

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

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


. . .


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



For the full story, see:

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

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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






October 9, 2017

Ann Arbor Recovers from Borders Bankruptcy "with Remarkable Speed"



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



For the full story, see:

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

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






October 5, 2017

"I Believe in Free Markets and Open Skies"



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


. . .


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

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


. . .


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

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

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


. . .


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

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

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



For the full story, see:

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

(Note: eilipses added.)

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






October 3, 2017

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



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

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


. . .


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


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


. . .


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



For the full review, see:


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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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







October 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 30, 2017

Tech Startup Rejects Gig Economy



(p. 1) SEATTLE -- When Glenn Kelman became the chief executive of his online real estate start-up, he defied the tech industry's conventional wisdom about how to grow.

Instead of hiring independent contractors, he brought in full-time employees and put them on the payroll -- with benefits. That decision over a decade ago made Mr. Kelman and his company, Redfin, iconoclasts in the technology world.

Many tech start-ups lean on the idea of the "gig economy." They staff up rapidly with freelancers, who are both cheaper to hire (none of the insurance, 401(k) and other expenses) and more flexible (they can work as much or as little as needed). It's the model Uber has used to upend the taxi business.


. . .


Mr. Kelman argues that full-time employees allow him to offer better customer service. Redfin gives its agents salaries, health benefits, 401(k) contributions and, for the most productive ones, Redfin stock, none of which is standard for contractors. Redfin currently employs more than 1,000 agents.

Now with his company on a stronger footing, Mr. Kelman says he believes his approach has been vindicated. He has even (p. 5) become an informal counselor to other tech entrepreneurs exploring a shift to employees from contractors.


. . .


A number of technology companies have switched or are in the process of switching their contractors to employees for reasons similar to those of Redfin, including Shyp, a parcel shipping service; Luxe Valet, which offers a valet parking app; and Munchery, a food delivery service. Honor, an on-demand service for home health care professionals, is making the move to improve training.



For the full story, see:

NICK WINGFIELD. "A Start-Up Shies Away from Gig Economy." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., JULY 10, 2016): 1 & 5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JULY 9, 2016, and has the title "Redfin Shies Away From the Typical Start-Up's Gig Economy.")






September 26, 2017

Silicon Valley Techies Make Pilgrimage to Hewlett-Packard Garage



(p. 6) The Birthplace of Silicon Valley

On a quiet Palo Alto street lined with multimillion-dollar Victorian and craftsman homes, Spanish villas, lemon trees and sidewalks perfect for jogging or strolling with babies in carriages, a National Register of Historic Places sign in one front yard recognizes the home's famous roots. In the detached garage of the house, the Silicon Valley was seeded. The garage is where two Stanford students, William R. Hewlett and David Packard, began developing their first product, an audio oscillator, in 1938. Their partnership resulted in the establishment in 1939 of the Hewlett-Packard Company, a manufacturer of software and computer services.

What Berry Gordy Jr.'s restored upper flat in Detroit is for Motown music buffs, the Hewlett-Packard garage has become for techies, who make the pilgrimage to 367 Addison Ave. to snap photographs of the property.



For the full story, see:

KAREN CROUSE. "A Few Sights to Take in on a Drive to the Game." The New York Times, SportsSunday Section (Sun., FEB. 6, 2016): 6.

(Note: bold subtitle in original.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 6, 2016, and has the title "On the Road to Super Bowl 50.")






September 23, 2017

Regulatory "Pain in Spain"



(p. A1) Gerard Vidal formed a data-encryption firm, Enigmedia, when he couldn't find an employer looking for a Ph.D. in physics. But even a physicist was perplexed by the paperwork involved in starting a company in Spain, and the launch was delayed months by a process he calls "illogical, inefficient and totally frustrating."

For many in the eurozone, where government budget cuts and corporate layoffs have left more than 18 million people out of work, the only way to find work is to create their own jobs. But these inexperienced entrepreneurs are flying into harsh headwinds.

Scarce capital, dense bureaucracy, a culture deeply averse to risk and a cratered consumer market all suppress startups in Europe.


. . .


(p. A12) In 2013, the OECD ranked Spain second worst in a survey on barriers to entrepreneurship in 29 nations. Spanish entrepreneurs have found that one of their big business challenges is simply getting incorporated. In the six months that Diana and Arantxa Fernández needed to obtain the multitude of permits required to open up a nursery school last year, the sisters burned through most of the capital they had husbanded from taking lump-sum unemployment. Now they are on the financial ropes.


. . .


When David Fito tried to open a gluten-free bakery after getting laid off by a bank a few years ago, he said 30 banks refused to lend him the €100,000 he needed. He got the credit only after his parents pledged their apartment as collateral and seven other wage earners agreed to co-sign. He said his business is now growing.


. . .


In Spain, young people with an entrepreneurial DNA long felt like fish out of water. María Alegre started selling homemade jewelry in Barcelona at age 13 and still remembers her profit--13,000 pesetas, worth about $90 at the time. But she said she never heard the word "entrepreneurship" until her fifth year at a Spanish business school and didn't get encouragement until she was studying at the University of Michigan. Today, the 29-year old Ms. Alegre is CEO and co-founder of Chartboost Inc., a 130-employee San Francisco company that helps mobile-game developers find new users and monetize games. Ms. Alegre bemoans what she calls a Spanish "culture of being against risk and not dreaming big enough."



For the full story, see:


Matt Moffett. "New Entrepreneurs Find Pain in Spain." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Nov. 28, 2014): A1 & A12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 27, 2014.")






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 10, 2017

Venture Capital Stars Invested in Over-Hyped "Symbol of Silicon Valley's Insular Excess"



(p. B2) MONTEREY, Calif. -- From the moment it started, Juicero stood out as a symbol of Silicon Valley's insular excess.

The company sold a $700 Wi-Fi-enabled juicer, trying to solve a problem that did not exist. It also raised some $120 million, and attracted a mountain of attention.

But on Friday, the company said it was shutting down operations -- joining the hordes of other Silicon Valley start-ups that could not deliver business results to match the hype.

Started by a health fanatic with a checkered history as an entrepreneur, Juicero devised an elaborate scheme to deliver small glasses of expensive cold pressed juice to kitchens around the country. The machine scanned codes printed on pouches of chopped produce to help assess the freshness of the contents inside. Doug Evans, the founder, hired engineers, food scientists and fashionable industrial designers to work alongside him.

The company was a particularly bold bid to capitalize on the hype around the so-called internet of things and interest in the juice business. Mr. Evans believed there was a legion of customers who, once they tasted his juice, would find it superior to the many varieties that can be bought at convenience stores, juice bars or even Walmart.

Top venture capital firms including Google's venture capital spinoff and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, as well as big companies like Campbell Soup, invested heavily in the company.



For the full story, see:


DAVID GELLES. "Start-Up That Sold $700 Juicer Shuts Down." The New York Times (Sat., SEPT. 2, 2017): B2.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 1, 2017, and has the title "Juicero, Start-Up With a $700 Juicer and Top Investors, Shuts Down." )






September 6, 2017

"Achievement Is a Magnet to Mentors and a Beacon to Backers"



(p. 7) It's true that networking can help you accomplish great things. But this obscures the opposite truth: Accomplishing great things helps you develop a network.

Look at big breaks in entertainment. For George Lucas, a turning point was when Francis Ford Coppola hired him as a production assistant and went on to mentor him. Mr. Lucas didn't schmooze his way into the relationship, though. As a film student he'd won first prize at a national festival and a scholarship to be an apprentice on a Warner Bros. film -- he picked one of Mr. Coppola's.

Or take Justin Bieber's career: Although it took off after Usher signed him, he didn't network his way into that meeting. Mr. Bieber taught himself to sing and play four instruments, put a handful of videos on YouTube, and a manager ended up clicking on one. Adele was discovered that way, too: She wrote and recorded a three-song demo, a friend posted it on Myspace, and a music exec heard it. Developing talent -- and sharing it -- catapulted them into those connections.

For entrepreneurs, too, achievement is a magnet to mentors and a beacon to backers. Spanx took off when Oprah Winfrey chose it as one of her favorite things of the year -- but not because she was stalked by the company's founder, Sara Blakely. For two and a half years, Ms. Blakely sold fax machines by day so that she could build her prototype of footless pantyhose by night. She sent one from the first batch to Ms. Winfrey.

Networks help, of course. In a study of internet security start-ups, having a previous connection to an investor increased the odds of getting funded by that investor in the first year. But it was pretty much irrelevant afterward. Accomplishments were the dominant driver of who invested over time.

Similarly, researchers found that in hospitals, the radiologists who ended up with the most desirable networks were the ones with the highest performance nine months earlier. And in banks, star performers attracted bigger networks and were more likely to maintain those ties. Achievements don't just help us make connections; they also help sustain those connections.


. . .


So stop fretting about networking. Take a page out of the George Lucas and Sara Blakely playbooks: Make an intriguing film, build a useful product.

And don't feel pressure to go to networking events. No one really mixes at mixers. Although we plan to meet new people, we usually end up hanging out with old friends. The best networking happens when people gather for a purpose other than networking, to learn from one another or help one another.



For the full commentary, see:

Grant, Adam. "Networking Is Overrated." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., AUG. 27, 2017): 7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date AUG. 24, 2017, and has the title "Good News for Young Strivers: Networking Is Overrated.")






September 1, 2017

Inventor of Submarine "Was Shunted Aside"



(p. C6) There are very few wars in history that begin, dramatically, with a brand-new weapon displaying its transformative power, but one such case occurred in the southern North Sea in September 1914, when three large cruisers of the Royal Navy were torpedoed and swiftly sunk by a diminutive German U-boat, the U-9. At that moment, the age of the attack submarine was born, and the struggle for naval supremacy for a great part of both World War I and World War II was defined. The U-boat--shorthand for "Unterseeboot"--had come of age.

It is appropriate, then, that the historian Lawrence Goldstone begins "Going Deep" with a dramatic re-telling of the U-9's exploit. It should be said immediately that his chronicle doesn't present the whole history of submarine warfare but rather the story of the efforts of various American inventors and entrepreneurs--above all, an Irish-born engineer named John Philip Holland--to create a power-driven, human-directed and sub-marine vessel that could stalk and then, with its torpedoes, obliterate even the most powerful of surface warships.


. . .


"Going Deep" ends in 1914. By that time, the U.S. Navy was on its way to possessing some submarines--vessels equipped with torpedoes that were therefore capable, in theory, of sinking an enemy's warships or his merchant marine, although in fact these boats were aimed at only coastal defense. And by 1914 American industry could boast of a nascent submarine-building capacity, especially in the form of the Electric Boat Co., which was to survive the capriciousness of the Navy Department's "on-off" love affair with the submarine until World War II finally proved its undoubted power.

But these successes, limited though they were, were not John Philip Holland's. He had played a major role--really, the greatest role--in developing the early submarine, grasping that it could transform naval warfare. He had grappled with and overcome most of the daunting technological obstacles in the way of making his vision a reality. Mr. Goldstone is surely right to give him such prominence. But eventually Holland was shunted aside by more ruthless entrepreneurs, diddled by business partners and denied Navy contracts. He passed away on Aug. 12, 1914, just as World War I was beginning. By then, feeling beaten and having retired, he was a quiet churchman and amateur historian. This part of Mr. Goldstone's story is not a happy one.



For the full review, see:


Kennedy, Paul. "A Man Down Below; How an Irish-American engineer developed a Jules Verne-like wonder-weapon of the deep." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., June 17, 2017): C6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 16, 2017.)


The book under review, is:

Goldstone, Lawrence. Going Deep: John Philip Holland and the Invention of the Attack Submarine. New York: Pegasus Books Ltd., 2017.






August 31, 2017

Pessimistic Are Best Prepared for Bad News



(p. A13) In a study published in the journal "Emotion" in February, 2016, Dr. Sweeny and colleagues at the University of California, Riverside, showed that people resort to a number of coping strategies to manage their discomfort while waiting for an outcome. Dr. Sweeny calls this "misery management."


. . .


None of these coping mechanisms worked, according to the study. They failed to reduce the participants' distress--and some even made it worse. . . .

A better way to wait, the researchers found, is when participants agonized through their waiting period, ruminating and feeling anxious and pessimistic rather than attempting to minimize their anxiety and worry. Those who did this responded more productively to bad news and more joyfully to good news than participants who suffered little during the wait. This is "waiting well."



For the full commentary, see:

Elizabeth Bernstein. "When a Little Agonizing Helps." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., May 23, 2017): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 22, 2017, and has the title "How to Manage a Long Wait for News.")


The paper co-authored by Sweeney, and mentioned above, is:

Sweeny, Kate, Chandra A. Reynolds, Angelica Falkenstein, Sara E. Andrews, and Michael D. Dooley. "Two Definitions of Waiting Well." Emotion 16, no. 1 (Feb. 2016): 129-43.






August 24, 2017

Who Was the Breakfast Cereal Innovator?



(p. A15) . . . , it turns out that the turn-of-the-last-century origin and evolution of the cereal industry was a very nasty and unpleasant bit of business, as Howard Markel chronicles in "The Kelloggs: The Battling Brothers of Battle Creek."


. . .


The Kelloggs (and others) thought that an easily digestible corn cereal might solve all the problems. The birth of breakfast cereal is a tortured tale. Both Kellogg brothers would insist on having made the crucial innovations, as would others, including the most successful copycat, C.W. Post, who moved to Battle Creek to make his new Shredded Wheat. Shredded Wheat became a top seller after John failed to conclude a deal to buy Post's company and, worse, refused to aggressively sell the Kellogg cereal because he thought it unseemly for a medical doctor, and his increasingly famous sanitarium ("the San"), to sell a commercial product.

Through it all, John's younger brother, Will--a plump, colorless, diligent numbers man--served as his long-suffering factotum. "The doctor was the San's showman and carnival barker," Mr. Markel writes, "while Will kept the place running smoothly and served as a brake to his brother's tendency to make poor and costly business decisions." Mr. Markel's portrayal of the sibling dynamic edges a bit into a Scrooge-and-Cratchit stereotype, though it is amply backed up by anecdotes, such as the many times poor Will was obliged to take dictation while John sat on the toilet.

In 1905, after 25 years of this, Will said "enough." He made a deal with John to leave the San and start a cereal company of his own, which in time became a global conglomerate.



For the full review, see:

Bryan Burrough. "BOOKSHELF; The Battle of Battle Creek." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Aug. 14, 2017): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 13, 2017, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; The Birth of a Cereal Empire.")


The book under review, is:

Markel, Howard. The Kelloggs: The Battling Brothers of Battle Creek. New York: Pantheon, 2017.






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 13, 2017

Petsitting Is Illegal Without a License



CorderoRaulPetsitterNYC2017-08-08.jpg"Raul Cordero with his Rhodesian ridgeback, Viuty. Mr. Cordero operates a dog-care business in East Harlem that appears to run afoul of city rules regarding the care of pets for pay in homes." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.




(p. A18) Raul Cordero and his Rhodesian ridgeback, Viuty, often have canine houseguests overnight at their East Harlem home, part of Mr. Cordero's dog-care business, for which he carries special petsitter's insurance that costs about $800 a year.

Yet despite Mr. Cordero's efforts to do everything by the book, he was shocked to discover that his petsitting business -- and in fact, any of the ubiquitous, your-home-or-mine variety -- is against New York City's rules.

According to long-established but little-noticed regulations of the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, anyone offering petsitting for pay must be licensed to board animals, and do so in a permitted kennel. Running such a kennel out of a home is not allowed in the city.


. . .


The newcomers are large, app-based pet-care businesses, with names like Wag and Rover, that operate in a similar style to Airbnb, enabling New Yorkers to open their apartments and dog beds as à la carte dog hostels.

. . . Rover and its ilk have run afoul of similar stipulations in places like California and Colorado, and John Lapham, Rover's general counsel, said that Rover was currently embroiled in similar concerns in several cities in New Jersey.


. . .


The department's rule "deprives dog owners of the most obvious, safe and affordable care," Mr. Lapham said.

"And it deprives sitters of the opportunity to make ends meet," he said.

Mr. Lapham noted that in New York City, babysitting, for example, is permitted, no license necessary.


. . .


. . . to Mr. Cordero, 27, regulating small-time dogsitters like him and his Rhodesian sidekick feels like government overreach. Petsitting "is like taking care of you own pet in your house," he said, adding: "So if you have a license, that means you are certified to feed a dog or a cat? That's crazy."



For the full story, see:

SARAH MASLIN NIR. "Paid Petsitting in Homes Is Illegal in New York. That's News to Some Sitters." The New York Times (Sat., JULY 22, 2017): A18.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JULY 21, 2017.)






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 8, 2017

Disney Stories Give Happiness to the Poor



(p. 1B) If the arts community had been blossoming in north Omaha when Adrienne Brown-Norman was growing up there in the 1960s and '70s, she may never have moved to California and become a senior illustrator for Disney Publishing Worldwide.


. . .


"Of course, though, I would not ever have met Floyd."

That would be her husband, Floyd Norman, the now-legendary first African-American artist at Walt Disney Studios.

Floyd Norman, 82, began working for Disney in 1956 and was named a Disney Legend in 2007.


. . .


The Normans recently collaborated with legendary songwriter Richard Sherman ("Mary (p. 5B) Poppins") on a picture book called "A Kiss Goodnight."

The book tells the story of how the young Walt Disney was enchanted by fireworks and subsequently chose to send all of his Magic Kingdom guests home with a special kiss goodnight of skyrockets bursting overhead.


. . .


Walt Disney later picked Norman to join the team writing the script for "The Jungle Book." Disney had seen Norman's gags posted around the office and recognized a talented storyteller.

"I didn't think I was a writer, but the old man did," Norman said. "Then I realized that maybe I am good at this."

Norman named "The Jungle Book" as his favorite project, because he worked alongside Disney.


. . .


"What I learned from the old man was the technique of storytelling and what made a movie work," Norman said.

"I had an amazing opportunity to learn from the master. If you were in the room with Walt, it was for a reason. There are a lot of people who wanted to be in that room but didn't get an invitation."


. . .


One day at the studio the Normans recall pausing to watch the filming of "Saving Mr. Banks," the story of Disney's quest to acquire the rights to film "Mary Poppins." Norman had worked on the movie and was interested in seeing Tom Hanks' portrayal of his old boss.

"Tom Hanks rushed from his trailer in full costume to meet Floyd, shouting, 'Where is that famous animator?' " Brown-Norman said. "You don't expect a man like Tom Hanks to come running up. Then Tom wouldn't let us leave. He wanted to know more about Walt, and if he was getting it right."


. . .


"What I enjoy is the love of Disney that made so many people happy," [Floyd Norman] said. "Maybe they were poor. Maybe they were in a bad home, but they tell me Disney stories gave them an escape. They gave them happiness, and that's what I like."



For the full story, see:


Kevin Cole. "Legendary Animator Spread Love of Disney." Omaha World-Herald (Mon., Aug. 7, 2017): 1B & 5B.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the title "During Native Omaha Days, Disney's Floyd Norman and Adrienne Brown-Norman reflect on careers.")


The book mentioned above, co-authored by Sherman (and illustrated by the Normans), is:

Sherman, Richard, and Brittany Rubiano. A Kiss Goodnight. Glendale, CA: Disney Editions, 2017.







August 6, 2017

How to Use Dyslexia and ADHD to Become a Better Leader



(p. R7) Leading a company without using email, reading memos or going to endless meetings sounds like a pipe dream. But it's a reality for Selim Bassoul, chief executive and chairman of Middleby Corp., the Elgin, Ill., kitchen-supply maker with such popular brands as Viking and Aga Rangemaster.

Mr. Bassoul, 60, has dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), conditions that weren't diagnosed during his childhood in Lebanon, when he initially struggled in school. Years later, when he was a graduate student at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, a professor suggested he get tested, he says.


. . .


WSJ: What are some ways that having dyslexia and ADHD affects your leadership style?

MR. BASSOUL: Dyslexia has forced me to be quite conceptual, because I'm not good with detail. I think in general rather than in specific [terms]. That allows me to step back and take in the big picture rather than get bogged down in details. Because of my weaknesses and handicaps, I've learned other ways to accomplish the same goal at faster speed.

As a dyslexic you have no choice but to rely on others for help with detail and tactical tasks. You become a great judge of character. You have to select the best team around you.

Then you have ADHD, which makes you restless but it can also be a huge motivator for action. It prompts you to go out of the office and into the field. You find yourself constantly on the front line. I don't like to be confined to the office. I hate meetings. I am constantly visiting customers, our field offices, our manufacturing plants. I know the operations of my customers better than them, which helps create solutions for them prior to them knowing what they need.



For the full interview, see:

Rachel Emma Silverman, interviewer. "How a Chief Executive with Dyslexia and ADHD Runs His Company." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., May 17, 2017): R7.

(Note: ellipses added. Bold and italics, in original. The italics question is from the WSJ interviewer.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date May 16, 2017, and has the title "How a CEO With Dyslexia and ADHD Runs His Company.")






July 28, 2017

Walls and a Door Allow "a Quiet Place to Think"



(p. B6) The lofty building Jordan Hamad moved his tech-advisory firm into four years ago had the trappings of a startup idyll: open floor plan, polished concrete floors, custom-built communal tables.

Soon, the 33-year-old founder of Chairseven says he craved something else: walls and a door.


. . .


Now as he moves the company from Portland, Ore., to New York, Mr. Hamad has joined a cadre of bosses chucking the egalitarianism of working alongside their employees for the old-fashioned private office. Their open-office revolt, they say, is less about reclaiming the corner office than about needing a quiet place to think.

"People will say it's so cool to have the CEO right next to you, but at the end of the day your team sometimes needs their space and you need yours," says Mr. Hamad, who currently leases a private office for himself and co-working space for other staff. Other senior team members will soon get private office space, too, he says.


. . .


In a review of more than 100 studies of work environments, British researchers found that despite improving communication in some instances, open-office spaces hurt workers' motivation and ability to focus.


. . .


"When you're in a territory that's clearly yours, you perform better," says Sally Augustin, an environmental psychologist and principal at La Grange Park, Ill.-based consulting firm Design With Science.


. . .


Open offices are so popular among tech companies that when CircleCI's founders moved the software-testing startup from an open space in San Francisco to one with 25 closed offices in 2014, it paid half the market rental rate, says co-founder Paul Biggar. In Silicon Valley, many people are "playing startup," he says, emulating the open spaces of tech giants such as Google Inc.

In reality, he says, engineers need quiet places to concentrate--and so does he. "I love the private office," he says.



For the full commentary, see:

Vanessa Fuhrmans. "Bosses Say they Want Their Offices Back." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., May 23, 2017): B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 22, 2017, and has the title "CEOs Want Their Offices Back." The following sentence, quoted above, appears in the online, but not the print, version of the article: "Other senior team members will soon get private office space, too, he says.")






July 26, 2017

Silicon Valley "Oligarchs" Block Upward Mobility of Masses



Bill Gates, Jaron Lanier, Tim Berners-Lee, and others have suggested that a fairer system of information technology property rights would enable micropayments for intellectual content posted to blogs and Facebook. This also would allow upward mobility. The value of the intellectual contributions is currently being unfairly appropriated by mega-server companies such as Google and Facebook.


A different kind of socialism

The oligarchs of the Bay Area have a problem: They must square their progressive worldview with their enormous wealth. They certainly are not socialists in the traditional sense. They see their riches not as a result of class advantages, but rather as reflective of their meritocratic superiority. As former TechCrunch reporter Gregory Ferenstein has observed, they embrace massive inequality as both a given and a logical outcome of the new economy.

The nerd estate is definitely not stupid, and like rulers everywhere, they worry about a revolt of the masses, and even the unionization of their companies. Their gambit is to expand the welfare state to keep the hoi polloi in line. Many, including Mark Zuckerberg, now favor an income stipend that could prevent mass homelessness and malnutrition.

How socialism morphs into feudalism

Unlike its failed predecessor, this new, greener socialism seeks not to weaken, but rather to preserve, the emerging class structure. Brown and his acolytes have slowed upward mobility by environment restrictions that have cramped home production of all kinds, particularly the building of moderate-cost single-family homes on the periphery. All of this, at a time when millennials nationwide, contrary to the assertion of Brown's "smart growth" allies, are beginning to buy cars, homes and move to the suburbs.



For the full commentary, see:


KOTKIN, Joel. "California's Descent to Socialism." Orange County Register, Posted: June 11, 2017. URL: http://www.ocregister.com/2017/06/11/californias-descent-to-socialism/

(Note: bold headings in original.)






July 25, 2017

Bezos Resurrects Washington Post Through High-Quality Journalism



(p. B1) As a private company since 2013, when the deep-pocketed Amazon founder Jeff Bezos bought it for $250 million, The Post doesn't disclose much financial data. But by all visible measures, including the vital but hard-to-measure buzz factor, the resurrection of The Post, both editorially and financially, in less than four years has been little short of astonishing.

The Post has said that it was prof-(p. B4)itable last year -- and not through cost-cutting. On the contrary, under the newsroom leadership of Martin Baron, the former editor of The Boston Globe memorably portrayed in the film "Spotlight," The Post has gone on a hiring spree. It has hired hundreds of reporters and editors and has more than tripled its technology staff.


. . .


Scoops -- and high-quality journalism more generally -- are integral to The Post's business model at a time when the future of digital journalism seemed to be veering toward the lowest common denominator of exploding watermelons and stupid pet tricks.

"Investigative reporting is absolutely critical to our business model," Mr. Baron told me. "We add value. We tell people what they didn't already know. We hold government and powerful people and institutions accountable. This cannot happen without financial support. We're at the point where the public realizes that and is willing to step up and support that work by buying subscriptions."



For the full story, see:

JAMES B. STEWART. "Common Sense; The Post's Latest Bombshell: It's Thriving in Digital News." The New York Times (Sat., MAY 20, 2017): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 19, 2017, and has the title "Common Sense; Washington Post, Breaking News, Is Also Breaking New Ground.")






July 24, 2017

"Gratuitously Stupid" Petunia Regulations



(p. A17) Sometimes government regulators do things that are not merely misguided but gratuitously stupid. A classic example came last month, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture called for the destruction of at least 13 varieties of petunias with striking hues. These plants don't pose any danger to health or the natural environment. But because they were crafted with modern genetic-engineering techniques, technically they're in violation of 30-year-old government regulations.

These petunias, first developed in the 1980s, were sold around the globe for years without incident. Then in 2015 a Finnish plant scientist noticed bright-orange petunias at a train station in Helsinki.


. . .


He tipped off Finnish regulators, who notified their counterparts in Europe and North America. Since no government had issued permits to sell these varieties, the result was a petunia purge. Untold numbers of beautiful and completely harmless flowers and seeds were destroyed.


. . .


If a researcher wants to perform a field trial with a regulated article such as the forbidden petunias, he must submit extensive paperwork to the Agriculture Department. After conducting tests for years at many sites, the developer can then submit a large dossier of data and request "deregulation" by the USDA for cultivation and sale.

These requirements make genetically engineered plants extraordinarily expensive to develop and test. On average, each costs about $136 million, according to Wendelyn Jones of DuPont Crop Protection. This probably is why the developers of the genetically engineered petunias never commercialized them legally. At around $5 for 5,000 seeds, there is no way to recover the regulatory costs.



For the full commentary, see:

Henry I. Miller. "Attack of the Killer Petunias; Harmless flowers are destroyed since they were genetically modified but not Washington-approved." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., June 13, 2017): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 12, 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 15, 2017

Geoengineering for the Timid



(p. A15) In 2012, a man named Russ George, working with the Haida people of British Columbia, tried an experiment. From the back of a rusty fishing vessel he spread 120 tons of iron-rich dust on the surface of the North Pacific Ocean. The result was a bloom of plankton, visible by satellite--and a quadrupling of the salmon catch along the coast of the Northeast Pacific. This may or may not have been a coincidence, but it was the intended result.


. . .


Far from being thanked, Mr. George was pilloried for failing to get permission for this rogue "geoengineering" gesture. A second experiment by German scientists in the Antarctic Ocean was stopped by the German government under pressure from environmentalists. A United Nations treaty--the London Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution--was changed to forbid "any activity undertaken by humans with the principal intention of stimulating primary productivity in the oceans." This seems a strangely defeatist prohibition, given that a more productive ocean would not only feed more people (and whales) but also sequester more carbon dioxide from the air, through photosynthesis by plankton, potentially providing a self-financing way to prevent possible future climate change.


. . .


. . . Mr. Biello is a writer from Scientific American and is impeccably sympathetic to the environmental movement. The result is a book that explores an intriguing topic but lacks a hard edge or even a clear message.


. . .


Just in the choice of stories to tell, though, the book leans toward the notion that the solution to our environmental challenges will come from technology, and in that sense it is most welcome. Technical fixes are anathema to many environmentalists, but it has been obvious for some time now that innovation and adaptation are the way we will reverse or cope with pollution, habitat loss and climate change. By contrast, a retreat to some golden age of simpler lives more dependent on organic and natural resources is neither possible nor likely to be good for nature: Seven billion people going back to nature would leave nature in a parlous state. The way we will save the planet is by high-tech invention and prosperity, not low-tech simplification and asceticism.



For the full review, see:

Matt Ridley. "BOOKSHELF; Ruling Over Our Dominion; We are living in the Anthropocene: an era when human beings have changed the planet in ways that will be obvious in the geological record." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Nov. 17, 2016): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Nov. 16, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Biello, David. The Unnatural World: The Race to Remake Civilization in Earth's Newest Age. New York: Scribner, 2016.







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 9, 2017

In Spite of Anxiety about Fatal Mistakes, Starzl Persevered



(p. A10) As he completed his medical training in the late 1950s, Thomas Starzl searched for a way to make his name in the annals of medicine. In an interview late in his life, he recalled asking himself: "What's out there that needs development but looks impossible?"

The choice seemed obvious to him: transplanting organs.

He became the first surgeon to transplant a human liver successfully in 1967 and went on to do hundreds more, in dicey operations that could last as long as 20 hours. Tall, lean and cerebral, he pioneered drug therapies to fight the body's rejection of foreign tissue. Though less famous than Christiaan Barnard, who in 1967 was the first to transplant a heart, Dr. Starzl was often called the "father of transplantation."


. . .


In Miami, crime furnished more than enough gunshot wounds to train a young surgeon. He learned the arts of replacing blood vessels. In his spare time, he experimented on dogs, devised a technique for removing livers and began thinking about how to "install" new ones.

As his surgical skills improved, his anxieties about making potentially fatal mistakes worsened. "With growing concern, I came to believe that I was not emotionally equipped to be a surgeon or to deal with its brutality," he wrote. "I did not like doing the one thing for which I had become uniquely qualified." He also felt it was too late to turn back.



For the full obituary, see:

James R. Hagerty. "'Father of Transplantation' Defeated His Own Doubts." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., MARCH 18, 2017): A10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date MARCH 17, 2017, and has the title "'Father of Transplantation' Defeated His Own Doubts and Fears.")







July 5, 2017

94-Year-Old Applies for Patent on Slow-Hunch Solid State Battery



(p. 7) In 1946, a 23-year-old Army veteran named John Goodenough headed to the University of Chicago with a dream of studying physics. When he arrived, a professor warned him that he was already too old to succeed in the field.

Recently, Dr. Goodenough recounted that story for me and then laughed uproariously. He ignored the professor's advice and today, at 94, has just set the tech industry abuzz with his blazing creativity. He and his team at the University of Texas at Austin filed a patent application on a new kind of battery that, if it works as promised, would be so cheap, lightweight and safe that it would revolutionize electric cars and kill off petroleum-fueled vehicles. His announcement has caused a stir, in part, because Dr. Goodenough has done it before. In 1980, at age 57, he coinvented the lithium-ion battery that shrank power into a tiny package.

We tend to assume that creativity wanes with age. But Dr. Goodenough's story suggests that some people actually become more creative as they grow older. Unfortunately, those late-blooming geniuses have to contend with powerful biases against them.


. . .


Years ago, he decided to create a solid battery that would be safer. Of course, in a perfect world, the "solid-state" battery would also be low-cost and lightweight. Then, two years ago, he discovered the work of Maria Helena Braga, a Portuguese physicist who, with the help of a colleague, had created a kind of glass that can replace liquid electrolytes inside batteries.

Dr. Goodenough persuaded Dr. Braga to move to Austin and join his lab. "We did some experiments to make sure the glass was dry. Then we were off to the races," he said.

Some of his colleagues were dubious that he could pull it off. But Dr. Goodenough was not dissuaded. "I'm old enough to know you can't close your mind to new ideas. You have to test out every possibility if you want something new."

When I asked him about his late-life success, he said: "Some of us are turtles; we crawl and struggle along, and we haven't maybe figured it out by the time we're 30. But the turtles have to keep on walking." This crawl through life can be advantageous, he pointed out, particularly if you meander around through different fields, picking up clues as you go along. Dr. Goodenough started in physics and hopped sideways into chemistry and materials science, while also keeping his eye on the social and political trends that could drive a green economy. "You have to draw on a fair amount of experience in order to be able to put ideas together," he said.



For the full commentary, see:

Kennedy, Pagan. "To Be a Genius, Think Like a 94-Year-Old." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., APRIL 9, 2017): 7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date APRIL 7, 2017.)






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 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 20, 2017

Government Regulations Suppress Poor Street Entrepreneurs



(p. 7) HANOI, Vietnam -- As strips of tofu sizzle beside her in a vat of oil, Nguyen Thu Hong listens for police sirens.

Police raids on sidewalk vendors have escalated sharply in downtown Hanoi since March [2017], she said, and officers fine her about $9, or two days' earnings, for the crime of selling bun dau mam tom -- vermicelli rice noodles with tofu and fermented shrimp paste -- from a plastic table beside an empty storefront.

"Most Vietnamese live by what they do on the sidewalk, so you can't just take that away," she said. "More regulations would be fine, but what the cops are doing now feels too extreme."

Southeast Asia is famous for its street food, delighting tourists and locals alike with tasty, inexpensive dishes like spicy som tam (green papaya salad) in Bangkok or sizzling banh xeo crepes in Ho Chi Minh City. But major cities in three countries are strengthening campaigns to clear the sidewalks, driving thousands of food vendors into the shadows and threatening a culinary tradition.


. . .


. . . some experts say street food is not inherently less sanitary than restaurant food. "If you're eating fried foods or things that are really steaming hot, then there's probably not much difference at all," said Martyn Kirk, an epidemiologist at the Australian National University.


. . .


Ms. Hong, the Hanoi vendor, said her earnings had cratered by about 60 percent since the start of the crackdown, when she moved to her present location from a busy street corner as a hedge against police raids.



For the full story, see:

MIKE IVES. "Food So Popular, Asian Cities Want It Off the Streets." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., APRIL 30, 2017): 7.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 29, 2017, and has the title "Efforts to Ease Congestion Threaten Street Food Culture in Southeast Asia.")






June 19, 2017

"The System Is Totally Crazy"



(p. D1) Mr. Ahmed, 46, is in the business of chicken and rice. He immigrated from Bangladesh 23 years ago, and is now one of two partners in a halal food cart that sets up on Greenwich Street close to the World Trade Center, all year long, rain or shine. He is also one of more than 10,000 people, most of them immigrants, who make a living selling food on the city's sidewalks: pork tamales, hot dogs, rolled rice noodles, jerk chicken.

These vendors are a fixture of New York's streets and New Yorkers' routines, vital to the culture of the city. But day to day, they struggle to do business against a host of challenges: byzantine city codes and regulations on street vending, exorbitant fines for small violations (like setting up an inch too close to the curb) and the occasional rage of brick-and-mortar businesses or residents.


. . .


(p. D6) Mr. Ahmed ties on his apron and pushes a few boxes underneath the cart so he can squeeze inside and get to work. Any boxes peeking out beyond the cart's footprint could result in a fine (penalties can run up to $1,000), as could parking his cart closer than six inches to the curb, or 20 feet to the building entrance. Mr. Ahmed knows all the rules by heart.


. . .


He applied for a food vendor's license, took a required health and safety class, bought a used cart and took it for an inspection by city officials. (The health department inspects carts at least once a year, and more frequently if a violation is reported.)

Mr. Ahmed still needed a food-vending permit, though, and because of a cap on permits imposed in the 1980s, only 4,000 or so circulate. He acquired his from a permit owner who has charged him and his partner $25,000 for two-year leases (for a permit that cost the owner just $200), which they are still paying off.

A day ago, Mr. Ahmed received a text message: 100 vendors were protesting the cap. Organized by the Street Vendor Project, a nonprofit group that is part of the Urban Justice Center and offers legal representation to city vendors, they hoped to pressure the City Council to pass legislation introduced last fall that would double the number of food-vending permits, gradually, over the next seven years. Mr. Ahmed, who believes the costs for those starting out should be more manageable, wanted to join them, but like many vendors, he couldn't get away from work.

"The system is totally crazy," Mr. Ahmed says. "Whoever has a license, give them a permit. It's good for all of us."



For the full story, see:

TEJAL RAO. "A Day in the Lunch Box." The New York Times (Weds., APRIL 19, 2017): D1 & D6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 18, 2017, and has the title "A Day in the Life of a Food Vendor.")






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 11, 2017

Mainstream Economist William Baumol Celebrated Innovative Entrepreneurs




William J. Baumol is a key source in my book project on Innovation Unbound. I had hoped he would be able to read, and comment on, the current draft, but that is not to be. He was one of the heroes of the economics of entrepreneurship.



(p. A13) The disease that bears William J. Baumol's name is not what led to his death on May 4 [2017] at age 95, but it is what cemented his legacy as one of the pre-eminent economists of the 20th century.


. . .


Professor Baumol was "one of the great economists of his generation," Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist at Columbia University, said in an interview, adding, "The series of insights he had about managerial economics, the role of innovation -- a whole series of innovational breakthroughs over a long period of time -- had a profound effect on economics."


. . .


"Nobody ever explained to him the difference between work and play," Daniel Baumol said of his father. "During a long trip, he would sit in the back of the car, oblivious to the world, and as we pulled in, he would announce, 'I just finished that article.'"

Patrick Bolton, a professor of economics at Columbia, described Professor Baumol as "someone who could come to a big problem and bring an extremely simple analysis that really shaped the way people would think about it."



For the full obituary, see:

PATRICIA COHEN. "William J. Baumol, 95, Leading Thinker in Economics." The New York Times (Fri., May 12, 2017): B14.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date May 10, 2017 and has the title "William J. Baumol, 95, 'One of the Great Economists of His Generation,' Dies.")


My favorite Baumol paper, is:

Baumol, William J. "Education for Innovation: Entrepreneurial Breakthroughs Versus Corporate Incremental Improvements." In Innovation Policy and the Economy, edited by Adam B. Jaffe, Josh Lerner and Scott Stern. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2005, pp. 33-56.






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 9, 2017

"Death Has Never Made Any Sense to Me"



(p. 10) . . . , Kinsley is intent on being wryly realistic about coping with illness and the terminal prospects ahead. He makes fun of a fellow boomer, Larry Ellison, the C.E.O. of Oracle, who has spent millions in a quest for eternal life, and who was quoted as saying, "Death has never made any sense to me." Kinsley quips: "Actually the question is not whether death makes sense to Larry Ellison but whether Larry Ellison makes sense to death. And I'm afraid he does."


For the full review, see:

PHILLIP LOPATE. "Senior Moments'." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., APRIL 24, 2016): 10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date APRIL 18, 2016, and has the title "Michael Kinsley's 'Old Age: A Beginner's Guide'.")


The book under review, is:

Kinsley, Michael. Old Age: A Beginner's Guide. New York: Tim Duggan Books, 2016.






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 7, 2017

Open Offices Disrupt Analytical Thinking and Creativity



(p. A13) Visual noise, the activity or movement around the edges of an employee's field of vision, can erode concentration and disrupt analytical thinking or creativity, research shows. While employers have long tried to quiet disruptive sounds in open workspaces, some are now combating visual noise too.


. . .


"I could barely ever focus," says Ms. Spivak, marketing and communications director for San Francisco-based Segment.

Her company overhauled its layout when it moved to new offices in April. Its former space was like a warehouse, creating "these long lines of sight across the workspace, where you have people you know and recognize moving by and talking to each other. It was incredibly distracting," CEO Peter Reinhardt says.


. . .


(p. A15) Being surrounded by teammates with similar work patterns can be comforting to employees. Unpredictable movements around the edges of a person's field of vision compete for cognitive resources, however, says Sabine Kastner, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at Princeton University who has studied how the brain pays attention for 20 years. People differ in their ability to filter out visual stimuli. For some, a teeming or cluttered office can make it nearly impossible to concentrate, she says.


. . .


In an experiment with Chinese factory workers published in 2012, Ethan Bernstein, an assistant professor of leadership and organizational behavior at Harvard Business School, found teams were 10% to 15% more productive when they worked behind a curtain that shielded them from supervisors' view. The employees felt freer to experiment with new ways to solve problems and improve efficiency when protected from their bosses' critical gaze, Dr. Bernstein says.

A loss of visual privacy is the No. 2 complaint from employees in offices with low or no partitions between desks, after noise, according to a 2013 study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology of 42,764 workers in 303 U.S. office buildings.



For the full commentary, see:

Sue Shellenbarger. "WORK & FAMILY; Why You Can't Concentrate at Work." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., May 10, 2017): A13 & A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 9, 2017 and has the title "WORK & FAMILY; Why You Can't Concentrate at Work.")


The Bernstein paper, mentioned above, is:

Bernstein, Ethan S. "The Transparency Paradox." Administrative Science Quarterly 57, no. 2 (June 2012): 181-216.






June 6, 2017

Bezos Stayed the Course, Refuted the Skeptics, and Made a Ding in the Universe



(p. B1) Twenty years ago this week, Amazon.com went public.

Skeptics of Jeff Bezos, the company's founder, have spent the better part of the past two decades second-guessing and vilifying him: He has been described as "a monopolist," "literary enemy No. 1," "a notorious international tax dodger," impossible, a ruthless boss and -- more than once -- "Lex Luthor." His company used to routinely be described as Amazon.con.

But you know what?

Here we are, 20 years later, and Mr. Bezos has an authentic, legitimate claim on having changed the way we live.

He has changed the way we shop. He has changed the way companies use computers, by moving much of their information and systems to cloud services. He's even changed the way we interact with computers by voice: "Alexa!"

Along the way, he has bought -- and fixed -- The Washington Post, one of the nation's premier journalistic institutions. And through his aerospace company, Blue Origin, he has invested billions of dollars in the race to space, a onetime hobby that, if successful, could change the world much more pro-(p. B3)foundly than free one-day shipping.


. . .


Perhaps the most surprising thing Mr. Bezos was able to accomplish, despite his detractors, was to find investors willing to trust him enough to invest in Amazon even as it racked up losses after losses.

That's not to say investors were always happy with Mr. Bezos -- they would frequently punish his stock, making it seem like a volatile investment. Then, every so often, he would surprise investors with profits, as if to suggest, "Yes, we can make money whenever we want, if we don't want to invest in the future."



For the full commentary, see:

Sorkin, Andrew Ross. "DEALBOOK; 20 Years On, Bezos Alters the Way We Shop and Live." The New York Times (Tues., MAY 16, 2017): B1 & B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date MAY 15, 2017, and has the title "DEALBOOK; 20 Years On, Amazon and Jeff Bezos Prove Naysayers Wrong.")






June 1, 2017

Many Great Inventors Rose, with Little Education, from Poverty



(p. A13) Mr. Baker is good at pointing out the unanticipated consequences that arose from some inventions: Richard Jordon Gatling, inventor of the Gatling gun, a fearsome instrument of battlefield butchery still in use in some forms today, believed that his contribution would save lives--depending on which side of the gun you were on--because one man operating the weapon would reduce the need for other soldiers. The inventor who created television, Philo Farnsworth, believed that his device could bring about world peace. "If we were able to see people in other countries and learn about our differences, why would there be any misunderstandings?" he wrote. "War would be a thing of the past." And you wouldn't need the Gatling gun.

Like Farnsworth, many of the inventors in "America the Ingenious" came from impoverished upbringings and had little formal education. Walter Hunt, creator of the safety pin, was educated in a one-room schoolhouse but went on to invent scores of other items, including a device that allowed circus performers to walk upside-down on ceilings. Elisha Graves Otis, of Otis elevator fame, was a high-school dropout who, according to his son, Charles, "needed no assistance, asked no advice, consulted with no one, and never made much use of pen or pencil." Of the innovators who undertook world-changing engineering feats, it is remarkable how often they brought them in under budget and ahead of schedule, among them the Golden Gate Bridge, Hoover Dam and New York's Hudson and East River railroad tunnels.



For the full review, see:

PATRICK COOKE. "BOOKSHELF; The Character of Our Country; Copper-riveted jeans, the first oil rig, running shoes, dry cleaning and the 23-story-high clipper ship--as American as apple pie." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Oct. 5, 2016): A13.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 4, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Baker, Kevin. America the Ingenious: How a Nation of Dreamers, Immigrants, and Tinkerers Changed the World. New York: Artisan, 2016.







May 25, 2017

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



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

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

It was put together by his father.

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

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

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


. . .


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

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


. . .


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

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

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



For the full story, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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






May 24, 2017

Starzl Persisted in Trying "Impossible" Liver Transplants



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

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

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

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

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

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


. . .


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

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


. . .


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

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

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



For the full obituary, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


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

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






May 23, 2017

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



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

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

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



For the full story, see:


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

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






May 22, 2017

Resveratrol Slows Alzheimer's



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

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

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


. . .


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


. . .


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



For the full story, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


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

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






May 21, 2017

Nano-Enhanced Fabrics Can Clean Themselves



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

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

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



For the full story, see:

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

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


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

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






May 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 10, 2017

Restaurants Add Labor Surcharges to Help Pay Minimum Wage Costs



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

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


. . .


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


. . .


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

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


. . .


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

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



For the full story, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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






May 7, 2017

Entrepreneur Rothblatt Was Highest-Paid Female CEO in 2013



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

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

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



For the full commentary, see:

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

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







May 6, 2017

Music Cassettes Still Thrive



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

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

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


. . .


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



For the full story, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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






May 5, 2017

Most "Small Firms Do Not Innovate"



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


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

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



For the full commentary, see:

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

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


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

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







May 4, 2017

Walt Disney "Tossed Out the Corporate Playbook"



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


. . .


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


. . .


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


. . .


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

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



For the full commentary, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


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

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






May 2, 2017

Founder Movie Is Unfair to Entrepreneur Ray Kroc



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

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


. . .


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


. . .


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

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

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


. . .


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

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


. . .


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



For the full story, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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






May 1, 2017

How Uber Resisted Regulation



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


. . .


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



For the full story, see:

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

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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






April 25, 2017

Increasing Number of Free Agent Entrepreneurs



(p. A3) A tiny segment of U.S. manufacturing appears to be thriving--the one with no employees.

A mix of technology, economic necessity and adventure is leading more Americans to found companies that plan to stay very small. That entrepreneurial spark also highlights challenges facing the economy, from difficulty re-entering the job market to the diminishing role of fast-growing young firms.

Nicholas Hollows wants to be his own boss, and not anyone else's.

"I definitely don't intend to switch my role from a person who makes things to a person who manages people," said the 32-year-old sole proprietor of Hollows Leather in Eugene, Ore. "Being hands-on is the whole reason I do this."

The number of businesses classified as manufacturers with no employees has been rising steadily since the depths of the recession. The tiny operations often make food, craft beer, toiletries or other niche products. Their growth stands out in a sector that has been shedding workers for decades.

U.S. food manufacturers with no employee but the owner nearly doubled from 2004 to 2014. One-worker beverage and tobacco makers expanded 150%. Such chemical manufacturers--a category that includes makers of soap and perfume--grew almost 70%.

In all, there were more than 350,000 manufacturing establishments with no employee other than the owner in 2014, up almost 17% from 2004, according to the most recent Commerce Department data. By comparison, there were 292,543 establishments with other employees, down 12%. The shift creates a challenge for building back the number of jobs in the U.S. manufacturing sector.



For the full story, see:

Sparshott, Jeffrey. "Tiny Firms Stay That Way." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Dec. 29, 2016): A3.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 28, 2016, and has the title "Big Growth in Tiny Businesses.")






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 19, 2017

Privatized Airports Are Better Managed



(p. A15) The highest-ranked American airport on the list of the world's top 100, as determined by the Passengers Choice Awards, is Denver--at 28. Atlanta comes in at 43, Dallas at 58, Los Angeles at 91.

Why do American passengers pay so much to get so little? Because their airports, by global standards, are terribly managed.

Cities from London to Buenos Aires have sold or leased their airports to private companies. To make a profit, these firms must hold down costs while enticing customers with lots of flights, competitive fares and appealing terminals. The firm that manages London's Heathrow, currently eighth in the international ranking, was so intent on attracting passengers that it built a nonstop express train to the city's center. It's also seeking to add another runway, as is the rival firm running Gatwick Airport.

American airports are typically run by politicians in conjunction with the dominant airlines, which help finance the terminals in return for long-term leases on gates and facilities. The airlines use their control to keep out competitors; the politicians use their share of the revenue to reward unionized airport workers. No one puts the passenger first.



For the full commentary, see:

JOHN TIERNEY. "'Third World' U.S. Airports? That Insults the Third World; Private managers make terminals sparkle and hum the world over. Here we're stuck with LaGuardia." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Jan. 21, 2017): A15.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 23 [sic], 2017.)






April 14, 2017

Israelis Are Tenacious, Informal, Question Authority, and Tolerate Failure



(p. A15) Israel is a country of eight million people that at its narrowest point is 9 miles wide. It is surrounded on all sides by enemies who would like to see it wiped off the map: Hezbollah to the north, Hamas to the south, plus Bashar al-Assad's regime, Islamic State and Iran to the east. It wouldn't take a particularly pessimistic person to bet against this besieged slice of desert. Yet this tiny nation has also built an air force, anti-missile defense system and intelligence apparatus that is revered around the world--and relied on by the U.S. military, among many others. And it's done it with a minuscule fraction of the budget available to larger nations.

How has Israel pulled it off? In "The Weapon Wizards" Yaakov Katz and Amir Bohbot tell the story of how the Jewish state's military and defense sector became one of the most cutting-edge in the world. In chapters focused on particular technologies and weapons, such as drones, satellites and cyber warfare, the authors make the case that the same factors that have made Israel a tech giant have also allowed it to become a "high-tech military superpower." The country's military, its schools and its extracurricular institutions inculcate in its young people tenacity, insatiable questioning of authority, determined informality, cross-disciplinary creativity and tolerance of failure.


. . .


While "The Weapon Wizards" can be a bit technical for the lay reader, the authors have skillfully conveyed a key component of the dynamic innovation culture that has made the Jewish state one of the most important entrepreneurial and technology-driven economies in the world. Not bad for a country 9 miles wide.



For the full review, see:

DAN SENOR. "BOOKSHELF; Drafting Up Innovation." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Feb. 2, 2017): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 3 [sic], 2017.)


The book under review, is:

Katz, Yaakov, and Amir Bohbot. The Weapon Wizards: How Israel Became a High-Tech Military Superpower. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2017.






April 12, 2017

Creating a Fair and Efficient Market for Photos



(p. B4) The arresting images on Stocksy.com are far from the standard fare found on many stock photography sites. Colorful portraits, unexpected compositions and playful shots greet visitors.

The most distinguishing feature, however, may be the structure of the site's owner, Stocksy United: It is a cooperative, owned and governed by the photographers who contribute their work. Every Stocksy photographer owns a share of the company, with voting rights. And most of the money from sales of their work goes into their pockets rather than toward the billion-dollar valuations pursued by many venture-backed start-ups.

Stocksy was founded in 2013 by Bruce Livingstone and Brianna Wettlaufer, the core team behind iStockphoto, which in 2000 pioneered the idea of selling stock photos online in exchange for small fees. (Mr. Livingstone was the founder and Ms. Wettlaufer, the vice president of development and employee No. 4). IStock -- which billed itself as "by creatives, for creatives" -- caught the attention of Getty Images, which acquired it in 2006 for $50 million.

Mr. Livingstone and Ms. Wettlaufer grew dismayed as the community spirit they had cultivated and the royalties photographers received began to erode under the new ownership. Like many artists in the digital age, their photographer friends grumbled that they were being underpaid and exploited by online sites.

"Everyone had the same story," Ms. Wettlaufer said. "They were feeling disenfranchised. They weren't creatively inspired anymore. The magic was gone."

So using money from the sale of iStock to Getty, she and Mr. Livingstone set out to create Stocksy, paying photographers 50 to 75 percent of sales. That is well above the going rate of 15 to 45 percent that is typical in the stock photography field. The company also distributes 90 percent of its profit at the end of each year among its photographers.

"We realized we could do it differently this time," said Ms. Wettlaufer, who took over the chief executive role in 2014. "We could enter the market with a model that ensured artists were treated fairly and ethically."



For the full story, see:

AMY CORTESE. "A New Wrinkle in the Gig Economy: Workers Get Most of the Money." The New York Times (Thurs., July 21, 2016): B4.

(Note: the online version of the article has the date JULY 20, 2016.)






April 10, 2017

Founder-Led Firms Do Better



(p. A19) A study out earlier this year from Bain & Company, where we work, shows that over the past 15 years founder-led companies delivered shareholder returns that are three times higher than those of other S&P 500 companies.


. . .


Great founders imbue their companies with three measurable traits that make up what we dubbed "the founder's mentality."

The first is insurgency: The founding team declares war on its industry on behalf of underserved customers.


. . .


The second trait is an obsession with how customers are treated--an attention to detail that borders on compulsive.


. . .


Third, these companies are steeped in an owner's mind-set. Too often in business, the founder's vision becomes distorted.


Bain's research found that the best companies--the top 20% of performers, founder-led or not--exhibit the three traits we've described four or five times as often as the bottom performers. The bad news: Only about 7% of companies, founder-led or not, manage to maintain these traits as they grow to scale. Yet those that do create more than 50% of the net value in the stock market in any given year.



For the full commentary, see:

CHRIS ZOOK and JAMES ALLEN. The Company Founder's Special Sauce; No one leads a firm as effectively as the person who started it." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Dec. 19, 2016): A19.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 18, 2016.)


The Bain research mentioned above, is:

Chris, Zook. "Founder-Led Companies Outperform the Rest -- Here's Why." Harvard Business Review Digital Articles (March 24, 2016): 2-5.


The passages quoted above are related to the authors' book:

Zook, Chris, and James Allen. The Founder's Mentality: How to Overcome the Predictable Crises of Growth. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press Books, 2016.






April 8, 2017

People Root for Billionaires If They Believe They Also Could Become Billionaires



(p. 22) "Billions" manages the feat of making you want the guy who has everything to have even more.

"People still root for billionaires because it reinforces the idea that they can do it too," Mr. Kirshenbaum said recently. "People don't want to be in a place where there's not a lot of magic left in the equation." Political analysts have long given this explanation for why poor or working-class people vote against tax increases for the wealthy: They want to believe that some day they, too, will have assets to guard.


. . .


Like the TV series, the film "The Big Short" puts you in the position of wanting the investors -- or at least the investors depicted on the screen -- to win. The movie channels your anger at the banks that came up with the perilous financial instruments that devastated the economy, but it leaves you no room to despise the charmingly eccentric rogue geniuses who made hundreds of millions of dollars shorting the housing market. All that hard work, the culling of documents and the fact-gathering trips to endangered Sun Belt real estate markets -- it would be so wrong if they didn't triumph in the end. Institutions are greedy; people are merely obsessed.



For the full commentary, see:

GINIA BELLAFANTE. "Big City; Rooting for the Robber Barons, at Least Those Onscreen." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., MARCH 20, 2016): 22.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date MARCH 18, 2016, and has the title "Big City; Rooting for the Robber Barons, at Least on the Screen.")






April 7, 2017

Public Policies Choke Off Entrepreneurial Opportunities




George McGovern was the Democratic candidate for President of the United States in 1972. He was a fervent advocate for expansion of the federal government.



(p. A12) We intuitively know that to create job opportunities we need entrepreneurs who will risk their capital against an expected payoff. Too often, however, public policy does not consider whether we are choking off those opportunities.

My own business perspective has been limited to that small hotel and restaurant in Stratford, Conn., with an especially difficult lease and a severe recession. But my business associates and I also lived with federal, state and local rules that were all passed with the objective of helping employees, protecting the environment, raising tax dollars for schools, protecting our customers from fire hazards, etc. While I never have doubted the worthiness of any of these goals, the concept that most often eludes legislators is: "Can we make consumers pay the higher prices for the increased operating costs that accompany public regulation and government reporting requirements with reams of red tape." It is a simple concern that is nonetheless often ignored by legislators.

For example, the papers today are filled with stories about businesses dropping health coverage for employees. We provided a substantial package for our staff at the Stratford Inn. However, were we operating today, those costs would exceed $150,000 a year for health care on top of salaries and other benefits. There would have been no reasonable way for us to absorb or pass on these costs.

Some of the escalation in the cost of health care is attributed to patients suing doctors. While one cannot assess the merit of all these claims, I've also witnessed firsthand the explosion in blame-shifting and scapegoating for every negative experience in life.

Today, despite bankruptcy, we are still dealing with litigation from individuals who fell in or near our restaurant. Despite these injuries, not every misstep is the fault of someone else. Not every such incident should be viewed as a lawsuit instead of an unfortunate accident. And while the business owner may prevail in the end, the endless exposure to frivolous claims and high legal fees is frightening.



For the full commentary, see:

McGovern, George. "Manager's Journal: A Politician's Dream Is a Businessman's Nightmare." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., June 1, 1992): A12.






March 31, 2017

Alzheimer's Innovator Financed Research with Loan on His House



(p. 29) In the early 1990s, Dr. Roses and his collaborators at Duke University rejected prevailing assumptions that the buildup in the brain of a protein plaque called amyloid directly caused memory loss and other mental impairments in Alzheimer's patients.

Instead, they maintained that the plaque largely resulted from the disease, and that the deterioration of brain function actually originated from the variation of a single gene.

In 2009, after financing his research with a loan of almost $500,000 on his house, Dr. Roses and his team identified a second gene that they said could help predict whether the cognitive ability of an older person, generally between 65 and 83, would decline within about five years of acquiring Alzheimer's.


. . .


The heart attack that caused his death was his third since 1990, but his pace never faltered. "He treated every day like it was his last one, because he knew it probably was," Stephanie Roses said. "He woke up every morning and would blink three times and say, 'I have another day.'"



For the full obituary, see:

SAM ROBERTS. "Allen Roses, Who Studied Genes' Role in Alzheimer's Disease, Is Dead at 73." The New York Times (Thurs., OCT. 6, 2016): 29.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date OCT. 5, 2016, and has the title "Allen Roses, Who Upset Common Wisdom on Cause of Alzheimer's, Dies at 73.")






March 27, 2017

Judgment Overrode Algorithm to Save First Moon Landing



(p. 29) On July 20, 1969, moments after mission control in Houston had given the Apollo 11 lunar module, Eagle, the O.K. to begin its descent to the moon, a yellow warning light flashed on the cockpit instrument panel.

"Program alarm," the commander, Neil Armstrong, radioed. "It's a 1202."

The alarm appeared to indicate a computer systems overload, raising the specter of a breakdown. With only a few minutes left before touchdown on the moon, Steve Bales, the guidance officer in mission control, had to make a decision: Let the module continue to descend, or abort the mission and send the module rocketing back to the command ship, Columbia.

By intercom, Mr. Bales quickly consulted Jack Garman, a 24-year-old engineer who was overseeing the software support group from a back-room console.

Mr. Garman had painstakingly prepared himself for just this contingency -- the possibility of a false alarm.

"So I said," he remembered, "on this backup room voice loop that no one can hear, 'As long as it doesn't reoccur, it's fine.'"

At 4:18 p.m., with only 30 seconds of fuel remaining for the descent, Mr. Armstrong radioed: "Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed."

Mr. Garman, whose self-assurance and honed judgment effectively saved mankind's first lunar landing, died on Tuesday outside Houston.



For the full obituary, see:

SAM ROBERTS. "Jack Garman, Who Saved Moon Landing, Dies at 72." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., SEPT. 25, 2016): 29.

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date SEPT. 24, 2016, and has the title "Jack Garman, Whose Judgment Call Saved Moon Landing, Dies at 72.")






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 24, 2017

"You Never Know for Sure Where Good Ideas Will Come From"



(p. B1) The best-performing U.S. stock over the past 30 years isn't a household name like Costco Wholesale Corp. or Johnson & Johnson. It's Balchem, up 107,099% since the end of 1985, according to FactSet Research Systems.

You'd never heard of Balchem? Me either; stocks don't come much more obscure than this. Based in Wawayanda, N.Y. (population 7,266), about 70 miles northwest of New York City, Balchem makes flavorings, fumigating gases and nutritional additives for animal feed. Its total stock market value is about $1.7 billion.

Since the end of 1985, Balchem has gained an average of 26.2% annually, compared with 10.3% for the S&P 500 and 15.7% for Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc.


. . .


(p. B7) But you can learn from Balchem and its peers for free. Over the past 30 years, 44 U.S. stocks generated cumulative total returns of 10,000% or more, according to FactSet. The 10 behind Balchem are Home Depot Inc., Amgen Inc., Nike Inc., UnitedHealth Group Inc., Danaher Corp., Altair Corp., Kansas City Southern, Jack Henry & Associates Inc., Apple Inc. and Altria Group Inc. All grew by at least twice the rate of the S&P 500. Investment manager William Bernstein of Efficient Frontier Advisors in Eastford, Conn., has christened such companies "superstocks."

Perhaps the most notable thing they share, says David Salem, chief investment officer at Windhorse Capital Management in Boston, is that "they have all undergone at least one near-death experience."


. . .


Balchem shows the patience, grit and good luck it takes for a company to turn into a superstock.

The firm began in 1967 as a specialty-chemicals company that made ingredients for hairspray and ink, among other things, says Raymond Reber, who stepped down as chief executive in 1997.

In 1996, Balchem was losing so much on a new technology to coat nutrients that "it was crazy," says Mr. Reber. "We couldn't operate that way." So, he recalls, he told the company's factory workers, "'You have to figure out a way to double our production without raising our costs.' And they did it."

But the transition was rough. Balchem's shares dropped 57% in 13 months between late 1997 and the end of 1998.

Dino Rossi, who was Balchem's chief executive between 1998 and last year, remembers a staff engineer pointing out long ago that its nutritional choline salts might have a nonfood purpose: to help stabilize clay deposits. Years went by before fracking for oil and gas created a bonanza for that use. The end result: tens of millions of dollars in revenue for Balchem.

"You never know for sure where good ideas will come from," says Mr. Rossi, "and it doesn't happen overnight."

It took years for Balchem to perfect microcapsules that could survive the harsh acids of a cow's first stomach and then release nutrients farther along in the animal's digestive system. "You have to be constantly working the technology harder," says Mr. Rossi.



For the full commentary, see:

JASON ZWEIG. "No. 1 Over 30 Years? You Will Never Guess." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Jan 30, 2016): B1 & B7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Jan 29, 2016, and has the title The Best Stock Over the Last 30 Years? You've Never Heard of It.")






March 23, 2017

"A Corporate Jargon of Uplift That Turns Sensitive Souls Suicidal"



(p. C1) Though Dante cataloged many forms of diabolical torture in his "Inferno," a guided tour of hell, he somehow missed out on what could well be the most excruciating eternal punishment of all. I mean (ominous organ chords, please) the staff meeting that never, ever ends.

You've surely been a part of such sessions. They're those gatherings in which people waste time by talking about how to be more productive, with algebraic visual aids and a corporate jargon of uplift that turns sensitive souls suicidal.



For the full review, see:

BEN BRANTLEY. "A Circle of Hell: The Staff Meeting." The New York Times (Mon., OCT. 10, 2016): C1 & C4.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date OCT. 9, 2016, and has the title "Review: 'Miles for Mary,' a Sendup of the Interminable Meeting From Hell.")






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 20, 2017

Spreadsheets and Committees Are Enemies of Innovation



(p. B4) "As we became more sophisticated in quantifying things we became less and less willing to take risks," says Horace Dediu, a technology analyst and fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, a think tank. "The spreadsheet is the weapon of mass destruction against creative power."

The same could be said of university research, says Dr. Prabhakar. Research priorities are often decided by peer review, that is, a committee.

"It drives research to more incrementalism," she says. "Committees are a great way to reduce risk, but not to take risk."



For the full commentary, see:

CHRISTOPHER MIMS. "KEYWORDS; Engine of Innovation Loses Some Spark." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Nov. 21, 2016): B1 & B4.

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Nov. 20, 2016, and has the title "KEYWORDS; Is Engine of Innovation in Danger of Stalling?")






March 19, 2017

Studying Cancer in Dogs Can Help Humans and Dogs



(p. D4) Dogs are a better natural model for some human diseases than mice or even primates because they live with people, Dr. Karlsson says. "Compared to lab mice, with dogs they're getting diseases within their natural life span, they're exposed to the same pollutants in the environment" as humans, she says.

Previous canine studies conducted by other scientists have shed light on human diseases like osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer, as well as the sleep disorder narcolepsy and a neurological condition, epilepsy.

With osteosarcoma, the most common type of bone cancer in children and one that frequently strikes certain dog breeds, researchers have discovered that tumors in dogs and children are virtually indistinguishable. The tumors share similarities in their location, development of chemotherapy-resistant growths and altered functioning of certain proteins, making dogs a good animal model of the disease. Collecting more specimens from dogs could lead to progress in identifying tumor targets and new cancer drugs in dogs as well as in children, some scientists say.



For the full story, see:

SHIRLEY S. WANG. "IN THE LAB; How Dogs' Genes Can Help Humans." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Dec. 3, 2015): D4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 2, 2015, and has the title "IN THE LAB; Why Dogs Are Some Scientists' New Best Friends.")


A paper showing how cancer research on dogs can help humans, is:

Fenger, Joelle M., Cheryl A. London, and William C. Kisseberth. "Canine Osteosarcoma: A Naturally Occurring Disease to Inform Pediatric Oncology." ILAR Journal 55, no. 1 (2014): 69-85.






March 17, 2017

"We Shall Increasingly Have the Power to Make Life Good"



(p. B13) Derek Parfit, a British philosopher whose writing on personal identity, the nature of reasons and the objectivity of morality re-established ethics as a central concern for contemporary thinkers and set the terms for philosophic inquiry, died on Monday at his home in London.


. . .


The two volumes of "On What Matters," published in 2011, dealt with the theory of reasons and morality, arguing for the existence of objective truth in ethics.


. . .


"With no other philosopher have I had such a clear sense of someone who had already thought of every objection I could make, of the best replies to them, of further objections that I might then make, and of replies to them too," the philosopher Peter Singer wrote recently on the philosophy website Daily Nous.


. . .


In February [2017], Oxford University Press plans to publish a third volume of "On What Matters." It consists in part of responses to criticism of his work by leading philosophers, which will appear in a companion volume, edited by Mr. Singer, titled "Does Anything Really Matter?"


. . .


On Daily Nous, Mr. Singer offered a snippet from Mr. Parfit's new work:

"Life can be wonderful as well as terrible, and we shall increasingly have the power to make life good. Since human history may be only just beginning, we can expect that future humans, or supra-humans, may achieve some great goods that we cannot now even imagine.

"In Nietzsche's words, there has never been such a new dawn and clear horizon, and such an open sea."



For the full obituary, see:

WILLIAM GRIMES. "Derek Parfit, 74, Philosopher Who Explored Identity." The New York Times (Thurs., JAN. 5, 2017): B13.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date JAN. 4, 2017, and has the title "Derek Parfit, Philosopher Who Explored Identity and Moral Choice, Dies at 74.")


The book by Parfit quoted above, is:

Parfit, Derek. On What Matters: Volume Three. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2017.






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 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.")






March 11, 2017

Venture Capitalists Expect Future Successful Entrepreneurs to Look Like Recent Successful Entrepreneurs



(p. 4) In recent months, the fund-raising atmosphere has cooled as venture capitalists react to the poor stock market performance of some public tech companies and question whether the recent fast pace of investment is sustainable. Venture capitalists are making fewer investments at lower valuations.

"There is this delusion that it's easy to raise money in Silicon Valley," said Sam Altman, president of Y Combinator, a mentorship and investment program for start-ups. "Raising money is incredibly hard."


. . .


Venture capitalists, who hold the keys to success in Silicon Valley by providing start-up money, are even more likely to be white and male than tech company employees are. Theirs is an insular business. Most investors accept pitches only from entrepreneurs who come through an introduction, and they tend to finance people who have succeeded before, or who remind them of those who did.

According to a 2014 study published by the National Academy of Sciences, investors prefer pitches by men, particularly attractive men, to those by women, even when the content of the pitch is the same. In addition to studying the results of three entrepreneurial pitch competitions, the researchers conducted two experiments in which a representative sample of working adults heard identical pitches in male and female voices. Sixty-eight percent of people preferred to finance the company when it was pitched by a male voice, while 32 percent chose the female.


. . .


At the gender discrimination trial last year against Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, which the venture capital firm won, female employees said they were excluded from a ski trip, denied credit for deals they brought to the firm, and told they both didn't speak up enough and talked too much.

"I feel like it's a lot more nuanced and sometimes it's subconscious," said Julia Hu, the founder and chief executive of Lark, which makes a health and weight-loss app. "V.C.s are pattern matchers, and they're just used to seeing men like themselves."

Many women convey confidence and leadership in a different way than men do, she said. As an Asian woman, she said, she was raised to be humble and quiet and felt uncomfortable promoting her skills. "To try to be who I thought they wanted me to be, which was another Mark Zuckerberg, was actually very difficult for me without feeling inauthentic."



For the full story, see:

Miller, Claire Cain. "The Venture Capital Ceiling." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., FEB. 28, 2016): 1 & 4-5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 27, 2016, and has the title "What It's Really Like to Risk It All in Silicon Valley.")


The National Academy of Sciences study mentioned above, is:

Wood Brooks, Alison, Laura Huang, Sarah Wood Kearney, and Fiona E. Murray. "Investors Prefer Entrepreneurial Ventures Pitched by Attractive Men." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 111, no. 12 (March 25, 2014): 4427-31.






March 3, 2017

Mice Genome Reprogrammed to Rejuvenate Organs and Extend Life



(p. A22) At the Salk Institute in La Jolla, Calif., scientists are trying to get time to run backward.

Biological time, that is. In the first attempt to reverse aging by reprogramming the genome, they have rejuvenated the organs of mice and lengthened their life spans by 30 percent. The technique, which requires genetic engineering, cannot be applied directly to people, but the achievement points toward better understanding of human aging and the possibility of rejuvenating human tissues by other means.

The Salk team's discovery, reported in the Thursday issue of the journal Cell, is "novel and exciting," said Jan Vijg, an expert on aging at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

Leonard Guarente, who studies the biology of aging at M.I.T., said, "This is huge," citing the novelty of the finding and the opportunity it creates to slow down, if not reverse, aging. "It's a pretty remarkable finding, and if it holds up it could be quite important in the history of aging research," Dr. Guarente said.


. . .


Ten years ago, the Japanese biologist Shinya Yamanaka amazed researchers by identifying four critical genes that reset the clock of the fertilized egg. The four genes are so powerful that they will reprogram even the genome of skin or intestinal cells back to the embryonic state.


. . .


Dr. Izpisua Belmonte believes these beneficial effects have been obtained by resetting the clock of the aging process. The clock is created by the epigenome, the system of proteins that clads the cell's DNA and controls which genes are active and which are suppressed.


. . .


Dr. Izpisua Belmonte sees the epigenome as being like a manuscript that is continually edited. "At the end of life there are many marks and it is difficult for the cell to read them," he said.

What the Yamanaka genes are doing in his mice, he believes, is eliminating the extra marks, thus reverting the cell to a more youthful state.

The Salk biologists "do indeed provide what I believe to be the first evidence that partial reprogramming of the genome ameliorated symptoms of tissue degeneration and improved regenerative capacity," Dr. Vijg said.



For the full story, see:

NICHOLAS WADE. "Scientists Learn About Human Aging by Lengthening the Life Span of Mice." The New York Times (Fri., DEC. 16, 2016): A22.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 15, 2016, and has the title "Scientists Say the Clock of Aging May Be Reversible.")






February 24, 2017

Doctors Lack Incentives to Use Best Ovarian Cancer Treatment



(p. 22) In 2006, the National Cancer Institute took the rare step of issuing a "clinical announcement," a special alert it holds in reserve for advances so important that they should change medical practice.

In this case, the subject was ovarian cancer. A major study had just proved that pumping chemotherapy directly into the abdomen, along with the usual intravenous method, could add 16 months or more to women's lives. Cancer experts agreed that medical practice should change -- immediately.

Nearly a decade later, doctors report that fewer than half of ovarian cancer patients at American hospitals are receiving the abdominal treatment.

"It's very unfortunate, but it's the real world," said Dr. Maurie Markman, the president of medicine and science at Cancer Treatment Centers of America. He added, "The word 'tragic' would be fair."

Experts suggest a variety of reasons that the treatment is so underused: It is harder to administer than intravenous therapy, and some doctors may still doubt its benefits or think it is too toxic. Some may also see it as a drain on their income, because it is time-consuming and uses generic drugs on which oncologists make little money.



For the full story, see:

DENISE GRADY. "Ovarian Cancer Treatment Is Found Underused." The New York Times (Tues., AUG. 4, 2015): A1 & A13.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date AUG. 3, 2015, and has the title "Effective Ovarian Cancer Treatment Is Underused, Study Finds.")






February 22, 2017

Cuban Entrepreneurs Lost Faith in Fidel's Revolution



(p. 22) Ihosvany Oscar Artiles Ferrer, 44, a veterinarian who worked in Camagüey but recently moved to Queens, said the lack of wholesalers to buy supplies from made it difficult to eke out a profit.

"The private business is like a handkerchief the government puts over everything to be able to say to the United Nations that in Cuba people own small businesses," Mr. Artiles said.

"In the beginning, almost all of us were revolutionaries," he added. "But now, we quit all that because we don't believe in Fidel, in the revolution, in socialism or anything."



For the full story, see:

FRANCES ROBLES. "Stay or Go? Cuban Entrepreneurs Are Divided on Where to Stake Futures." The New York Times (Tues., MARCH 22, 2016): 22.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 21, 2016, and has the title "Stay or Go? Cuban Entrepreneurs Divided on Where to Stake Futures.")






February 20, 2017

Firm Success May Depend on Being Allowed to Create Corporate Culture Through Hiring



(p. B1) After submitting an online application, completing a video interview and meeting with a hiring manager, the last thing standing between many applicants and a job at G Adventures Inc. is a roughly two-foot-deep ball pit similar to what you might find at a Chuck E. Cheese's.

Candidates remove their shoes and join three of the Toronto-based tour company's employees, who spin a wheel with questions such as, "What's a signature dance move and will you demonstrate it?"

Sitting in a pool of plastic balls seemingly has little to do with selling package tours, but company founder Bruce Poon Tip says it reveals a lot about who will be successful at the 2,000-employee company.

Culture is "like a tribal thing for us," he says. Lately, many companies seem to agree.

Employers are finding new ways to assess job candidates' cultural suitability as they seek hires who fit in from day one. While few go as far as G Adventures, companies such as Salesforce.com Inc. have experimented with tapping "cultural ambassadors" to evaluate finalists for jobs in other departments. Zappos.com Inc. gives company veterans veto power over hires who might not fit in with its staff--even if those hires have the right skills for the job.

Though employment experts warn that fuzzy criteria such as culture fit may permit bias in the hiring process and result in a lack of diversity, companies say culture often determines who succeeds or fails in their workplace.



For the full commentary, see:

RACHEL FEINTZEIG. "'Culture Fit' May Be Key to Your Next Job." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Oct. 12, 2016): B1 & B6.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the title "Culture Fit' May Be the Key to Your Next Job.")






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 15, 2017

Where Fidelistas Miss Mr. Hershey's Company Town



(p. A9) This small town on Cuba's northern coast is steeped in memory and wistfulness, a kind of living monument to the intertwined histories of the United States and Cuba and to the successes and failures of Fidel Castro's social revolution.

The town dates to 1916, when Milton S. Hershey, the American chocolate baron, visited Cuba for the first time and decided to buy sugar plantations and mills on the island to supply his growing chocolate empire in Pennsylvania. On land east of Havana, he built a large sugar refinery and an adjoining village -- a model town like his creation in Hershey, Pa. -- to house his workers and their families.

He named the place Hershey.

The village would come to include about 160 homes -- the most elegant made of stone, the more modest of wooden planks -- built along a grid of streets and each with tidy yards and front porches in the style common in the growing suburbs of the United States. It also had a public school, a medical clinic, shops, a movie theater, a golf course, social clubs and a baseball stadium where a Hershey-sponsored team played its home games, residents said.

The factory became one of the most productive sugar refineries in the country, if not in all of Latin America, and the village was the envy of surrounding towns, which lacked the standard of living that Mr. Hershey bestowed on his namesake settlement.


. . .


"I'm a Fidelista, entirely in favor of the revolution," declared Meraldo Nojas Sutil, 78, who moved to Hershey when he was 11 and worked in the plant during the 1960s and '70s. "But slowly the town is deteriorating."

Many residents do not hesitate to draw a contrast between the current state of the town and the way that it looked when "Mr. Hershey," as he is invariably called here, was the boss.

Residents seem amused by, if not proud of, the ties to the United States.

Most still use the village's original name, pronounced locally as "AIR-see." And Hershey signs still hang at the town's train station, a romantic nod to a bygone era, though perhaps also a symbol of hope that the past -- at least, certain aspects of it -- will again become the present.



For the full story, see:

KIRK SEMPLE. "CAMILO CIENFUEGOS JOURNAL; Past Is Bittersweet in Cuban Town That Hershey Built." The New York Times (Thurs., DEC. 7, 2016): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date DEC. 7, 2016, and has the title "CAMILO CIENFUEGOS JOURNAL; In Cuban Town That Hershey Built, Memories Both Bitter and Sweet.")






February 2, 2017

Science Can Learn Much from Outliers "Who Are Naturally Different"



(p. 1) Abby Solomon suffers from a one-in-a-billion genetic syndrome: After just about an hour without food, she begins to starve. She sleeps in snatches. In her dreams she gorges on French fries. But as soon as she wakes up and nibbles a few bites, she feels full, so she ends up consuming very few calories. At 5 feet 10 inches tall, she weighs 99 pounds.

Now 21 years old, she is one of the few people in the world to survive into adulthood with neonatal progeroid syndrome, a condition that results from damage to the FBN1 gene.


. . .


(p. 6) Dr. Chopra told me that, as far as medical science is concerned, Abby Solomon is worth thousands of the rest of us.


. . .


"Nothing comes close to starting with people who are naturally different," he said. This is why he searches out patients at the extreme ends of the spectrum -- those who are wired to weigh 80 pounds or 380 pounds. He said, "We have the opportunity to help a bigger swath of humanity when we learn from these outliers."

In 2013, after hearing about Ms. Solomon's unusual condition from another patient, he asked her to visit his clinic. Ms. Solomon warned him that she would be able to carry on a conversation for only 15 minutes before she needed to snack on chips or a cookie. That remark inspired a revelation. Dr. Chopra realized that "she had to eat small, sugary meals all day to stay alive, because her body was constantly running out of glucose," he said.

The clue led Dr. Chopra and his colleagues to their discovery of the blood-sugar-regulating hormone, which they named asprosin. Ms. Solomon's natural asprosin deficiency keeps her on the brink of starvation, but Dr. Chopra's hope is that an artificial compound that blocks asprosin could be used as a treatment for obesity. He and his team have already tested such a compound on mice, and found that it can reverse insulin resistance and weight gain.



For the full commentary, see:

PAGAN KENNEDY. "The Thin Gene." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., NOV. 27, 2016): 1 & 6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date NOV. 25, 2016.)






February 1, 2017

Not All Old Ideas Should Be Recycled



(p. C16) "What is true in the consumer tech industry is true in science and other fields of thinking," Mr. Poole elaborates. "The story of human understanding is not a gradual, stately accumulation of facts" but rather "a wild roller-coaster ride full of loops and switchbacks."

Horses, for example, are once again being used in warfare in the Middle East. Vinyl records are back after losing out to digital CDs and internet streaming. Leeches, whose use was once considered a barbaric medieval practice, are now an FDA-approved "medical device" for cleaning wounds. Bicycles are making a comeback as a popular and efficient means of moving about in large, crowded cities. Blimps are starting to compete with helicopters for moving heavy cargo.


. . .


To understand this process of rediscovery--"old is the new new"--we need to abandon the myth of progress as something that results from a rejection of all that is old.

Still, not all old ideas will return reconfigured into new and useful ones, and it is here where readers may find room for disagreement, despite Mr. Poole's many caveats.


. . .


That there are many unsolved mysteries in science does not always mean that we should turn to the past for insight. Sometimes--usually, in fact--the bad ideas rejected by science belong in the graveyard. Phlogiston, miasma, spontaneous generation, the luminiferous aether--wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong.

Nevertheless, those notions--and many others that Mr. Poole surveys in this thought-provoking book--were wrong in ways that led scientists toward a better understanding, and the middle chapters of "Rethink" elegantly recount these stories. Going forward, Mr. Poole ends by suggesting that we adopt a "view from tomorrow" in which we "try to consider an idea free of the moral weight that attaches to it in particular historical circumstances" and that "we could try to get into the habit of deferring judgments about ideas more generally" in order to keep an open mind. On the flip side, skeptics should not rush to dismiss a consensus idea as wrong just because consensus science is not always right. Most of today's ideas gained consensus in the first place for a very good reason: evidence. Do you know what we call alternative science with evidence? Science.



For the full review, see:


MICHAEL SHERMER. "Everything Old Is New Again." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 10, 2016): C16.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 9, 2016, and has the title "Electric Cars Are Old News.")


The book under review, is:

Poole, Steven. Rethink: The Surprising History of New Ideas. New York: Scribner, 2016.






January 30, 2017

Entrepreneur Hires for Perseverance




Max Levchin, who is quoted below, is an entrepreneur who played an important role in the early days of PayPal.



(p. 2) How do you think your parents and grandparents influenced your leadership style today?

My grandmother was exceptionally formative. She basically was willpower personified. If she wanted something to happen, it would happen. She had this walk-through-walls style where you did not ask for permission or forgiveness; you just did what you needed to get it done. I still judge some of my decisions based on: What would Grandma decide? Was I sufficiently tenacious or not enough?

And one thing I have found over the years is that in hiring, the dominant characteristic I select for is this sense of perseverance in really tough situations. It's like the difference between endurance athletes and sprinters. I think it is a really good predictor for how people behave under severe stress.

Working in a start-up means there is a baseline of stress with occasional spikes. There are people who are really good at handling spikes. In fact, most people are really good at handling spikes. But normal isn't normal. There is constant stress. And so I look for endurance athletes, in the business sense.



For the full interview, see:

ADAM BRYANT. "Corner Office; Looking for Signs of Endurance." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., December 11, 2016): 2.

(Note: bold in original.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date DEC. 9, 2016, and has the title "Corner Office; Max Levchin of Affirm: Seeking the Endurance Athletes of Business." The bold words are Adam Bryant's question; the non-bold words are Max Levchin's answer.)






January 26, 2017

Uber Fights Regulations by Asking Forgiveness, Not Permission



(p. B3) For seven years, Uber's stance on complying with regulations has been consistent: Ask forgiveness, not permission.

On Friday [December 16, 2016], the ride-hailing company stuck to that position. It said it had no intention of ending a new test of its self-driving vehicles in San Francisco, even though California regulators had said the service was illegal because Uber had not obtained the necessary permits. Uber said its self-driving cars were still on the road and picking up passengers.

The dispute is rooted in Uber's refusal to seek a permit from the California Department of Motor Vehicles, which would allow it to test autonomous vehicles under certain conditions. Companies like Google, Tesla Motors and Mercedes-Benz have all gotten such permits.

Uber officials contend that under the letter of California law, the company does not need a permit because the motor vehicles department defines autonomous vehicles as those that drive "without the active physical control or monitoring of a natural person." Uber said its modified, self-driving Volvo XC90s require human oversight, and therefore do not fit California's definition of an autonomous vehicle.


. . .


The episode serves the latest volley in Uber's war with local and state regulators -- not only in the United States, but in many of the more than 70 countries in which the company operates. Uber has previously grappled with the authorities in California over safety concerns. And Otto, the self-driving trucking start-up founded by Mr. Levandowski and acquired by Uber in August, has flouted state laws in Nevada in the past.



For the full story, see:

MIKE ISAAC. "Uber Defies California Officials Over Self-Driving Cars." The New York Times (Sat., December 17, 2016): B3.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 16, 2016, and has the title "Uber Defies California Regulators With Self-Driving Car Service.")






January 24, 2017

Reticent George Lucas Has Single-Minded Work Ethic



(p. C12) Although sometimes mocked by his contemporaries for his laborious approach to screenwriting (the script for "Star Wars" would evolve painfully over two years, as Mr. Jones describes in detail), Mr. Lucas developed for "Star Wars" a prodigious range of characters and settings. He had always loved make-believe, he recalled, "but it was the kind of make-believe that used all the technological toys I could come by, like model airplanes and cars." Mr. Lucas earned respect as a shrewd and unsentimental negotiator. "I don't borrow money," he would say flatly, and his work ethic was second to none. From the outset, he foresaw the potential of merchandising, and by the late 1970s virtually every child in America and around the world would cherish his or her "Star Wars" figurines. In 1975, he established Industrial Light & Magic, a company that has produced the special effects not just for Mr. Lucas's films but also for many Oscar-winning titles of the next 20 years, including "Jurassic Park." He believed in the potential of computer games and perhaps regretted having sold his brainchild Pixar to Steve Jobs in 1986, far too early. He embraced the digital era, even predicting the advent of pay-per-view and online streaming.

Mr. Jones returns time and again to Mr. Lucas's single-minded personality, in which work almost always took precedence. Fiercely independent, he was quite simply "the boss," refusing to compromise with studio demands. Mr. Jones notes that Mr. Lucas has had "an inherent ability to hire the right people, and a preternatural knack for asking the right questions." Diagnosed early on as a diabetic, Mr. Lucas has eschewed drugs and liquor. Reticent but not quite a recluse, devoted to his children, he hovers tantalizingly beyond the reach of the gossip columnists.



For the full review, see:

PETER COWIE. "A Death Star Is Born." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 10, 2016): C12.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 9, 2016, and has the title "George Lucas: The Edison of the Movie Industry.")


The book under review, is:

Jones, Brian Jay. George Lucas: A Life. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2016.






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 9, 2017

Unbinding Entrepreneurs Can Create Jobs and Speed Growth



(p. A21) This week more than 160 countries are celebrating Global Entrepreneurship Week. The Kauffman Foundation, which I once led, created this event eight years ago to encourage other nations to follow the American tradition of bottom-up economic success. Yet this example has been less powerful in recent years, as American entrepreneurship has waned. Fortunately, President-elect Donald Trump has plenty of options if he wants to resurrect America's startup economy.

Consider the economic situation that the president-elect is inheriting. Despite the addition of 161,000 jobs in October, the labor-force participation rate fell to its second lowest level in nearly 40 years, according to the St. Louis Federal Reserve. More people have joined the ranks of the chronically unemployed, slipping into poverty at alarming rates as their skills decay and dependency on public assistance grows. Considering population growth, America needs at least 325,000 new jobs every month to stanch the growing numbers of discouraged workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Merely bringing back factories from overseas will not solve this problem. Technology has made every factory more productive. Fewer workers make more goods no matter where they're located. At the same time, fewer U.S. businesses are being started. New firms are the country's principal generator of new jobs. Data from the Kauffman Foundation suggest companies less than five years old create more than 80% of new jobs every year. While the nation seems more enthusiastic than ever about the promise of entrepreneurship, fewer than 500,000 new businesses were started in 2015. That is a disastrous 30% decline from 2008.


. . .


What can President Trump do to encourage more entrepreneurship?


. . .


Government must . . . widen the scope of innovation by stepping back and letting the market find the future. By promoting trendy ideas and subsidizing politically favored companies, government dampens diversity in creative business ideas.


. . .


Mr. Trump can also reverse regulatory sprawl and cut government-imposed requirements that add to every entrepreneurs' costs and risks. Anti-growth policies like ObamaCare and minimum-wage increases make hiring workers prohibitively expensive.


. . .


With these policies in mind, President Trump should set another goal: that his administration will create an environment that enables one million Americans to start companies every year. Such an outcome would assure his target of 4% GDP growth, as well as full employment.



For the full commentary, see:

CARL J. SCHRAMM. "The Entrepreneurial Way to 4% Growth; Trump should set a goal: fix the business climate so a million Americans a year can start companies." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Nov. 16, 2016): A21.






January 7, 2017

Not All Secure Jobs Are Good Jobs



(p. C8) The village idiot of the shtetl of Frampol was given the job of waiting at the village gates for the arrival of the Messiah. The pay wasn't great, he was told, but the work was steady.


For Epstein's book recommendations, see:

Joseph Epstein. "12 Months of Reading." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 10, 2016): C8.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 7, 2016, and has the title "Books of The Times; Review: 'A Truck Full of Money' and a Thirst to Put It to Good Use.")







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 4, 2017

Best Entrepreneurs, and Managers, Help Workers Lead Meaningful Lives



(p. C6) In "Payoff," Dan Ariely makes the strong case that the best way to motivate people, including ourselves, is not through persuasive tactics, however subtle, but by providing the groundwork for meaning in people's lives.


For Altucher's full book recommendations, see:

James Altucher. "12 Months of Reading." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 10, 2016): C6.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 7, 2016, and has the title "James Altucher on con artists.")


The book recommended, is:

Ariely, Dan. Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations, Ted Books. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2016.






January 3, 2017

Micro-Entrepreneur Worked Hard, Saved, and Has No Regrets



(p. 1) PORT HEDLAND, Australia -- A lanky, dark-haired surfer, Lee Meadowcroft modeled on the runways of London, Milan and Singapore, then followed his dream of going home to Australia to sell herbal medicines. His store failed -- he had chosen the wrong street, he says -- and he lost almost all his savings. By then, the fashion world had found fresher faces.

So like tens of thousands of other Australians, Mr. Meadowcroft went to the mines.

It was late 2004. He plowed his last $4,000 into a two-week course on how to operate a crane. He found companies so desperate for workers that they would send chauffeured cars to pick up prospective welders, electricians and crane operators and deliver them to the nearest airport for their flights to mining country, here on Australia's remote northwestern coast.

China back then was growing at a breathtaking pace and needed all the Australian rocks it could get. Mine workers like Mr. Meadowcroft kept a punishing schedule: 13 consecutive days of 12-hour shifts, a day off, then another 13 consecutive days of 12-hour (p. 4) shifts. Mining fueled Australia's surging exports to China, which at their peak reached nearly $100 billion a year -- a figure representing $4,300 for every man, woman and child in the country.

Resource-rich places around the world prospered thanks to China, and Mr. Meadowcroft and his fellow Port Hedland equipment jockeys were no exception. By 2011 he was earning $250,000 a year.


. . .


The bust came just as hard and just as fast. China's economic slowdown left too many mines to feed too many dormant Chinese steel mills. Construction of new mines stopped. Port Hedland's economy slumped. Mr. Meadowcroft lost his job, then lost a second job. Like thousands of others, he went back home.

Mr. Meadowcroft's tale could serve as yet another boom-and-bust cautionary tale of the limits of China's rise. From Russia to Brazil, and Nigeria to Venezuela, resource-rich countries that boomed during China's surge found their economies shaken when Chinese demand slowed.

Except something unexpected has happened to Australia: It has withstood the global rout. Most mines -- lower-cost compared with mines elsewhere -- have stayed open. But Australia has also kept thriving, against all expectations, with a different kind of money flowing in from China.

Attracted by clean air, a strong education system and worries about China's future, more Chinese are spending their money in Australia. Thousands of Chinese families have sent their children to study at costly Australian universities, and Australian food exports to China have boomed. Chinese investment in Australian real estate has increased at least tenfold since 2010; Chinese investors have purchased up to half the new apartments in downtown Melbourne and Sydney.


. . .


. . . for people like Mr. Meadowcroft and others in Western Australia who were cut loose by the mining slump, Chinese money is a blessing. He now lives in the Western Australia capital city of Perth and works as an apprentice plumber in new housing developments aimed at Chinese buyers. He earns just $21,000 a year, but that could double or triple when he finishes his apprenticeship.


. . .


(p. 5) . . . for now, Chinese money is still flowing. Many miners who squandered their earnings during the iron ore boom are now trying to catch up in construction jobs. But many others socked away their money from the boom and have used those savings to buy homes or start small businesses.

"They were micro-entrepreneurs," said Tom Barratt, a University of Western Australia doctoral student who is doing his thesis on labor markets in the Pilbara hills.

Mr. Meadowcroft is among those savers. He bought a house and soon paid off most of the mortgage. He also married his longtime girlfriend after years of commuting to far-flung mines and ports, and is now raising two children as he learns to be a plumber.

Although his savings account is much smaller now, he has no regrets about the boom years. "That was 12 years of really hard work," he said, "to achieve what a lot of people don't achieve in their whole lives."



For the full story, see:

KEITH BRADSHER. "Money From the Dust." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., SEPT. 25, 2016): 1 & 4-5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 24, 2016, and has the title "In Australia, China's Appetite Shifts From Rocks to Real Estate.")






December 29, 2016

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



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


. . .


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

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

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



For the full story, see:

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

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

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






December 23, 2016

Blockchain Can Cut Out Financial Middlemen



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

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


. . .


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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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






December 22, 2016

Tesla Fights Car Dealership Monopoly



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


. . .


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

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

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


. . .


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

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



For the full story, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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






December 21, 2016

Udacity Entrepreneur Counters Creeping Credentialism



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

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

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


. . .


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

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



For the full story, see:

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

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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






December 20, 2016

Farmer and Mechanic Invented Pivot Irrigation System



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

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

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


. . .


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

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


. . .


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

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



For the full story, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)






December 19, 2016

Dignity and Equality Before the Law Unleashes Creativity in the Poor



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


. . .


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

What, then, caused this Great Enrichment?

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



For the full commentary, see:

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

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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


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

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






December 16, 2016

Space Trash Start-Up Aims to Be Quicker than Government



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

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


. . .


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


. . .


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

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



For the full story, see:


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

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






December 14, 2016

Uber Reduces Need for City Parking Spaces



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

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

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

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



For the full story, see:

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

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






December 13, 2016

Gates Foundation Funding "Second Green Revolution"



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

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

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

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

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


. . .


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

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

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


. . .


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



For the full story, see:

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

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

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


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

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







December 11, 2016

Do Manic Spells Help or Hurt Entrepreneurial Boldness?



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

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


. . .


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

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

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

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


. . .


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


. . .


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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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


Kidder's wonderful early book, is:

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







December 10, 2016

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



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

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

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



For the full story, see:

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

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






December 8, 2016

Authentic Entrepreneurs See a Problem They Want to Solve



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

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

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

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



For the full interview, see:

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

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

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






December 5, 2016

Serendipitous Discoveries "Happen in Medicine All the Time"



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

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

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

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

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


. . .


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

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



For the full obituary, see:

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

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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






December 4, 2016

Never Say Die



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

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

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

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

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


. . .


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

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

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



For the full story, see:

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

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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






December 3, 2016

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



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

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

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


. . .


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

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

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

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


. . .


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

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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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






December 1, 2016

Uncredentialed Loner Saved Lives with Respirator Invention



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


. . .


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

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

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

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


. . .


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

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



For the full obituary, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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






November 29, 2016

Many Great Inventors Grew Up Poor and Had Little Education



(p. A13) Mr. Baker is good at pointing out the unanticipated consequences that arose from some inventions: Richard Jordon Gatling, inventor of the Gatling gun, a fearsome instrument of battlefield butchery still in use in some forms today, believed that his contribution would save lives--depending on which side of the gun you were on--because one man operating the weapon would reduce the need for other soldiers. The inventor who created television, Philo Farnsworth, believed that his device could bring about world peace. "If we were able to see people in other countries and learn about our differences, why would there be any misunderstandings?" he wrote. "War would be a thing of the past." And you wouldn't need the Gatling gun.

Like Farnsworth, many of the inventors in "America the Ingenious" came from impoverished upbringings and had little formal education. Walter Hunt, creator of the safety pin, was educated in a one-room schoolhouse but went on to invent scores of other items, including a device that allowed circus performers to walk upside-down on ceilings. Elisha Graves Otis, of Otis elevator fame, was a high-school dropout who, according to his son, Charles, "needed no assistance, asked no advice, consulted with no one, and never made much use of pen or pencil." Of the innovators who undertook world-changing engineering feats, it is remarkable how often they brought them in under budget and ahead of schedule, among them the Golden Gate Bridge, Hoover Dam and New York's Hudson and East River railroad tunnels.



For the full review, see:

PATRICK COOKE. "BOOKSHELF; The Character of Our Country; Copper-riveted jeans, the first oil rig, running shoes, dry cleaning and the 23-story-high clipper ship--as American as apple pie." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 5, 2016): A13.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 4, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Baker, Kevin. America the Ingenious: How a Nation of Dreamers, Immigrants, and Tinkerers Changed the World. New York: Artisan, 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 26, 2016

Longer Permit Delays Slow Construction of Houses



(p. A3) Home prices and rents are surging in Denver, but local builder Jared Phifer said his construction work virtually ground to a halt last fall.

The reason: He can't get permits for new projects.

The process can take as long as eight months, at which point the prices he quoted buyers often are out of date, he said.

The delays are "almost making us go bankrupt," he said. "We've had to put a halt on so many projects that I'm in the process of getting a loan for $150,000 to cover all of our expenses."


. . .


Developers of single-family homes reported that the median delay was seven months in 2015, compared with four months in 2011, according to the National Association of Home Builders.


. . .


Last July [2015], Denver saw the biggest permit backlog in its history, according to Brad Buchanan, the executive director of community planning and development. Residential projects were taking as long as three months to review, three times the target duration. Apartment and office projects were taking two months to review, although some developers and homeowners reported waiting much longer.

"Last summer our phones were ringing off the wall with people who couldn't even get permits to change out water heaters," said Jeff Whiton, chief executive officer of the Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Denver.



For the full story, see:

LAURA KUSISTO. "Home Builders Slowed by Permit Delays." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., March 4, 2016): A3.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 3, 2016.)






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 19, 2016

Regulations Cause Sluggish Economy by Slowing Startup Creation



StartupFormationGraph2016-10-27.jpgSource of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.




(p. A2) The U.S. economy is inching along, productivity is flagging and millions of Americans appear locked out of the labor market.

One key factor intertwined with this loss of dynamism: The U.S. is creating startup businesses at historically low rates.


. . .


The share of private firms less than a year old has dropped from more than 12% during much of the 1980s to only about 8% since 2010. In 2014, the most recent year of data, the startup rate was the second-lowest on record, after 2010, according to Census Bureau figures released last month, so there's little sign of a postrecession rebound.


. . .


Rules and regulations also could be at play. Goldman Sachs economists in part blame the cumulative effect of regulations enacted since the Great Recession for reducing the availability of credit and raising the cost of doing business for small firms, making them less competitive.


. . .


There is some disagreement on whether tech firms have fallen into the same doldrums as other startups like mom-and-pop shops. Mr. Haltiwanger and colleagues at the Federal Reserve and Census Bureau find evidence they have, with significant detriment to the economy.

"It may be that we are designing things here in the U.S. as rapidly as ever," Mr. Haltiwanger said. "We're just not producing here. That's not good news for U.S. productivity."

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology delved into state business licensing information and found somewhat different but also discouraging results. That is, tech entrepreneurs are generating good ideas and founding companies at a healthy pace, but those ventures aren't breaking out into successful big companies.

"The system for translating good, high-quality foundings into a growth firm, that system seems to have broken," said Scott Stern, an MIT professor and co-author of the study on startups.



For the full commentary, see:

Sparshott, Jeffrey. "THE OUTLOOK; Sputtering Startups Weigh Down Growth." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Oct. 24, 2016): A2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Oct. 23, 2016 title "THE OUTLOOK; Sputtering Startups Weigh on U.S. Economic Growth." The passages quoted above include a couple of sentences that appeared in the online, but not the print, version of the article.)






November 13, 2016

Once Great A.&P. Was "Going Out of Business for a Long Time"



(p. 17) Linda Fisch stopped at the A.&P. on Riverdale Avenue in the Bronx on Thursday and bought eight prepackaged containers of cottage cheese and fruit. She did not realize the store had become a footnote to history.

That A.&P. is the last in New York City, where the once-mighty chain was born just before the Civil War. Now the company has filed for bankruptcy protection for the second time in five years. Once its plan for liquidating is approved, the store's A.&P. signs will come down. And the A.&P. name will vanish from New York.


. . .


Once, A.&P. had no competition. It all but invented the grocery store in the 19th century, and in the 20th century, it reinvented itself as a low-price, cash-and-carry chain. Its thousands of stores were "so devoid of frills that they are simply machines for selling food," according to "The Great Merchants," a history of retailers and retailing published in 1974.

But it had been fading for years. In the mid-1980s, a former A.&P. executive published a book "The Rise and Decline of the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company" even as A.&P. continued to expand, buying Waldbaum's and the Food Emporium chain in New York City and the Farmer Jack chain in the Midwest. A.&P. acquired Pathmark in 2007 for $679 million in a deal that involved significant debt. It also operated Super Fresh and Food Basics stores.


. . .


It began as a sideline for a hide and leather importer, George H. Gilman. "At some point around 1859 or 1860, there's no precise date, he started selling tea," said Marc Levinson, a historian and the author of "The Great A.&P. and the Struggle for Small Business in America." "In 1860 or 1861, he gave up on the leather business, gave it to his brother, and decided to go into business as a tea wholesaler. He leased a property on Front Street. It's the area where most of the ships carrying tea would come in."

Mr. Levinson said a Gilman employee, George Huntington Hartford, became involved in the new business. Some accounts say it was Hartford who proposed eliminating middlemen -- and cutting prices to consumers. From its earliest years, the little tea company promised in advertisements, it would "do away with various profits and brokerages, cartages, storages, cooperage and waste, with the exception of a small commission paid for purchasing to our correspondents in Japan and China."


. . .


"I grew up on Long Island and the A.&P. was the only supermarket in the town I grew up in, which was Lynbrook," said Ms. Fisch, 71. "Of course that's where we shopped. It was bright and it was clean, which is totally different from the one in Riverdale. It's like it's been going out of business for a long time."



For the full story, see:

JAMES BARRON. "A.& P. Bankruptcy Means New York, Chain's Birthplace, Will Lose Last Store." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., AUG. 2, 2015): 17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date AUG. 1, 2015.)


The first book mentioned above, is:

Mahoney, Tom, and Leonard Sloane. The Great Merchants: America's Foremost Retail Institutions and the People Who Made Them Great. Updated and Enlarged ed. New York: Harper & Row, 1974.


The second book mentioned above, is:

Walsh, William I. The Rise and Decline of the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company. Secaucas, N.J.: Lyle Stuart, 1986.


Levinson's great book, mentioned above, is:

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






November 9, 2016

Peter Thiel Asks "What Happened to the Future?"



(p. B4) Mr. Thiel has been an important player in Silicon Valley since the first dot-com boom, but he has recently taken on a much more public role. He was born in Germany and came to the United States as an infant when his father, a chemical engineer, found work here. He was raised in Silicon Valley and went to Stanford, where he developed the views in his first book, "The Diversity Myth," about the multiculturalism debate on campuses, written with the entrepreneur David O. Sacks.

In 1998, Mr. Thiel helped found the online payments company PayPal, an immediate success. He was the first outside investor in Facebook. Forbes estimates his net worth at $2.7 billion. Last year, he became a part-time partner at Y Combinator, a loosely defined advisory position.

A handful of others in Silicon Valley have similar investing track records. Where Mr. Thiel really separates himself from his peers is his skepticism that Silicon Valley is building a better world for all. His investment firm, Founders Fund, used to begin its online manifesto with the complaint, "We wanted flying cars; instead we got 140 characters," a reference to Twitter. Now it says simply, "What happened to the future?"

San Francisco, Manhattan and Washington, D.C., are doing well, but the presidential campaign has laid bare the angst of many other places. Feelings of decline are rampant. "Most of the millennials have lower expectations than their baby boomer parents," Mr. Thiel said. "Where I differ from others in Silicon Valley is in thinking that you can't fence yourself off. If it continues, it will ultimately be bad for everybody."



For the full story, see:

DAVID STREITFELD. "Peter Thiel, Contrarian Tech Billionaire, Defends His Support of Trump." The New York Times (Mon., OCT. 31, 2016): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 29, 2016, and has the title "Peter Thiel Defends His Most Contrarian Move Yet: Supporting Trump.")


The book mentioned above, that was co-authored by Thiel, is:

Sacks, David O., and Peter A. Thiel. The Diversity Myth: Multiculturalism and the Politics of Intolerance at Stanford. Oakland, CA: The Independent Institute, 1995.






November 5, 2016

Breakthrough Surgeon "Defied Skepticism"



(p. D8) Dr. Johnson was a reluctant surgeon -- early on, he once recalled, "I disliked surgeons and their pompous attitudes" -- but he applied the crocheting skills he had learned from his mother, who was a home economics teacher, and the needlecraft he was taught in a seventh-grade sewing class (he got an A), to perform more than 8,500 heart bypass operations over four decades.


. . .


Doctors had experimented with coronary artery surgery since the 1950s, the goal being to remove accumulated plaque caused by cholesterol deposits, which can block blood flow and cause the stabbing pain of angina. One method was to remove the clogged portion of an artery and graft on a replacement patch of cardiac membrane or a segment of vein from a leg.

In 1968, Dr. Johnson and his team took another path, sewing segments of veins from multiple arteries end to end and stitching them directly into the aorta, the body's main artery, bypassing cardiac ducts where the flow of blood was impeded.

His breakthrough, reported the next year, defied skepticism within the medical profession and heralded a new era of successful double, triple and quadruple bypass surgeries.

"It was perhaps the presentation of Johnson in the spring of 1969 that had the greatest impact on the widespread use" of coronary artery bypass grafting, Dr. Eugene A. Hessel II wrote in "Cardiac Anesthesia: Principles and Clinical Practice," published in 2001.

To facilitate surgery, Dr. Johnson made another breakthrough by temporarily stopping the heart and slowing the body's metabolism by cooling and circulating the blood through a heart-lung machine.


. . .


Dr. Johnson's multiple bypass surgeries, which could take as long as nine hours and were often accompanied by classical music in the operating room, were credited with saving an untold number of lives.

But in an interview with Dr. William S. Stoney for "Pioneers of Cardiac Surgery" (2008), Dr. Johnson said "the single biggest thing I ever did to lower mortality" was to prescribe the drug allopurinol, which is ordinarily used to inhibit the production of uric acid (high levels of it can cause gout), but which has also been found to improve survival in cardiac patients by improving their capacity for exercise.


. . .


"The coronary artery bypass graft operation does nothing for the basic cause of the disease," Dr. Johnson said, adding, "Prevention is, of course, the ultimate answer."



For the full obituary, see:

SAM ROBERTS. "W. Dudley Johnson, Heart Bypass Pioneer, Dies at 86." The New York Times (Mon., OCT. 31, 2016): D8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date OCT. 30, 2016, and has the title "W. Dudley Johnson, Heart Bypass Surgery Pioneer, Dies at 86.")


Stoney's book mentioned above, is:

Stoney, William S. Pioneers of Cardiac Surgery. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2008.






November 1, 2016

GE Shifts Away from Six Sigma and Toward Innovation



(p. B1) One of the biggest engineering projects under way at General Electric Co. these days isn't a turbine or locomotive. It is reinventing the way the company's employees are assessed, reviewed and even paid.

For decades, an ideal GE worker was one adept at squeezing out product defects and almost allergic to admitting uncertainty.

Now, as the 124-year-old company refocuses itself on industrial businesses, executives say top performers are those willing to take risks, test new ideas with customers and even make mistakes.

Leaders say GE's multiyear effort to remake itself into a leaner, innovation-driven company requires a nimble workforce that can develop products faster and more cheaply. The shift is significant for GE, whose corporate ethos had long been embodied by Six Sigma, a manufacturing system designed to eliminate error, enshrining certainty and consistency.


. . .


(p. B6) The new style of measuring employees has roots in FastWorks, a companywide initiative intended to hasten product development and ensure that customers want new products before GE spends millions building them. It is based on Lean Startup, a management system popularized by Eric Ries, a 37-year-old author and consultant GE brought in with the blessing of Chief Executive Jeff Immelt to help employees get comfortable with trial, error and experimentation.



For the full story, see:

RACHEL EMMA SILVERMAN. "GE Tries to Reinvent the Employee Review, Encouraging Risks." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., June 8, 2016): B1 & B6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the title "GE Re-Engineers Performance Reviews, Pay Practices.")


Ries's Lean Startup management system is advocated in his book:

Ries, Eric. The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses. New York: Crown Business, 2011.






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 26, 2016

Censored and Walled-Off Internet Hurts Chinese Start-Ups



(p. B1) Two decades after Beijing began walling off its homegrown internet from the rest of the planet, the digital world has split between China and everybody else. That has prevented American technology companies like Facebook and Uber, which recently agreed to sell its China operations, from independently being able to tap the Chinese market.

For China's web companies, the divide may have even more significant implications.

It has penned in the country's biggest and most innovative internet companies. Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent have grown to be some of the world's largest internet companies, but they rely almost entirely on domestic businesses. Their ventures abroad have been mostly desultory, and prognostications that they will challenge American giants internationally have (p. B2) not materialized.


. . .


In many ways, the split is like 19th century railroads in the United States, when rails of different sizes hindered a train's ability to go from one place to another.

"The barrier to entering the U.S. or China market is becoming higher and higher," said Kai-fu Lee, a venture investor from Taiwan and former head of Google China.

The difficulties that China's internet companies face in expanding their success abroad are epitomized by WeChat, the messaging app owned by Tencent.


. . .


Critics pointed to Tencent's lack of distinctive marketing, a record of censorship and surveillance in China and its late arrival to foreign markets. Yet the biggest problem was that outside of China, WeChat was just not the same. Within China, WeChat can be used to do almost everything, like pay bills, hail a taxi, book a doctor's appointment, share photos and chat. Yet its ability to do that is dependent on other Chinese internet services that are limited outside the country.



For the full story, see:

PAUL MOZUR. "Internet's Great Wall." The New York Times (Weds., AUG. 10, 2016): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date AUG. 9, 2016, and has the title "Chinese Tech Firms Forced to Choose Market: Home or Everywhere Else.")






October 19, 2016

Uber Drivers Learn to Work Optimal Hours



(p. B1) For nearly 20 years, economists have been debating how cabdrivers decide when to call it a day. This may seem like a trivial question, but it is one that cuts to the heart of whether humans are fundamentally rational -- in this case, whether they earn their incomes efficiently -- as the discipline has traditionally assumed.

In one camp is a group of so-called behavioral economists who have found evidence that many taxi drivers work longer hours on days when business is slow and shorter hours when business is brisk -- the opposite of what economic rationality, to say nothing of common sense, would seem to dictate.

In another camp is a group of more orthodox economists who argue that this perverse habit is largely an illusion in the eyes of certain researchers. Once you consult more precise numbers, they argue, you find that drivers typically work longer hours when it is in their financial interest to do so.


. . .


So who is right? That's where Uber comes in. When one of the company's researchers, using its supremely detailed data on drivers' work time and rides, waded into the debate with a paper this year, the results were intriguing.

Over all, there was little evidence that drivers were driving less when they could make more per hour than usual. But that was not true for a large portion of new drivers. Many of these drivers appeared to have an income goal in mind and stopped when they were near it, causing them to knock off sooner when their hourly wage was high and to work longer when their wage was low.


. . .


"A substantial, although not most, frac-(p. B5)tion of partners do in fact come into the market with income targeting behavior," the paper's author, Michael Sheldon, an Uber data scientist, wrote. The behavior is then "rather quickly learned away in favor of more optimal decision making."

In effect, Mr. Sheldon was saying, the generally rational beings that most economists presume to exist are made, not born -- at least as far as their Uber driving is concerned.


. . .


As for Mr. Sheldon, the Uber paper's author, he attributed his finding to the adventurous nature of many Uber drivers, who were open to running headlong into unfamiliar territory. It's the sheer unfamiliarity of the Uber driving experience, he speculated, that may explain the initial bout of economically irrational behavior.

Mr. Sheldon was less open to the idea that people who did not depend on Uber for their livelihood helped account for his finding. So far as Uber can tell from other research, he said, those who drive irregularly respond more to fare increases than more regular drivers, at any level of earnings.



For the full story, see:

NOAM SCHEIBER. "Are Uber Drivers Rational? Not Always, Economists Say." The New York Times (Mon., SEPT. 5, 2016): B1 & B5.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 4, 2016, and has the title "How Uber Drivers Decide How Long to Work.")


The working paper by Michael Sheldon mentioned above, is:

Sheldon, Michael. "Income Targeting and the Ridesharing Market." Working Paper, Feb. 18, 2016.






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 14, 2016

"I Could Lose My Ability to Control My Business"



(p. B4) Small-business owners say they are shouldering higher costs and scaling back expansion plans because of a revised federal rule that gives employees more leverage in settling workplace grievances.

The new policy, intended to hold businesses accountable for labor-law violations against people whose working conditions they control but don't claim as employees, was put in place last year through a ruling by the National Labor Relations Board, . . .


. . .


Businesses say they are in a regulatory limbo because the new standard is vague about what constitutes control.

The previous test measured the direct control one business had over working conditions of people employed by another business. Now, even indirect control can count.


So far the impact seems to be largely on the franchisees. A home health-care business in Wisconsin is taking on $10,000 in annual recruiting costs because its franchiser stopped providing assistance to steer clear of regulators, and a small hotelier in Florida is abandoning expansion plans in small markets because one of its franchisers scaled back worker training it provides. A printing business owner in Washington state said he canceled plans to open an eighth store because he doesn't want to risk the investment until it is clear his franchiser wouldn't be considered a joint-employer.

"I could lose my ability to control my business," said Chuck Stempler, an owner of the seven printing stores that operate under the AlphaGraphics brand in Washington and California.


. . .


Employers say the NLRB is confusing control with contractual relationships that help businesses and workers thrive.

"The NLRB is applying a new legal standard that would undermine a successful American business model that has enabled thousands of families to operate their own small businesses and help support millions of American jobs," McDonald's said in a statement, referring to the franchising business.



For the full story, see:

MELANIE TROTTMAN. "New Labor Law Curbs Small Firms' Plans." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Aug. 6, 2016): B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 5, 2016, and has the title "Some Small-Business Owners Trim Expansion Plans, Cite New Labor Law.")






October 12, 2016

"Giving Peas a Chance"



(p. C1) Thank heavens Gregor Mendel was a lousy priest. Had he shown even the faintest aptitude for oratory or ministering to the poor, he might never have determined the basic laws of heredity. But bumbling he was, and he made a rotten university student to boot; his failures drove him straight to his room, where he bred mice in secret. The experiment scandalized his superiors.

"A monk coaxing mice to (p. C4) mate to understand heredity was a little too risqué, even for the Augustinians," writes Siddhartha Mukherjee in "The Gene: An Intimate History." So Mendel switched -- auspiciously, historically -- to pea plants. The abbot in charge, writes the author, acquiesced this time, "giving peas a chance."

Love Dr. Mukherjee, love his puns. They're everywhere. I warn you now.


. . .


Many of the same qualities that made "The Emperor of All Maladies" so pleasurable are in full bloom in "The Gene." The book is compassionate, tautly synthesized, packed with unfamiliar details about familiar people.


. . .


But there are also crucial differences. Cancer is the troll that scratches and thumps beneath the floorboards of our consciousness, if it hasn't already beaten its way into the room. The subject immediately commands our attention; it's almost impossible to deny, and not to hear, the emotional clang of its appeal. In Dr. Mukherjee's skilled hands, the story of this frightening disease became a page-turner. He explained its history, politics and cunning biological underpinnings; he traced the evolving and often gruesome logic underlying cancer treatment.

And in the middle of it all, agonizing over treatment protocols and watching his patients struggle with tremendous existential and physical pain, was the author himself.

There are far fewer psychological stakes in reading about the history of genetics. "The Gene" is more pedagogical than dramatic; as often as not, the stars of this story are molecules, not humans.


. . .


But any book about the history of something as elemental and miraculous as the gene is bound, at least indirectly, to tell the story of innovation itself. "The Gene" is filled with scientists who dreamed in breathtakingly lateral leaps.

Erwin Schrödinger in particular was one visionary cat: In 1944, he hazarded a guess about the molecular nature of the gene and decided it had to be a strand of code scribbled along the chromosome -- which pretty much sums up the essence of DNA.



For the full review, see:

JENNIFER SENIOR. "Books of The Times; In Molecular Pursuit of the Genetic Code." The New York Times (Mon., MAY 9, 2016): C1 & C4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date MAY 8, 2016, and has the title "Books of The Times; Review: Siddhartha Mukherjee's 'The Gene,' a Molecular Pursuit of the Self.")


The book under review, is:

Mukherjee, Siddhartha. The Gene: An Intimate History. New York: Scribner, 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.






October 7, 2016

Mobile Game Helps When Work Is Absurd Drudgery



(p. A1) SEOUL--When Lee Jin-po was laid off last year for the third time in as many years, the 29-year-old mobile-game programmer expressed his frustration in his own instinctive way: He made a mobile game about it.

In Mr. Lee's "Don't Get Fired!," the object is to rise through the ranks at a nameless corporation by performing an endless string of mind-numbing tasks, while avoiding a long list of fireable offenses.

"It's just like real life," he says.

In South Korea, where youth unemployment has hit an all-time high amid sluggish economic growth, "Don't Get Fired!" has become a certified hit--one in a small raft of mobile games that has found success by embracing the drudgery and absurdity of work.


. . .


(p. A10) Mr. Lee later found volunteers to translate it into 12 languages, helping the international version attract another million downloads. Griffin Crowley, a 20-year-old high-school graduate in a Cleveland suburb, couldn't stop playing after stumbling on it while fiddling with his cellphone. "Sometimes, you just have to laugh at the futility of life," says Mr. Crowley, who recently worked a stint at a telemarketing company.



For the full story, see:

Cheng, Jonathan. "Congratulations Player One, Your Zombie Boss Didn't Fire You; South Korean unemployment inspires games about work; laugh at chief's jokes." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., August 6, 2016): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date August 8 [sic], 2016.)






October 5, 2016

Japan Counting on Innovative Entrepreneurs for Economic Growth



(p. B3) TOKYO--Stacks of cardboard boxes serve as makeshift partitions at Mistletoe Inc.'s new office in Tokyo's posh Aoyama district, where startups gather to work on their latest projects.

The do-it-yourself vibe--a far cry from the stuffiness typical of Japanese corporate offices--is something founder Taizo Son, serial entrepreneur and youngest brother of SoftBank Group Corp. founder Masayoshi Son, wants to see more of.

"Japan has the talent and funds but lacks the necessary ecosystem to create its own Silicon Valley, so that's what we're trying to provide," said Mr. Son, 43, who describes Mistletoe as a program to cofound new businesses.

The nation that created the Walkman and the bullet train before China even had a tech industry now lags behind as Chinese Internet startups like Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. become global powerhouses. With its once-dominant technology industry struggling, Japan is counting on entrepreneurs to rekindle its hobbling economy.

The government is pledging to fund startups, top universities have launched incubators and venture funds to transform their wealth of knowledge into innovation and even Japan's oldest and largest conglomerates, such as the Mitsubishi and Mitsui groups, are looking to nurture entrepreneurs..



For the full story, see:

ALEXANDER MARTIN. "Japan Looks to Rekindle Its Technology Innovation." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., April 11, 2016): B3.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 10, 2016, and has the title "Japan Tech Hunts for Restart Button.")






October 3, 2016

Presence of Biomarkers Predicts Whether Checkpoint Inhibitor Works



(p. D1) A collaboration between an immunologist helping his stepmother fight cancer and the oncologist who treated her led to a discovery that could help many more patients benefit from a transformative new therapy.

A new class of drugs called checkpoint inhibitors works by releasing a molecular brake that stops the immune system from attacking tumors. So-called immunotherapy has been approved for several types of cancers and found to extend lives of patients with advanced disease for many years. The problem is that for most patients immunotherapy doesn't work.

The researchers, from University of California, San Francisco, said they identified a unique type of immune-system cell that "robustly" predicts whether patients will respond to one of the medicines--an achievement has the potential to significantly expand the number of cancer patients who benefit from checkpoint inhibitors.

The new discovery is based on a high-tech analysis of melanoma tissue from 40 patients treated with a checkpoint inhibitor from Merck & Co. called Keytruda, which targets an immune-system brake called PD-1. Although researchers say it will take further research to determine its value in treating patients, the finding offers fresh insight into the complex relationship between the immune system and tumor cells.


. . .


(p. D3) The researchers analyzed results of a study involving Keytruda before it was approved. They looked at the CD8 cells that had infiltrated the melanoma tumors of 20 patients treated with the drug and found that if at least 30% of those cells were marked by PD-1 and CTLA-4, the patient responded to treatment. When fewer than 20% of the infiltrated cells had those markers, not one patient responded.



For the full story, see:

RON WINSLOW. "Road to a Cancer Advance." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Aug. 16, 2016): D1 & D3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 15, 2016, and has the title "Chance Collaboration Yields an Advance in Cancer Treatment.")






October 2, 2016

Fracking Entrepreneur Aubrey McClendon Was Pressured by Antitrust Indictment on the Day Before Fatal Car Crash



(p. C2) Mr. McClendon, who co-founded Chesapeake Energy Corp. in 1989 and was a key figure in the shale boom that has upended global energy markets, was ousted from the energy company in 2013 over corporate-governance issues. He spent the three years after leaving Chesapeake building a new energy empire, raising more than $15 billion from investors, including major financial firms, to finance his comeback. But in 2014, oil prices plunged and natural-gas prices languished in a glut partly of his making, pressuring several of his new energy companies and making it more difficult for him to raise cash.


. . .


Exacerbating the pressure on Mr. McClendon was a federal antitrust investigation that culminated in his indictment the day before he died, on a single count of conspiring to rig oil-and-gas leases. Mr. McClendon vowed to fight the felony charge; local authorities later ruled they found no evidence of suicide.



For the full story, see:

RYAN DEZEMBER and KEVIN HELLIKER. "Oil Man Delivers for Heirs." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Aug. 31, 2016): C1-C2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 30, 2016, and has the title "Oil-Deal Score Helps Aubrey McClendon's Heirs Hang on to NBA's Thunder, for Now.")






September 30, 2016

"Cognitive Flexibility" and "Openness to Experience" Promote Creativity



(p. C3) In a 2011 study led by the Dutch psychologist Simone Ritter and published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, researchers asked some subjects to make breakfast in the "wrong" order and others to perform the task in the conventional manner. Those in the first group--the ones engaged in a schema violation--consistently demonstrated more "cognitive flexibility," a prerequisite for creative thinking.


. . .


Exceptionally creative people such as Curie and Freud possess many traits, of course, but their "openness to experience" is the most important, says the cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman of the University of Pennsylvania. That seems to hold for entire societies as well.

Consider a country like Japan, which has historically been among the world's most closed societies. Examining the long stretch of time from 580 to 1939, Dean Simonton of the University of California, writing in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, compared Japan's "extra cultural influx" (from immigration, travel abroad, etc.) in different eras with its output in such fields as medicine, philosophy, painting and literature. Dr. Simonton found a consistent correlation: the greater Japan's openness, the greater its achievements.

It isn't necessarily new ideas from the outside that directly drive innovation, Dr. Simonton argues. It's simply their presence as a goad. Some people start to see the arbitrary nature of many of their own cultural habits and open their minds to new possibilities. Once you recognize that there is another way of doing X or thinking about Y, all sorts of new channels open to you, he says. "The awareness of cultural variety helps set the mind free," he concludes.

History bears this out. In ancient Athens, foreigners known as metics (today we'd call them resident aliens) contributed mightily to the city-state's brilliance. Renaissance Florence recruited the best and brightest from the crumbling Byzantine Empire. Even when the "extra cultural influx" arrives uninvited, as it did in India during the British Raj, creativity sometimes results. The intermingling of cultures sparked the "Bengal Renaissance" of the late 19th century.



For the full commentary, see:

ERIC WEINER. "The Secret of Immigrant Genius; Having your world turned upside down sparks creative thinking." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Jan. 16, 2016): C3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 15, 2016.)


The above commentary by Weiner is related to his book, which 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.


The paper mentioned above as co-authored by Ritter, is:

Ritter, Simone M., Rodica Ioana Damian, Dean Keith Simonton, Rick B. van Baaren, Madelijn Strick, Jeroen Derks, and Ap Dijksterhuis. "Diversifying Experiences Enhance Cognitive Flexibility." Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 48, no. 4 (July 2012): 961-64.


The paper mentioned above by Simonton on Japanese openness, is:

Simonton, Dean Keith. "Foreign Influence and National Achievement: The Impact of Open Milieus on Japanese Civilization." Journal of Personality & Social Psychology 72, no. 1 (Jan. 1997): 86-94.







September 27, 2016

Startup Entry and Scaling Are Easier and Faster Due to Internet



(p. B1) The world might be a mess, but look on the bright side: Men's shaving products are much better than they used to be.


. . .


The same forces that drove Dollar Shave's rise are altering a wide variety of consumer product categories. Together, they add up to something huge -- a new slate of companies that are exploring novel ways of making and marketing some of the most lucrative (p. B7) products we buy today. These firms have become so common that they have acquired a jargony label: the digitally native vertical brand.

These kinds of online brands aren't new. Dollar Shave is five years old, and Warby Parker, the online eyewear company, began selling glasses over the web in 2010. But over the last few years there's been a proliferation of such companies -- into underwear, children's clothing, cosmetics and more -- and the Dollar Shave deal suggests their growing importance. These firms could become an emerging problem for consumer products conglomerates like Procter & Gamble, and they might also spell trouble for television, which relies heavily on brand advertising for its revenue.


. . .


"We think it's a unique moment in history where you can create brands that can be scaled quickly thanks to technology, but you can still maintain a one-to-one connection that delivers an elevated level of customer experience," said Philip Krim, chief executive of Casper, which sells mattresses online.

Mr. Krim and four friends started Casper two years ago after studying the traditional mattress industry. They discovered it was plagued by inefficiencies and annoying gimmicks. Customers had to trudge to a mattress store and awkwardly prostrate themselves on numerous surfaces before choosing one to use for a decade. There were too many choices and brands, and mattresses were expensive.

With Casper, you simply buy the mattress online and it's shipped to you in a comically small box (the compressed foam expands into a full-sized mattress, like a magic trick). You have three months to try it out, and if you don't like it, the company will come pick it up free.

Casper's business model offers a break from the annoyance of offline mattress shopping. It also works out for the company. Casper advertises on social networks, on Google, podcasts and a variety of other places online; the ads are creative, convincing, targeted and cheap. By selling directly rather than through retail middlemen, the company also creates a connection with customers that allows it to test and develop new products -- it now sells sheets and pillows, too.

After two years in business, Casper is on track to book $200 million in sales over the next year, but its success isn't ensured. Precisely because the internet has lowered barriers to entry, Casper is facing a surge of new mattress start-ups like Helix Sleep, Tuft & Needle and Leesa, among others.



For the full commentary, see:

Manjoo, Farhad. "STATE OF THE ART; How Companies Like Dollar Shave Club Are Reshaping the Retail." The New York Times (Thurs., JULY 28, 2016): B1 & B7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JULY 27, 2016, and has the title "STATE OF THE ART; How Companies Like Dollar Shave Club Are Reshaping the Retail.")






September 26, 2016

Patent Holder of Piggly Wiggly Self-Service Method Sued Hoggly Woggly for Infringement



(p. A11) A typical U.S. supermarket carries 42,000 items: Grab a cart, stroll the aisles and help yourself to an extravagant assortment of goods. Today it's hard to imagine buying groceries any other way. But self-service was a game-changer when Clarence Saunders opened the first Piggly Wiggly in Memphis, Tenn., 100 years ago this month.

Before then a shopper would hand his grocery list to a clerk, who would fetch the merchandise while the customer lingered up front. That might sound appealing in this era of big-box stores with no help in sight, but at busy times the wait could stretch uncomfortably long.

Saunders, a school dropout who worked as a flour and grain salesman, had observed firsthand the inefficiencies of the rural grocers he supplied. Many of these stores, he became convinced, failed for two reasons: credit losses from customers' charge accounts (which were then customary), and labor costs from clerks and delivery boys.


. . .


Eager to protect his invention, Saunders applied for multiple patents. His first, for a "Self Serving Store," was granted in 1917. It wasn't long, though, before imitators like Handy Andy and Helpy Selfy made their debut. Saunders successfully sued an especially brash copycat, Hoggly Woggly, for infringement.


. . .


Saunders didn't integrate circuits or sequence the human genome. An observer once noted that coming up with a self-service grocery was "as simple as looking out the window or scratching your ear." Still, it was Saunders who gambled on the unconventional approach, doggedly spread self-service across the nation and shaped the grocery industry we know today.



For the full commentary, see:

JERRY CIANCIOLO. "The Man Who Invented the Grocery Store." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Sept. 8, 2016): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 7, 2016.)


The only book I could find about Clarence Saunders, is:

Freeman, Mike. Clarence Saunders and the Founding of Piggly Wiggly: The Rise & Fall of a Memphis Maverick. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2011.






September 22, 2016

Sutter Headed BHAG Team that Created Boeing 747





Collins and Porras in Built to Last recommend the pursuit of Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals (BHAGs). A prime example is the Boeing 747.



(p. B9) Joe Sutter, whose team of 4,500 engineers took just 29 months to design and build the first jumbo Boeing 747 jetliner, creating a gleaming late-20th-century airborne answer to the luxury ocean liner, died on Tuesday [August 30, 2016] in Bremerton, Wash.


. . .


In less time than Magellan spent circumnavigating the globe, Boeing engineers transformed Mr. Sutter's napkin doodles into the humpbacked, wide-bodied behemoth passenger and cargo plane known as the 747. The plane would transform commercial aviation and shrink the world for millions of passengers by traveling faster and farther than other, conventional jetliners, without having to refuel.


. . .


"If ever a program seemed set up for failure, it was mine," Mr. Sutter said in his 2006 autobiography, "747: Creating the World's First Jumbo Jet and Other Adventures From a Life in Aviation," written with Jay Spenser.


. . .


Adam Bruckner of the University of Washington's department of aeronautics and astronautics later described the 747 as "one of the great engineering wonders of the world, like the pyramids of Egypt, the Eiffel Tower or the Panama Canal."


. . .


"Aviators were more than mere mortals to us," Mr. Sutter recalled in his autobiography. "They were a different breed, intrepid demigods in silk scarves, puttees and leather flying helmets with goggles."



For the full obituary, see:

SAM ROBERTS. "Joe Sutter, 95, Is Dead; Guided the Development of Boeing's 747 Jetliner." The New York Times (Fri., Sept. 2, 2016): B9.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Sept. 1, 2016, and has the title "Joe Sutter, Who Led an Army in Building Boeing's Jumbo 747, Dies at 95.")


Sutter's autobiography, is:

Sutter, Joe, and Jay Spencer. 747: Creating the World's First Jumbo Jet and Other Adventures from a Life in Aviation. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006.






September 20, 2016

Airline Startups Stall in Bureaucratic Regulatory Headwinds



(p. B4) Mr. Vallas owns California Pacific Airlines, known as CP Air, his latest venture in a peripatetic business career that has included stints in areas as varied as land development and other aviation-related ventures.

CP Air has sat on a metaphorical runway for years -- engines idling, ready for takeoff -- while awaiting certification by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Mr. Vallas's patience is wearing thin. After all, he is 95, and he regards the airline as a legacy, an exclamation point to a colorful life.


. . .


. . . then there was that matter with the F.A.A. The agency has repeatedly denied applications. A letter from 2013, one of several from the agency, advised him that the application's contents were "incomplete, inaccurate and do not appear to have been reviewed for quality."


. . .


The government shutdown in 2013 and the F.A.A.'s staff reduction did not help matters, the agency acknowledges.


. . .


The process of greenlighting a new airline has become more complicated since Mr. Vallas sold a previous venture, a charter service called Air Resorts, in 1997.

He acknowledges the vast increase in paperwork since that era but contends that the conditions for acceptance have been met.

Mr. Vallas's airline is not the only one that has encountered bureaucratic headwinds. Other proposed airlines are in limbo for various reasons, including Baltia Airlines, created in 1989 to fly between New York City and Russia, which still lacks the authorities' blessing.



For the full story, see:

MIKE TIERNEY. "ITINERARIES; A Start-Up Airline Idles on a California Runway." The New York Times (Tues., APRIL 26, 2016): B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 25, 2016, and has the title "ITINERARIES; Start-Up Airline Idles on a California Runway, Stymied by Bureaucracy.")






September 19, 2016

Innovations Make It Easier to Form and Run Smaller Firms



(p. B3) Unilever is paying $1 billion for Dollar Shave Club, a five-year-old start-up that sells razors and other personal products for men. Every other company should be afraid, very afraid.

The deal anecdotally shows that no company is safe from the creative destruction brought by technological change. The very nature of a company is fundamentally changing, becoming smaller and leaner with far fewer employees.


. . .


Now it is possible to leverage technology and transportation systems that never existed before. Dollar Shave Club used Amazon Web Services, a cloud computing service started by the online retailing giant in 2006 that encouraged a proliferation of e-commerce companies. Manufacturing now is just as much a line item as is a distribution apparatus. This is the business strategy of many other disruptive companies, including the home-sharing site Airbnb, which upends the idea of needing a hotel. The ride-hailing start-up Uber could never have been possible without a number of inventions including the internet, the smartphone and, most important, location tracking technology, enabling anyone to be a driver.



For the full commentary, see:

STEVEN DAVIDOFF SOLOMON. "Deal Professor; In Comfort of a Close Shave, a Distressing Disruption." The New York Times (Weds., JULY 27, 2016): B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JULY 26, 2016, and has the title "Deal Professor; $1 Billion for Dollar Shave Club: Why Every Company Should Worry.")






September 18, 2016

Lack of Control at Job Causes Stress, Leading to Cardiovascular Disease



(p. 6) Allostasis is not about preserving constancy; it is about calibrating the body's functions in response to external as well as internal conditions. The body doesn't so much defend a particular set point as allow it to fluctuate in response to changing demands, including those of one's social circumstances. Allostasis is, in that sense, a politically sophisticated theory of human physiology. Indeed, because of its sensitivity to social circumstances, allostasis is in many ways better than homeostasis for explaining modern chronic diseases.

Consider hypertension. Seventy million adults in the United States have it. For more than 90 percent of them, we don't know the cause. However, we do have some clues. Hypertension disproportionately affects blacks, especially in poor communities.


. . .


Peter Sterling, a neurobiologist and a proponent of allostasis, has written that hypertension in these communities is a normal response to "chronic arousal" (or stress).


. . .


Allostasis is attractive because it puts psychosocial factors front and center in how we think about health problems. In one of his papers, Dr. Sterling talks about how, while canvassing in poor neighborhoods in Cleveland in the 1960s, he would frequently come across black men with limps and drooping faces, results of stroke. He was shocked, but today it is well established that poverty and racism are associated with stroke and poor cardiovascular health.

These associations also hold true in white communities. One example comes from the Whitehall study of almost 30,000 Civil Service workers in Britain over the past several decades. Mortality and poor health were found to increase stepwise from the highest to the lowest levels in the occupational hierarchy: Messengers and porters, for example, had nearly twice the death rate of administrators, even after accounting for differences in smoking and alcohol consumption. Researchers concluded that stress -- from financial instability, time pressures or a general lack of job control -- was driving much of the difference in survival.



For the full commentary, see:

SANDEEP JAUHAR. "When Blood Pressure Is Political." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., AUG. 7, 2016): 6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date AUG. 6, 2016.)


The commentary quoted above is distantly related to Jauhar's book:

Jauhar, Sandeep. Doctored: The Disillusionment of an American Physician. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014.






September 15, 2016

Andreessen Venture Funds Succeed Modestly




In an Andrew Ross Sorkin column, Sean Parker urged successful entrepreneurs to become serial entrepreneurs, rather than to semi-retire as venture capitalists. In that column, Marc Andreessen was quoted as sympathizing with Parker's view.



(p. A1) Andreessen Horowitz's first three venture funds have nearly doubled their investment capital or better since inception, according to documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal that provide a rare look at the performance of one of Silicon Valley's top venture-capital firms.

But an analysis of its returns, compared with funds from top rivals and industry averages, shows that Andreessen Horowitz hasn't yet earned its reputation as an elite firm.

The firm, co-founded by web pioneer Marc Andreessen in 2009, is routinely mentioned among the pantheon of great startup investors with the likes of Sequoia Capital, a status that has allowed it to command higher fees than some of its peers.

Sequoia has separated itself from the pack thanks to its consistently high returns. Its 2003 and 2006 venture funds have both risen eightfold net of fees, according to a person familiar with the matter.


. . .


(p. A2) Venture-capital firms raise money from universities, pension funds and other institutions to wager on startups. They typically raise a new fund every few years, operating a handful at the same time with each expected to wind down after 10 years.

Though they fall short of their top-notch rivals, all three Andreessen Horowitz funds--whose bets include Instagram, Airbnb and Pinterest Inc.--have outperformed the average of venture funds raised in the same years, according to benchmark data from investment adviser Cambridge Associates. The earliest fund, raised in 2009, ranks in the top 5% of venture funds from that year; the second fund, raised in 2010, ranks in the top 50%; and the third from 2012 ranks in the top 25%.



For the full story, see:

Winkler, Rolfe. "Andreessen's Venture Firm Trails Rivals." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Sept. 2, 2016): A1-A2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Sept. 1, 2016, and had the title "Andreessen Horowitz's Returns Trail Venture-Capital Elite.")


The views of Sean Parker and Marc Andreessen on venture capital, that I mention at the top, are summarized in:

Sorkin, Andrew Ross. "Dealbook; Taking a Risk, and Hoping That Lightning Strikes Twice." The New York Times (Tues., July 24, 2012): B1 & B4.






September 11, 2016

FDA Blocking Stem-Cell Therapies from Those With No Other Hope



(p. D2) Research is exploding into ways stem cells might be harnessed to cure diseases, mend damaged tissue, even grow replacement organs.


. . .


Jeffrey Weiss, a retinal surgeon in Margate, Fla., has treated about 570 patients with retinal and optic nerve diseases with stem cells taken from patients' bone marrow as part of a study, and says that about 60% have had meaningful improvement. Patients pay $19,000 to $21,000 to receive the injections.

Shawn Rockafellow, a 31-year old truck dispatcher in Chandler, Ariz., started rapidly losing his vision in 2014 to a genetic disease and says he was told to accept that he was going blind. His mother read about Dr. Weiss's work. Mr. Rockafellow raised the $20,000 fee on GoFundMe, a personal charity website, and had the treatment in both eyes in January.

After three months, the vision in his right eye went from roughly 20/1,000 to 20/400. After six months, it was 20/300. His left eye hasn't improved as much, so he wants to try the treatment again. His regular ophthalmologist, Scott Markham, says "the fact that he's not worsening is fantastic."


. . .


Mark Berman, a Beverly Hills, Calif., cosmetic surgeon who co-founded a network of stem-cell clinics, says "fundamentally, all we are doing is a simple, surgical procedure. This is not witch-doctor stuff. We are repairing cell damage with people's own stem cells." He says the member clinics in 25 states have treated about 5,000 patients to date, with no significant adverse events.

SammyJo Wilkinson, a former dot-com executive, developed multiple sclerosis in 1995 and was confined to a wheelchair by 2011. She says her symptoms started to improve almost immediately after receiving a high-dose stem cell treatment at a Houston clinic in 2012. When the FDA blocked access to that form of therapy, Ms. Wilkinson went to Cancún, Mexico, for follow-ups. After a total of five treatments for $90,000, she says she has far less pain, can exercise and walk short distances with the help of a walker.

At the FDA hearing, Ms. Wilkinson, who founded a patient group called Patients for Stem Cells, plans to appeal for a faster approval process for stem-cell therapies and a registry to monitor patient outcomes. "Patients will never get these treatments if they have to go the traditional double-blind placebo-controlled trial route. That takes 10 years and $1 billion," she says. "There's got to be a middle ground, where you don't shut off treatment, you just keep track of it."



For the full story, see:

Beck, Melinda. "Stem-Cell Treatments Become More Available, and Face More Scrutiny." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Aug. 30, 2016): D2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 29, 2016, and has the title "Stem-Cell Treatments Become More Available, and Face More Scrutiny." There are minor differences in wording between the online and print versions. The sentences quoted above, follow the online version.)






September 10, 2016

"Practice Makes Perfect, but It Doesn't Make New"



(p. 12) Child prodigies rarely become adult geniuses who change the world. We assume that they must lack the social and emotional skills to function in society. When you look at the evidence, though, this explanation doesn't suffice: Less than a quarter of gifted children suffer from social and emotional problems. A vast majority are well adjusted -- as winning at a cocktail party as in the spelling bee.

What holds them back is that they don't learn to be original. They strive to earn the approval of their parents and the admiration of their teachers. But as they perform in Carnegie Hall and become chess champions, something unexpected happens: Practice makes perfect, but it doesn't make new.


. . .


In adulthood, many prodigies become experts in their fields and leaders in their organizations. Yet "only a fraction of gifted children eventually become revolutionary adult creators," laments the psychologist Ellen Winner. "Those who do must make a painful transition" to an adult who "ultimately remakes a domain."

Most prodigies never make that leap. They apply their extraordinary abilities by shining in their jobs without making waves. They become doctors who heal their patients without fighting to fix the broken medical system or lawyers who defend clients on unfair charges but do not try to transform the laws themselves.



For the full commentary, see:

Grant, Adam. "How to Raise a Creative Child." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., JAN. 31, 2016): 12.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JAN. 16, 2016, and has the title "How to Raise a Creative Child. Step One: Back Off.")


Grant's commentary is related to his book:

Grant, Adam. Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World. New York: Viking, 2016.






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.)






September 3, 2016

87% of Billionaires Inherited Less than Half of Wealth



(p. C6) Billionaires controlled 3.9% of the world's total household wealth in 2015, slightly down from 4% in 2014, according to Wealth-X, a consulting group that uses public records and research staff to manually track the habits of ultra-high-net-worth individuals, or people valued at more than $30 million.


. . .


For most billionaires, however, it takes more than an inheritance to join the so-called three-comma club, according to the census; 87% of billionaires, up from 81% in 2014, made the majority of their fortunes themselves.

Todd Morgan, senior managing director at Bel Air Investment Advisors LLC in Los Angeles, says several of his billionaire clients are entrepreneurs and they are "very driven" and typically opt to keep working long after they've made their fortune.

"It's not, 'I'm worth a billion, now I'm going to sit on a beach and relax.' It's more of, 'What can I create or achieve next?'" he says.



For the full story, see:

VERONICA DAGHER. "Ranks of Billionaires Grow, and They're Getting Richer." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Aug. 8, 2016): C6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the title "The Rich Get Richer as Billionaires Increase in Number." There are minor differences in wording between the online and print versions. The sentences quoted above, follow the online version.)






September 2, 2016

Mather and Boylston Risked Much to Fight Smallpox




I enjoyed reading the book reviewed below. From the title, and from reviews, I had the impression that it would mostly be about the smallpox epidemic and the innoculation conflict. I was surprised that of equal, or greater, importance in the book is the role of James Franklin's newspaper in laying the intellectual groundwork for the American Revolution. I learned from that part of the book too, but some might feel misled from the title about what the book was mainly about. (I think "fever" in the title is intended as a double entendre, referring both to a fever from smallpox, and a fever from the ideas of liberty.)



(p. A11) Inoculation was proposed by Cotton Mather, a figure much diminished in the 30 years since Salem. He had suffered a terrible sequence of tragedies, losing his wife and 10 of his children to accidents and epidemic disease. He had also been marginalized within the religious community by quarrels and scandals. But he had become an assiduous student of science, corresponding with the Royal Society in London and learning from its "Transactions" that inoculation against smallpox had long been practiced in Constantinople. Mr. Coss shows how Mather's investigations led him to consult a source closer to home. His slave Onesimus, when asked whether he had ever had smallpox, replied "both Yes, and No": He had been inoculated as a child in Africa, receiving a mild infection and subsequent immunity.

Inoculation was commonplace across swaths of Africa, the Middle East and Asia, Mr. Coss explains, but this inclined the doctors of Enlightenment-era Europe to regard it as a primitive superstition. Such was the view of William Douglass, the only man in Boston with the letters "M.D." after his name, who was convinced that "infusing such malignant filth" in a healthy subject was lethal folly. The only person Mather could persuade to perform the operation was a surgeon, Zabdiel Boylston, whose frontier upbringing made him sympathetic to native medicine and who was already pockmarked from a near-fatal case of the disease.

"Given that attempting inoculation constituted an almost complete leap of faith for Boylston," Mr. Coss writes, "he spent surprisingly little time agonizing over it." He knew personally just how savage the toll could be. On June 26, 1721, just as the epidemic began to rage in earnest, Boyston filled a quill with the fluid from an infected blister and scratched it into the skin of two family slaves and his own young son.

News of the experiment was greeted with public fury and terror that it would spread the contagion. A town-hall meeting was convened, at Dr. Douglass's instigation, at which inoculation was condemned and banned. Mather's house was firebombed with an incendiary device to which a note was attached: "I will inoculate you with this."



For the full review, see:

MIKE JAY. "'BOOKSHELF; An Ounce of Prevention; When Cotton Mather advocated inoculation during a smallpox outbreak, young Benjamin Franklin helped foment outrage against him." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., March 3, 2016): A11.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 2, 2016, and has the title "'BOOKSHELF; When Ben Franklin Was Against Vaccines; When Cotton Mather advocated inoculation during a smallpox outbreak, young Benjamin Franklin helped foment outrage against him.")


The book under review, is:

Coss, Stephen. The Fever of 1721: The Epidemic That Revolutionized Medicine and American Politics. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2016.






September 1, 2016

GE Replaces Annual Performance Review with Frequent Feedback



(p. B8) General Electric Co. is getting rid of ratings.

The industrial giant's salaried employees will no longer be given one of five labels--ranging from "role model" to "unsatisfactory"--as part of their annual performance review. The changes, to be announced to employees Tuesday, breaks with a system GE has used in some form or another for the last 40 years.

Chief Executive Jeffrey Immelt is undertaking a bid to refocus on the company's core industrial business. To spur these efforts, GE has spent the past few years reimagining the way its 310,000 employees work, placing new emphasis on experimentation and risk-taking. A new performance-management system asks employees and managers to exchange frequent feedback via a mobile app called PD@GE, in person or by phone. The messages are compiled into a performance summary at the end of the year.



For the full story, see:

RACHEL EMMA SILVERMAN. "GE Scraps Staff Ratings to Spur Feedback." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., July 27, 2016): B8.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 26, 2016, and has the title "GE Does Away With Employee Ratings.")






August 30, 2016

Fragmented Health Care Causes Polypharmacy Harms



(p. D5) Dr. Caleb Alexander knows how easily older people can fall into so-called polypharmacy. Perhaps a patient, like most seniors, sees several specialists who write or renew prescriptions.

"A cardiologist puts someone on good, evidence-based medications for his heart," said Dr. Alexander, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness. "An endocrinologist does the same for his bones."


. . .


"Pretty soon, you have an 82-year-old man who's on 14 medications," Dr. Alexander said, barely exaggerating.

Geriatricians and researchers have warned for years about the potential hazards of polypharmacy, usually defined as taking five or more drugs concurrently. Yet it continues to rise in all age groups, reaching disturbingly high levels among older adults.


. . .


Ultimately, the best way to reduce polypharmacy is to overhaul our fragmented approach to health care. "The system is not geared to look at a person as a whole, to see how the patterns fit together," Dr. Steinman said.



For the full commentary, see:

Span, Paula. "THE NEW OLD AGE; An Ever-Mounting Pile of Pills." The New York Times (Tues., APRIL 26, 2016): D5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date APRIL 22, 2016, and has the title "THE NEW OLD AGE; The Dangers of 'Polypharmacy,' the Ever-Mounting Pile of Pills.")






August 29, 2016

"You Call It Procrastination, I Call It Thinking"



(p. 7) A few years ago, . . . , one of my most creative students, Jihae Shin, questioned my expeditious habits. She told me her most original ideas came to her after she procrastinated. I challenged her to prove it. She got access to a couple of companies, surveyed people on how often they procrastinated, and asked their supervisors to rate their creativity. Procrastinators earned significantly higher creativity scores than pre-crastinators like me.

I wasn't convinced. So Jihae, now a professor at the University of Wisconsin, designed some experiments. She asked people to come up with new business ideas. Some were randomly assigned to start right away. Others were given five minutes to first play Minesweeper or Solitaire. Everyone submitted their ideas, and independent raters rated how original they were. The procrastinators' ideas were 28 percent more creative.

Minesweeper is awesome, but it wasn't the driver of the effect. When people played games before being told about the task, there was no increase in creativity. It was only when they first learned about the task and then put it off that they considered more novel ideas. It turned out that procrastination encouraged divergent thinking.

Our first ideas, after all, are usually our most conventional. My senior thesis in college ended up replicating a bunch of existing ideas instead of introducing new ones. When you procrastinate, you're more likely to let your mind wander. That gives you a better chance of stumbling onto the unusual and spotting unexpected patterns. Nearly a century ago, the psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik found that people had a better memory for incomplete tasks than for complete ones. When we finish a project, we file it away. But when it's in limbo, it stays active in our minds.

Begrudgingly, I acknowledged that procrastination might help with everyday creativity. But monumental achievements are a different story, right?

Wrong. Steve Jobs procrastinated constantly, several of his collaborators have told me. Bill Clinton has been described as a "chronic procrastinator" who waits until the last minute to revise his speeches. Frank Lloyd Wright spent almost a year procrastinating on a commission, to the point that his patron drove out and insisted that he produce a drawing on the spot. It became Fallingwater, his masterpiece. Aaron Sorkin, the screenwriter behind "Steve Jobs" and "The West Wing," is known to put off writing until the last minute. When Katie Couric asked him about it, he replied, "You call it procrastination, I call it thinking."



For the full commentary, see:

Grant, Adam. "Step 1: Procrastinate." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., JAN. 17, 2016): 1 & 6-7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JAN. 16, 2016, and has the title "Why I Taught Myself to Procrastinate.")


Grant's commentary is related to his book:

Grant, Adam. Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World. New York: Viking, 2016.






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 25, 2016

"Doctors Often Do Not 'Know' What They Are Doing"



(p. A11) Into the "swift currents and roiling waters of modern medicine" plunges Dr. Steven Hatch, whose informative "Snowball in a Blizzard" adds an important perspective. Dr. Hatch believes that our health-care system can "champion patient autonomy" and facilitate "more humane treatment, less anxiety, and better care" by revealing to patients the "great unspoken secret of medicine." What's the secret? Simply stated, "doctors often do not 'know' what they are doing." In Dr. Hatch's view, despite spectacular advances in biomedical science, modern "doctors simply cannot provide the kind of confident predictions that are often expected of them."


. . .


He begins where Donald Rumsfeld ended: There will always be "known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns" in medicine. Dr. Hatch illustrates this spectrum of uncertainty with engaging exposés of popular screening tests like mammograms (attempting to detect breast cancer is like "finding a snowball in a blizzard"); common drug treatments, like those used to lower serum cholesterol or blood-pressure levels (about which expert national guidelines seem to change almost yearly); and health-care coverage in the lay media (whose "breaking news" too often ignores the uncertainty of the news being broken). Throughout his book, Dr. Hatch's message is "caveat emptor," warning his readers to beware not only the pseudoscientists, flim-flammers, anti-vacciners and celebrity doctors but also the all-too-certain pronouncements of the medical establishment.



For the full review, see:

BRENDAN REILLY. "BOOKSHELF; Give It To Me Straight, Doc; Doctors can't really be certain if any treatment will help a particular person. But patients are looking for prescriptions, not probabilities." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., March 15, 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: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 14, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Hatch, Steven. Snowball in a Blizzard: A Physician's Notes on Uncertainty in Medicine. New York: Basic Books, 2016.






August 17, 2016

Creativity Is Correlated with "Openness to Experience"



(p. D3) "Insightful problem solving can't be boiled down to any single way of thinking," the authors say. Creative people have messy processes, and often messy minds, full of contradictions.

Contrary to the well-worn notion that creativity resides in the right side of the brain, research shows that creativity is a product of the whole brain, relying especially on what the authors call the "imagination network" -- circuits devoted to tasks like making personal meaning, creating mental simulations and taking perspective.

While creative people run the gamut of personalities, Dr. Kaufman's research has shown that openness to experience is more highly correlated to creative output than I.Q., divergent thinking or any other personality trait. This openness often yields a drive for exploration, which "may be the single most important personal factor predicting creative achievement," the authors write.

These are people energized and motivated by the possibility of discovering new information: "It's the thrill of the knowledge chase that most excites them."

Once the idea is found, alas, the creative process begins to resemble something more like grinding execution. It's still creative, but it requires more focus and less daydreaming -- one reason highly creative people tend to exhibit mindfulness and mental wandering.

"Creativity is a process that reflects our fundamentally chaotic and multifaceted nature," the authors write. "It is both deliberate and uncontrollable, mindful and mindless, work and play."



For the full review, see:

CHRISTIE ASCHWANDEN. "Books; The Blessed Mess of Creativity." The New York Times (Tues., FEB. 9, 2016): D3.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date FEB. 8, 2016, and has the title "Books; Review: 'Wired to Create' Shows the Science of a Messy Process.")


The book under review, is:

Kaufman, Scott Barry, and Carolyn Gregoire. Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind. New York: TarcherPerigee, 2015.






August 14, 2016

How to Avoid Bureaucratic Time-Wasting Lines



(p. 9) London -- ITALIAN bureaucracy is legendary for a reason. Italians spend so much of their lives waiting in line -- an estimated 400 hours a year per person -- that some are now willing to pay freelancers to wait on their behalf. The rich can pay a "codista," a neologism for a trained line sitter, to maunder at the post office or bank while they get on with something more important.


. . .


Brazil has its "despachantes," meaning dispatchers. Venezuela has its "coleros," which, oddly, can translate to "top hats"; and Spain its "gestores" or agents. Meanwhile, in South Africa there is a company called Q4U that takes care specifically of the irksome business of applying for a British passport.

In New York City, the cash-rich and time-poor use the service Same Ole Line Dudes, which describes itself as "New York's only professional line sitting team." The Dudes will charge you $25 for the first hour, plus $10 for each additional 30 minutes, to put in the necessary time to obtain coveted concert tickets or rare new sneakers. Their slogan is, "We wait for your wants." I am told that they will even wait at the Department of Motor Vehicles for you.



For the full commentary, see:

TOM HODGKINSON. "How to Get Paid to Do Nothing." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., July 10, 2016): 9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 9, 2016.)






August 10, 2016

Crony Credentialism Is Regulatory Barrier to Telemedicine



(p. A11) Telemedicine has made exciting advances in recent years. Remote access to experts lets patients in stroke, neonatal and intensive-care units get better treatment at a lower cost than ever before. In rural communities, the technology improves timely access to care and reduces expensive medevac trips. Remote-monitoring technology lets patients with chronic conditions live at home rather than in an assisted-living facility.

Yet while telemedicine can connect a patient in rural Idaho with top specialists in New York, it often runs into a brick wall at state lines. Instead of welcoming the benefits of telemedicine, state governments and entrenched interests use licensing laws to make it difficult for out-of-state experts to offer remote care.


. . .


Using its power under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, Congress could pass legislation to define where a physician practices medicine to be the location of the physician, rather than the location of the patient, as states currently do. Physicians would need only one license, that of their home state, and would work under its particular rules and regulations.

This would allow licensed physicians to treat patients in all 50 states. It would greatly expand access to quality medical care by freeing millions of patients to seek services from specialists around the country without the immense travel costs involved.



For the full commentary, see:


SHIRLEY SVORNY. "Telemedicine Runs Into Crony Doctoring; State medical-licensing barriers protect local MDs and deny patients access to remote-care physicians." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., July 23, 2016): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JUNE 22, 2016.)






August 5, 2016

Creative Destruction of Polaroid by Digital Photography



(p. A17) There aren't many 3-year-olds who can take credit for inspiring a revolution in the way millions of people view the world. According to a legend that begins Peter Buse's welcome history of the Polaroid company, "The Camera Does the Rest," it was engineer Edwin Land's daughter, Jennifer, who asked one evening in 1943 why it took so long to view the photographs that the family had shot while on vacation in Santa Fe, N.M. Land set out on a walk to ponder that question and, so the story goes, returned six hours later with an answer that would transform the hidebound practice of photography: the instant snapshot.


. . .


"In 1974 alone there were about 1 billion Polaroid images made, and by 1976 . . . 15 billion in total," the author writes, "and this before the real explosion in Polaroid photography in the late 1970s and early 1980s." The party might have gone on forever had it not been for the same type of creative destruction that Polaroid itself had stirred up in the 1940s--this time brought about by the digital revolution.

By the time the company joined that revolution in the 1990s, it was too late. Their digital products were inferior to those being turned out by competing companies. Polaroid had always done well selling cameras, but the real money was in the film, the demand for which was falling precipitately. In July 1997, the company's stock price was $60.51. Four years later, as the company spiraled toward bankruptcy, it was $0.49. The author writes that Polaroid joined the "analog scrap heap" that included "vinyl turntables and the Sony Walkman."​



For the full review, see:

PATRICK COOKE. "BOOKSHELF; The Original Instagram; Purists grumbled that Polaroids were ephemeral, but Ansel Adams created some of his most enduring photographs using the camera." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., May 17, 2016): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 16, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Buse, Peter. The Camera Does the Rest: How Polaroid Changed Photography. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015.






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 24, 2016

Most Eventually Successful Entrepreneurs Don't Quickly Quit Their Day Jobs



(p. B4) For people who prefer an introspective read that is both inspiring and has a dash of self-help, Adam Grant's "Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World" is truly original. Mr. Grant, the youngest-ever tenured full professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, dives into what it takes to be a shoot-the-moon, Steve-Jobs-like success. Many of his conclusions are counterintuitive and based on deep research.

The biggest surprise for me was that the most successful entrepreneurs didn't quit their day jobs to pursue their ideas; instead, they stayed at work until they had worked all the kinks out of their plans and gotten them off the ground. The other head-scratcher in this book? Procrastination is a great thing. (This was a terrific revelation.)

Mr. Grant's research shows that some of the most creative thoughts develop during periods of so-called procrastination.



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:

Grant, Adam. Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World. New York: Viking, 2016.






July 21, 2016

Tech Support Causes Rage By Taking Away Sense of Control



(p. B4) Especially frustrating when talking to tech support is not being understood because you are trying to communicate with machines or people who have been trained to talk like machines, either for perceived quality control or because they don't speak English well enough to go off-script.

"It's utterly maddening because the thing about conversations is that when I say something to you, I believe I'm having influence on the conversation," said Art Markman, professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin and co-host of the podcast "Two Guys on Your Head." "And when you say something back to me that makes no sense, now I see that all these words I spoke have had no effect whatsoever on what's happening here."

When things don't make sense and feel out of control, mental health experts say, humans instinctively feel threatened. Though you would like to think you can employ reason in this situation, you're really just a mass of neural impulses and primal reactions. Think fight or flight, but you can't do either because you are stuck on the phone, which provokes rage.

Of course, companies rated best for tech support often charge more for their products or they may charge a subscription fee for enhanced customer care so the cost of helping you is baked in, as with Apple's customer support service, AppleCare, and the Amazon Prime subscription service.

You can also find excellent tech support in competitive markets like domain name providers, where operators such as Hover and GoDaddy receive high marks. Also a good bet are hungry upstarts trying to break into markets traditionally dominated by large national companies. Take regional internet and phone service providers like Logix and WOW, which rank near the top in customer support surveys.



For the full story, see:

KATE MURPHY. "Why Help on Tech Is Unbearable." The New York Times (Mon., July 4, 2016): B1 & B4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 3, 2016, and has the title "Why Tech Support Is (Purposely) Unbearable.")






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 19, 2016

Good Niche Movies Can Be More Profitable than Blockbusters



(p. 5D) "Counterprogramming is the framework to get the most
bang for the buck for movies that aren't necessarily going to be blockbusters. "

Counterprogramming has become a crazy expensive game of chicken, Dergarabedian says.

Scheduling a rom-com next to a superhero franchise or a horror movie on Valentine's Day is a classic ploy, he says, but there's no formula that's guaranteed. "You still have to be able to deliver the movie," Dergarabedian says. "People are looking for different and good. You can't just rely on being the other option."


. . .


"A lot of these are David and Goliath matchups," Dergarabedian says. "But it's about who wins the profitability derby. That can ultimately be more important than where you rank on the chart."

To determine success, look at how well the audience is served rather than money, says Erik Davis, managing editor for Movies.com and Fandango.com. The greater the disparity in the genres, the better the position to succeed, he says.

Though Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 performed modestly against BvS, Davis considers that scheduling a a win. "They (both) have potential to mine their specific audience," he says.



For the full story, see:

Heady, Chris. "Studios Think Outside the Box (Office)." USA Today (Thurs., July 7, 2016): 5D.






July 16, 2016

"Entrepreneurs Can Appear in the Most Unpromising Environments"



(p. A11) Adam Fifield's entertaining biography of the little-recognized Grant shows that entrepreneurs can appear in the most unpromising environments--such as within the dysfunctional bureaucracy of the United Nations.


. . .


While top-down planning is usually misguided in aid (and most everywhere else), it turned out to be suitable for the particular challenge of vaccinations. Unfortunately, the aid establishment learned the wrong lessons from Grant's career. Instead of seeing him as an entrepreneur who saw a very specific unrealized opportunity to spread vaccination and oral rehydration salts, they viewed his success as vindicating top-down planning in general.


. . .


Those who came after Grant . . . seem to have developed even more of the paternalistic savior complex than he had--his counterparts today are the likes of Bono, Jeffrey Sachs and Bill Gates. But the condescending image of a powerful white male as the savior of helpless nonwhite children is thankfully a lot less acceptable today than it was in Grant's time. Since 2000 we have witnessed the mainly homegrown economic growth of low- and middle-income countries surpassing that of rich countries--plus many other positive long-term trends from democratization to the explosion of cellphones. Aid alone cannot explain these large triumphs in poor countries. There is still room for humanitarian entrepreneurs like Grant to find new breakthroughs, but we can appreciate much more today that the poor are their own best saviors.​



For the full review, see:

WILLIAM EASTERLY. "BOOKSHELF; The Father of Millions; The Unicef breakthrough on vaccinations and oral rehydration salts is still cited today as one of the few successes in foreign aid." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Oct. 16, 2015): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 15, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Fifield, Adam. A Mighty Purpose: How Jim Grant Sold the World on Saving Its Children. New York: Other Press, 2015.






July 12, 2016

Edgar Speyer Was Entrepreneur Who Created Innovative London Tube Infrastructure



(p. A13) Before World War I, Edgar Speyer headed the London branch of the German-based Speyer banking conglomerate. Among other things, he was a great lover of music. His mansion on Grosvenor Square was a cynosure for composers-- Debussy, Elgar, Richard Strauss, Schoenberg--all of whom availed themselves of the luxuries of the house, playing or conducting their work in private performances. "We live even more elegantly than kings and emperors," Grieg wrote, referring to the mansion's suite of rooms for visitors.

Not all of Edgar Speyer's interests were so ethereal. The British Speyer branch was a key source of railroad finance, and Edgar himself was best known for creating--in partnership with Charles Yerkes, a Chicago entrepreneur--the London tube system, with its innovative "deep-tube" design. Edgar persisted in expanding the system despite its precarious finances and for many years functioned as its chief executive.


. . .


The Speyer bank, Mr. Liebmann tells us, had roots going back to the 14th century, at the threshold of a long surge in international commerce. New forms of paper--bills of exchange, letters of credit and much else--allowed traders to leverage up their businesses quite remarkably. Over time, houses like those of Baring, Rothschild and Speyer shifted out of their traditional-goods trading for the higher volumes and higher fees available from trading just the paper claims. The Speyers were known as the leading investment and trading house in Frankfurt, Germany, usually ranked just behind the Rothschilds in the Jewish financial imperium.



For the full review, see:


CHARLES R. MORRIS. "BOOKSHELF; Second Only to the Rothschilds; Speyer banks funded the London underground, placed the first Union Civil War bonds in Europe and built the Madeira-Mamore railroad." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Jan. 26, 2016): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 25, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Liebmann, George W. The Fall of the House of Speyer: The Story of a Banking Dynasty. London: I.B. Tauris & Co., 2015.






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 6, 2016

Standard Oil Money Funded Homage to Oz



(p. A1) Vandals are slowly destroying the Land of Oz, a small private theme park nestled atop Beech Mountain, N.C., built on land bought years ago with money from a Standard Oil fortune. Thieves and urban explorers have carted off polka-dot mushrooms, a pair of cement lions and, most hurtfully, pieces of the golden-hued path that runs through the park.

"It's magical," says Vicky Conley of Morganton, N.C., who took her son to Oz last year when he was six. "People should leave it alone."


. . .


(p. A8) In 1966, Mr. Leidy's grandfather Page Hufty--an insurance pioneer and real-estate developer in Palm Beach, Fla.--bought land on Beech Mountain. His wife, Frances Archbold Hufty, was the granddaughter of John D. Archbold, a titan of the Gilded Age and John D. Rockefeller's right-hand man at Standard Oil, which was dissolved by the government in 1911.

Mr. Hufty leased some of the land to other developers, who wanted a summer theme park to complement their ski resort.

The Land of Oz opened in 1970, amid much fanfare about the 70th anniversary of L. Frank Baum's classic book. Debbie Reynolds stopped by. So did Ray Bolger, who played the Scarecrow in the 1939 movie. At least 300,000 people visited the first year, says Neva Specht, a historian and a dean at the College of Arts and Sciences at Appalachian State University.

By the second year, she says, it was one of the biggest attractions in the Southeast, and it graced the cover of "Southern Living" magazine.


. . .


But the park quickly became more of a white elephant than a Merry Old Land. Attendance dropped, as families were lured away by splashier attractions like Disney World, which opened the following year in Orlando, Fla. The developers went bankrupt, and Mr. Leidy's grandparents eventually gained ownership.


. . .


Mr. Leidy installed fences topped with barbed wire, but thieves cut through. Security cameras didn't seem to deter anyone either. Mr. Leidy is now hiring guards.


. . .


Mr. Leidy says he doesn't know what lies in store over the rainbow, but thinks his grandparents would be proud.

"Until we figure out a long-term plan here," he says, "it's important to me to protect it."



For the full story, see:

CHRISTINA REXRODE. "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road? Even a Wizard Can't Save Oz." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Sept. 18, 2015): A1 & A8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 17, 2016, and has the title "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road? Even a Wizard Can't Save Oz From Vandals.")






July 4, 2016

Rudderless Russians Admire Stalin, Jobs, Gates and Gandhi



(p. A13) What makes Chelyabinsk compelling is its people. They are largely decent and undeniably intelligent, protective of what they have achieved, wary of the unknown, and, above all, clever and flexible at adapting to changing times. In a word, they are . . . wily men (and women) . . .


. . .


Perhaps most telling is Alexander, who lives in a village five hours from the city. He admires Mr. Putin and the system the president has built, even as he complains that corruption is rife, governance is poor, and the local economy is held back by an overbearing and rapacious state. Alexander's criticisms mirror those of the citizens in the book who consider themselves dissidents and activists, though Alexander would never consider himself either one. "He is proud of Putin," Ms. Garrels writes, "and between him and those who dread their country's current course, there is an unbridgeable divide."

This sort of internal contradiction isn't unique to Alexander. Many of the Russians Ms. Garrels meets hold views that seem impossible to reconcile. She cites polls that show that two-thirds of ethnic Russians call themselves Orthodox believers, but many of those very same people say that they do not believe in God. At one point, the author visits a prestigious state secondary school where the students offer a curious mix of heroes: Joseph Stalin, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Gandhi. The search for a post-Soviet ideology has, in Chelyabinsk and across Russia, led to a strange mishmash, at once faithful and mystical, distrustful and fatalistic.



For the full review, see:

JOSHUA YAFFA. "BOOKSHELF; Russia's Wily Men and Women; Russians hold views that seem impossible to reconcile. Students at a reputable school offer a curious mix of heroes: Stalin and Steve Jobs." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., April 18, 2016): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date April 17, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Garrels, Anne. Putin Country: A Journey into the Real Russia. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016.






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 28, 2016

If Rapamycin Works in Humans as in Mice, We Gain 20 Years in Good Health



KaeberleinMattWithDogDobby2016-05 -26.jpg"Dr. Matt Kaeberlein, a biology of aging researcher, with his dog Dobby in North Bend, Wash. He helped fund a drug study using his own money." Source of caption: p. A12 of print version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. A12) But scientists who champion the study of aging's basic biology -- they call it "geroscience" -- say their field has received short shrift from the biomedical establishment. And it was not lost on the University of Washington researchers that exposing dog lovers to the idea that aging could be delayed might generate popular support in addition to new data.

"Many of us in the biology of aging field feel like it is underfunded relative to the potential impact on human health this could have," said Dr. Kaeberlein, who helped pay for the study with funds he received from the university for turning down a competing job offer. "If the average pet owner sees there's a way to significantly delay aging in their pet, maybe it will begin to impact policy decisions."

The idea that resources might be better spent trying to delay aging rather than to cure diseases flies in the face of most disease-related philanthropy and the Obama administration's proposal to spend $1 billion on a "cancer moonshot." And many scientists say it is still too unproven to merit more investment.

The National Institutes of Health has long been organized around particular diseases, including the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. There is the National Institute on Aging, but about a third of its budget last year was directed exclusively to research on Alzheimer's disease, and its Division of Aging Biology represents a tiny fraction of the N.I.H.'s $30 billion annual budget. That is, in part, because the field is in its infancy, said the N.I.H. director, Dr. Francis Collins.


. . .


"The squirrels in my neighborhood have a 25-year life span, but they look like rats that live two years," said Gary Ruvkun, a pioneer in aging biology at Harvard Medical School. "If you look at what nature has selected for and allowed, it suggests that you might be able to get your hands on the various levers that change things."


. . .


Over 1,500 dog owners applied to participate in the trial of rapamycin, which has its roots in a series of studies in mice, the first of which was published in 2009. Made by a type of soil bacterium, rapamycin has extended the life spans of yeast, flies and worms by about 25 percent.

But in what proved a fortuitous accident, the researchers who set out to test it in mice had trouble formulating it for easy consumption. As a result, the mice were 20 months old -- the equivalent of about 60 human years -- when the trial began. That the longest-lived mice survived about 12 percent longer than the control groups was the first indication that the drug could be given later in life and still be effective.

Dr. Kaeberlein said he had since achieved similar benefits by giving 20-month-old mice the drug for only three months. (The National Institute on Aging rejected his request for funding to further test that treatment.) Younger mice, given higher doses, have lived about 25 percent longer than those not given the drug, and mice of varying ages and genetic backgrounds have been slower to develop some cancers, kidney disease, obesity and symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. In one study, their hearts functioned better for longer.

"If you do the extrapolation for people, we're probably talking a couple of decades, with the expectation that those years are going to be spent in relatively good health," Dr. Kaeberlein said.


. . .


. . . what dog lovers have long considered the sad fact that their pets age about seven times as fast as they do, Dr. Kaeberlein knew, would be a boon for a study of rapamycin that would have implications for both species. An owner of two dogs himself, he was determined to scrounge up the money for the pilot phase of what he and Dr. Promislow called the Dog Aging Project.

Last month, he reported at a scientific meeting that no significant side effects had been observed in the dogs, even at the highest of three doses. And compared with the hearts of dogs in the control group, the hearts of those taking the drug pumped blood more efficiently at the end. The researchers would like to enroll 450 dogs for a more comprehensive five-year study, but do not yet have the money.

Even if the study provided positive results on all fronts, a human trial would carry risks.

Dr. Kaeberlein, for one, said they would be worth it.

"I would argue we should be willing to tolerate some level of risk if the payoff is 20 to 30 percent increase in healthy longevity," he said. "If we don't do anything, we know what the outcome is going to be. You're going to get sick, and you're going to die."



For the full story, see:

AMY HARMON. "CHASING IMMORTALITY; Dogs Test Drug Aimed at Humans' Biggest Killer: Age." The New York Times (Tues., MAY 17, 2016): A1 & A12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 16, 2016, and has the title "CHASING IMMORTALITY; Dogs Test Drug Aimed at Slowing Aging Process.")


An academic paper that discusses the wide variability in life span of different species in the order Rodentia (which includes short-lived rats and long-lived squirrels), is:

Gorbunova, Vera, Michael J. Bozzella, and Andrei Seluanov. "Rodents for Comparative Aging Studies: From Mice to Beavers." Age 30, no. 2-3 (June 25, 2008): 111-19.






June 23, 2016

Hidebound Banks Ride Uber, Hoping to Manage I.P.O.



(p. A1) Wall Street banks can be hidebound in their ways: insisting on suits and ties and handing out BlackBerries after everyone else has moved on to the iPhone. But if there is one thing that can push even the most conservative bank into the future, it is the prospect of business.

The latest reminder came this week when JPMorgan Chase announced that it would reimburse all of its employees for rides taken with Uber -- offering access to "Uber's expanding presence and seamless experience," the company said in a news release.

JPMorgan made its decision long after other parts of corporate America were already hailing cars through the California start-up. But banks have recently shown a fondness for the service -- with Goldman making the company part of its official travel policy in late May and Morgan Stanley putting out its own news release about its Uber use late last year.

Bank experts were quick to note that these moves come as the banks are jockeying to win a coveted spot managing Uber's initial public offering -- one that is not yet scheduled but that is assumed to be coming in the not-too-distant future. The I.P.O. for Uber, whose fund-raising so far has pegged its valuation at $50 billion, will most likely be the blockbuster I.P.O. in whatever year it takes place.



For the full story, see:

NATHANIEL POPPER. "An Uber I.P.O. Ahead, and Suddenly Bankers Are Using Uber. Coincidence?" The New York Times (Fri., JULY 10, 2015): B3.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JULY 9, 2015 and has the title "An Uber I.P.O. Looms, and Suddenly Bankers Are Using Uber. Coincidence?")






June 19, 2016

How Wal-Mart Benefits Small Entrepreneurs



(p. B1) At the headquarters of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. here, dozens of its buyers held half-hour meetings earlier this month with hundreds of prospective suppliers touting products--from frozen deep-fried turkeys to toddler dirt bikes--all eager for a chance to land on the shelves of the world's largest retailer.

Scott Bonge, a Little Rock, Ark., investor and father of three, was trying to interest Wal-Mart in his plastic shaving stencil, the GoateeSaver. With sales of shaving gear falling as more men embrace scruff and beards, Wal-Mart is looking for different shaving paraphernalia to sell.

The product "came out of my own need for something to keep my goatee looking even back in college," Mr. Bonge told Jason Kloster, senior buyer for personal care at Wal-Mart.

Mr. Kloster then drilled down into how many American men have goatees. Without an exact answer, Mr. Bonge noted that they are popular in the South among men over 25.

"I've been in the category for four years and I've never heard of your brand," Mr. Kloster said. "Your biggest challenge is awareness." Mr. Kloster suggested selling the device on Walmart.com to test demand before offering it in stores.

The daylong event provides a window into the relationship between Wal-Mart and its suppliers as well as the influence retailers have both on selecting the products for their shelves and how those products appear.

These meetings serve a clear purpose for prospective suppliers--a shot at vaulting into retail's big leagues.



For the full story, see:

SARAH NASSAUER. "Inside Wal-Mart's 'Shark Tank'." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., July 23, 2015): B1 & B7.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 22, 2015 and has the title "Pitching Products to Wal-Mart, in 30 Minutes.")






June 17, 2016

Uber to Politicians: "Catch-Me-If-You-Can"



(p. B1) Last week, the home-sharing service Airbnb had more than 40,000 listings in Paris, making the French capital the company's most popular destination for travelers looking to rent a room or an entire apartment. Paris officials applaud it for bringing innovation to the city's hotel industry.

The ride-hailing company Uber had a much more difficult week.

Thousands of Parisian taxi drivers took to the streets to protest UberPop, the company's low-cost service that's similar to UberX in the United States. French politicians denounced the company for defying the country's transport laws. And two of Uber's top executives in France were detained by the police and accused of operating an illegal taxi business. By Friday [July 3, 2015], the company had suspended UberPop across the country.

Uber and Airbnb are similar in many ways. Both born in San Francisco, the companies are now two of the largest entrants in the so-called on-demand economy, in which services are available at the touch of a smartphone button. They are both flush with investor money -- with valuations in the tens of billions of dollars -- and are using the cash to expand rapidly around the world.

But the starkly different paths in France for these companies lay bare contrasting strategies as they encounter the world of global regulators. Since it began in 2009, Uber has entered city after city, in Europe and elsewhere, with a largely catch-me-if-you-can attitude. Airbnb, which offers more rooms than traditional hotel groups like Hilton and InterContinental, has instead tilted toward courting local politicians in many of its most popular markets.

So far, Uber's approach has not significantly slowed it down. The company operates in more than 300 cities in almost 60 countries and is valued by investors at more than $40 billion.



For the full story, see:

MARK SCOTT. "The Bumps in Uber's Fast Lane." The New York Times (Weds., JULY 8, 2015): B1-B2.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JULY 7, 2015, and has the title "What Uber Can Learn From Airbnb's Global Expansion.")






June 15, 2016

Regulations and Bureaucratic Inefficiency May Kill Restaurant



(p. A22) To begin with, although the B&H Dairy Restaurant on Second Avenue in Manhattan now hangs by a thread, no one was hurt there on March 26 [, 2015], the day that three buildings on the same block were leveled by a gas explosion.


. . .


"On the third day after the explosion, people from the building department and Con Edison came together," Mr. Abdelwahed said. "They inspected the place, upstairs, downstairs, the pipes, the basement. They told me, 'You are O.K., you should be fine, no problem.' "

That changed, he said, in the charged days that followed, as it emerged that apparently illegal alterations to the gas lines had been made in one of the buildings down the street.

The original inspector returned, he said, and told him that another inspection was going to happen in a couple of days. "He said, 'You're not going to pass that inspection. Because of what happened next door, I don't want to be responsible for the future,' " Mr. Abdelwahed said.

All of the gas piping in the building has to be replaced, a job the landlord has taken on, though it is not clear what deficiencies it had. The Buildings Department file for 127 Second Avenue shows that there were no open violations on the premises in March, and none now.

After questions were put four times to the city on Thursday about the nature of the problems with B&H's operation, a spokesman for the mayor said the administration was trying to help small businesses affected by the explosion, including the restaurant.

In B&H, Mr. Abdelwahed said, the inspector noted that his stove had five burners, but the plans on file showed only four. "He required me to correct it on the plan," Mr. Abdelwahed said. "Originally it was four. I don't know how it came to be five. It's not an issue. Where was an inspector before all this? You're trying to show you're working?"


. . .


"He told me, 'You have to change the fire system,' " Mr. Abdelwahed said of the inspector. "Of course, I had a fire suppression system all the time, inspected. I told him, 'I am going to go out of business.' He said: 'I'm sorry, I can't help you.' They don't want to be responsible for anything."

Because the fire suppression system was going to jut into the backyard, Mr. Abdelwahed had to apply for permission from the city's Landmarks Commission as the block is part of a historic landmark district. Only after that approval was granted could his contractor apply for a building permit.

"What's killing them is the lag time," said Mr. Reynolds, who is organizing crowdfunding support for the restaurant. Bernadette Nation, an official with the city's Department of Small Business Services, has cut red tape in getting permits issued, and their story has been covered on New York 1 and by many blogs.



For the full story, see:

JIM DWYER. "About New York; Unharmed by a Gas Explosion, but Choked by the Red Tape That Followed." The New York Times (Fri., JULY 10, 2015): A22.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added. The quote from Mr. Reynolds in the last passage above, appears in the print version of the article, but not in the online version of the article.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JULY 9, 2015.)






June 13, 2016

Cloud Profits Give "Amazon Cover to Plunge into New Projects"




Jeff Bezos is what I call a "project entrepreneur": he uses profits from earlier projects to fund new projects.



(p. B12) When it comes to investment, Amazon.com no longer has to stop to take a breath. And that is making it an even more formidable rival to bricks-and-mortar retailers.

The e-commerce giant has reported minimal profits in its 19-year history as a public company as it has pursued a pattern of near-endless investment. Amazon has plowed money into expanding its warehouse and delivery infrastructure and branching into new markets such as grocery, music, online video and, most recently, apparel.

In the past, Amazon has occasionally chosen to take a quarter here and there to press pause on that investment. That had the effect of reassuring the market that it could immediately be profitable if it ever chose to stop.


. . .


The protective shield of the cloud seems to be giving Amazon cover to plunge into new projects at an even more rapid clip than it has in the past.



For the full story, see:

MIRIAM GOTTFRIED. "Amazon Cloud Profit Sparks Retail Storm." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 21, 2016): B12.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 20, 2016, and has the title "Amazon's Cloud Cover Makes It a Bigger Threat.")






June 11, 2016

"Students Are Hungry to Make an Impact"



(p. B2) "Today's students are hungry to make an impact, and we have to be responsive," said Gordon Jones, the dean of a new College of Innovation and Design at Boise State University in Idaho and the former director of Harvard's Innovation Lab.

Yet campus entrepreneurship fever is encountering skepticism among some academics, who say that start-up programs can lack rigor and a moral backbone.

Even a few entrepreneurship educators say that some colleges and universities are simply parroting an "innovate and disrupt" Silicon Valley mind-set and promoting narrow skill sets -- like how to interview potential customers or pitch to possible investors -- without encouraging students to tackle more complex problems.

"A lot of these universities want to get in the game and serve this up because it's hot," Mr. Jones said. "The ones that are doing it right are investing in resources that are of high caliber and equipping students to tackle problems of importance."


. . .


. . . the quick start-up workshops offered on some campuses can seem at odds with the traditional premise of liberal arts schools to educate deliberative, critical thinkers.

"Real innovation is rooted in knowledge and durable concern and interest, not just 'I thought of something that nobody ever thought of before,'" said Jonathan Jacobs, who writes frequently about liberal education and is the chairman of the philosophy department at John Jay College of Criminal Justice of The City University of New York. "That's not educating people, frankly."

And at least a few professors of entrepreneurship say that some universities are not ensuring that students learn the fundamentals of starting, running and sustaining a business.



For the full story, see:

NATASHA SINGER. "Colleges Rush to Embolden Entrepreneurs." The New York Times (Tues., DEC. 29, 2015): A1 & B2 (sic).

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 28, 2015, and has the title "Universities Race to Nurture Start-Up Founders of the Future.")






June 7, 2016

Steady-State Stagnation Is Not an Option



Some environmentalists advocate an end to economic growth. Inside economics, and in the broader world, a heated debate has considered whether an economy can long stagnate in a steady-state. The idea that it can, is captured in the circular flow diagram that has been a fixture of many introductory economics textbooks for many decades. I argue that without the dynamism that is achieved by innovative entrepreneurs, long-term stagnation is not an option. Exogenous events, such as earthquakes, will always come along to disturb the steady-state. And when they do, only entrepreneurs can restore the steady-state. If there are no entrepreneurs, there will be decline. If there are entrepreneurs, they will not stop at the steady-state; they will seek progress. The choice is forward or backward. Long-term steady-state stagnation is not an option.



(p. 10) SANKHU, Nepal -- As the anniversary of Nepal's devastating earthquake came and went last week, Tilakmananda Bajracharya peered up at the mountainside temple his family has tended for 13 generations, wondering how long it would remain upright.


. . .


Many people here pin their hopes on promises of foreign aid: After the disaster, images of collapsed temples and stoic villagers in a sea of rubble were beamed around the world, and donors came forward with pledges of $4.1 billion in foreign grants and soft loans.

But those promises, so far, have not done much to speed the progress of Nepal's reconstruction effort. Outside Kathmandu, the capital, many towns and villages remain choked with rubble, as if the earthquake had happened yesterday. The government, hampered by red tape and political turmoil, has only begun to approve projects. Nearly all of the pledged funds remain in the hands of the donors, unused.

The delay is misery for the 770,000 households awaiting a promised subsidy to rebuild their homes. Because a yearly stretch of bad weather begins in June, large-scale rebuilding is unlikely to begin before early 2017, consigning families to a second monsoon season and a second winter in leaky shelters made of zinc sheeting.


. . .


. . . , some visitors who came here to assess the reconstruction expressed shock at how little had been done.


. . .


"It has been a horrible year," said Anju Shrestha, 36, whose shed stands on a site that once held a three-story brick house.

A neighbor, Kanchhi Shrestha, guessed her age at about 75, based on a major earthquake that occurred two years before she was born. She pulled her skirt up to show feet splotchy with raw sores.

"I will die in this shelter if they do not give me money," she said. "I have nothing to eat."

However, she added, it would be inappropriate for a person like her to demand assistance from Nepal's government.

"We cannot scold the government," she said. "If the government provides, we will fold our hands and tell them, 'You are God.' "



For the full story, see:

ELLEN BARRY. "A Year Later, Nepal Is Trapped in the Shambles of a Devastating Quake." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., May 1, 2016): 10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 30, 2016, and has the title "A Year After Earthquake, Nepal's Recovery Is Just Beginning.")






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.






June 3, 2016

New Fuel Cell Efficiently Both Sequesters Carbon Dioxide and Produces Energy



(p. B1) For years, FuelCell Energy has been considered a company to watch. Its technology promised to help economically reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, which could help combat climate change. The Danbury, Conn., company might be able to make a difference, experts said, if only it had a partner with really deep pockets.

Now it has one.

In an agreement announced on Thursday [May 5, 2016], Exxon Mobil said it had tightened an existing relationship with FuelCell in hopes of taking the technology from the lab to the market.


. . .


The company's fuel cells are already used to provide clean energy in about 50 locations around the world but without a connection to fossil-fuel power plants, as envisioned in the new agreement.

The fuel cells use a high-temperature molten carbonate salt mixture. Carbon dioxide flows into the fuel cell and emerges in a concentrated form that is ready for storage.

It is this idea of matching up power plants, which produce carbon dioxide, with fuel cells that are hungry for it that led to a collaboration between Exxon Mobil and FuelCell that started more than four years ago.

The result, at least so far in the laboratory, is that the fuel cells effectively isolate and compress the carbon dioxide while producing enough power to more than make up for the energy cost of capturing the carbon.



For the full story, see:

JOHN SCHWARTZ. "Exxon in Deal with Company to Advance Carbon Capture Technology." The New York Times (Fri., MAY 6, 2016): B2.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 3, 2016, and has the title "Exxon Mobil Backs FuelCell Effort to Advance Carbon Capture Technology.")






June 2, 2016

Neurosurgical Establishment Waited Decade to Adopt Jannetta's Cure



(p. C6) Dr. Peter J. Jannetta, a neurosurgeon who as a medical resident half a century ago developed an innovative procedure to relieve an especially devastating type of facial pain, died on Monday [April 1?, 2016] in Pittsburgh.


. . .


"This was a condition that had been documented for a thousand years: There are references in the ancient literature to what was originally called 'tic douloureux,' " Mark L. Shelton, the author of "Working in a Very Small Place: The Making of a Neurosurgeon," a 1989 book about Dr. Jannetta, said in a telephone interview on Thursday. "People knew of this unexplained, very intense, episodic facial pain but didn't know the cause of it."


. . .


In the mid-1960s, Dr. Jannetta made a striking discovery while he was a neurosurgical resident at the University of California, Los Angeles. Dissecting a set of cranial nerves for a class presentation, he noticed something amiss: a tiny blood vessel pressing on the trigeminal nerve.

"It came to him as something of a flash of insight," Mr. Shelton said. "He saw this blood vessel literally impinging on the nerve so that there was actually a groove in the nerve where the vessel pressed."

What if, Dr. Jannetta wondered, this were the source of the nerve damage? Though his insight is universally accepted today, it was novel to the point of subversion in the 1960s.

"The idea that a very small blood vessel, the diameter of a mechanical pencil lead, could cause such outsize pain didn't resonate with people at the time," Mr. Shelton said.


. . .


If the vessel was a vein, it could simply be cauterized and excised. If it was an artery, however -- a more essential structure -- it would, Dr. Jannetta realized, have to be gently nudged out of the way.

He created a means of doing so that involved slipping a tiny pad of soft Teflon, about the size of a pencil eraser, between the artery and the nerve.

Dr. Jannetta performed the first microvascular decompression operation in 1966. The patient, a 41-year-old man, was relieved of his pain.

It took about a decade for the procedure to win acceptance from the neurosurgical establishment, owing partly to Dr. Jannetta's youth and partly to the novelty of his idea.

"He convinced many, many skeptics -- and there were a lot of skeptics in the early years -- because it seemed so counterintuitive as to what caused neurological disease," Mr. Shelton said.


. . .


His many laurels include the medal of honor from the World Federation of Neurological Societies; the Olivecrona Award, presented by the Karolinska Institute in Sweden; and the Horatio Alger Award, which honors perseverance in the face of adversity or opposition.



For the full obituary, see:

MARGALIT FOX. "Dr. Peter J. Jannetta, Neurosurgeon and Pioneer on Facial Pain, Dies at 84." The New York Times (Fri., APRIL 15, 2016): A22.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date APRIL 14, 2016, and has the title "Dr. Peter J. Jannetta, Pioneering Neurosurgeon on Facial Pain, Dies at 84.")


The book about Jannetta, mentioned above, is:

Shelton, Mark. Working in a Very Small Place: The Making of a Neurosurgeon. New York: Vintage Books, 1990.






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.")






May 21, 2016

"Liberated People Are Ingenious"



(p. C1) Nothing like the Great Enrichment of the past two centuries had ever happened before. Doublings of income--mere 100% betterments in the human condition--had happened often, during the glory of Greece and the grandeur of Rome, in Song China and Mughal India. But people soon fell back to the miserable routine of Afghanistan's income nowadays, $3 or worse. A revolutionary betterment of 10,000%, taking into account everything from canned goods to antidepressants, was out of the question. Until it happened.


. . .


(p. C2) Why did it all start at first in Holland about 1600 and then England about 1700 and then the North American colonies and England's impoverished neighbor, Scotland, and then Belgium and northern France and the Rhineland?

The answer, in a word, is "liberty." Liberated people, it turns out, are ingenious. Slaves, serfs, subordinated women, people frozen in a hierarchy of lords or bureaucrats are not. By certain accidents of European politics, having nothing to do with deep European virtue, more and more Europeans were liberated. From Luther's reformation through the Dutch revolt against Spain after 1568 and England's turmoil in the Civil War of the 1640s, down to the American and French revolutions, Europeans came to believe that common people should be liberated to have a go. You might call it: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

To use another big concept, what came--slowly, imperfectly--was equality. It was not an equality of outcome, which might be labeled "French" in honor of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Piketty. It was, so to speak, "Scottish," in honor of David Hume and Adam Smith: equality before the law and equality of social dignity. It made people bold to pursue betterments on their own account. It was, as Smith put it, "allowing every man to pursue his own interest his own way, upon the liberal plan of equality, liberty and justice."



For the full commentary, see:


DEIRDRE N. MCCLOSKEY. "How the West (and the Rest) Got Rich; The Great Enrichment of the past two centuries has one primary source: the liberation of ordinary people to pursue their dreams of economic betterment." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 21, 2016): C1-C2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 20, 2016.)


McCloskey's commentary is based on her "bourgeois" trilogy, the final volume of which is:

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






May 15, 2016

Amazon Experiments with Brick-and-Mortar



(p. A11) This week, Amazon revealed the location of its second brick-and-mortar bookstore, which will open in a few months in Southern California, at a mall near the University of California, San Diego. The online retailer seems to have big ambitions for its physical stores.

On Wednesday [March 9, 2016], Nick Wingfield, who covers Amazon for The New York Times, visited the only Amazon bookstore in existence, in the University Village mall in Seattle. From inside the store, he had an online chat with Alexandra Alter, who writes about publishing for The Times. They discussed Amazon's strategy and how the retailer's stores differ from other bookstores. Here's what they had to say:

ALEXANDRA ALTER: Hi Nick! You're reporting live from the mother ship! What's it like?

NICK WINGFIELD: The best part is, I just tested the free Wi-Fi and it's 114 Mbps, easily the fastest I've ever gotten. Thank you, Jeff Bezos!

ALEXANDRA: Great, so you can just buy stuff from the Amazon website while you're sitting in the store. Unlike Barnes & Noble, I bet Amazon doesn't mind if people browse in its store then go buy it online.

NICK: Exactly. Here's the deal: At first glance, it looks like an ordinary but nice Barnes & Noble store. It's clean and well-lit and corporate. It doesn't have the charm of a funky used-bookstore. Once you start poking around the shelves, you notice the differences.

ALEXANDRA: How is the selection different? How are the sections organized?

NICK: They have 5,000 to 6,000 book titles, fewer than what you would find at a big Barnes & Noble. All of the books are arranged cover out, rather than spine out, in the belief that it makes browsing more friendly. I am so buying that "Boho Crochet" book.


. . .


ALEXANDRA: . . .

So, some Amazon skeptics have suggested that books are just going to be window-dressing and what Amazon really wants is a place to showcase its digital devices. Is there a prominent area for Amazon devices?

NICK: Electronics, most of them made by Amazon, like Echo and Fire TV, are the nucleus of the store. They're spread out on tables and stands so you can fiddle with them just like you can fiddle with iPads at the Apple Store a short hop from here.

Knowledgeable people tell me that Amazon views its physical stores as an important way to introduce the public to new, unfamiliar devices. Techies might be comfortable buying a device like the Echo online -- a speaker and virtual assistant for the home -- but a lot of people will want to see it in the flesh first. That said, I don't think Amazon stores would have saved the Fire Phone, the Amazon smartphone that belly-flopped. I should also say that books are not necessarily going to be the focus of all of the stores it opens in the future. Amazon intends to experiment.



For the full dialogue, see:

ALEXANDRA ALTER and NICK WINGFIELD. "Amazon, in the Material World." The New York Times (Sat., MARCH 12, 2016): B1 & B5.

(Note: bold and italics in original print version; ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the dialogue has the date MARCH 10, 2016, and has the title "A Trip Through Amazon's First Physical Store.")






May 12, 2016

Some Entrepreneurs Support Big Government, Except When They Are the Ones Regulated



(p. A11) In October [2015], author Steven Hill will publish a book called "Raw Deal: How the 'Uber Economy' and Naked Capitalism Are Screwing American Workers." At the political conventions next summer, which party's attendees will be most likely to have read that book?

The ironies run deep. The Uber driver who ferried Jeb Bush around San Francisco said the former Florida governor was a nice chap but added that he still planned to vote for Mrs. Clinton--the candidate who regards the innovations that has led to the creation of his job as a problem that government needs to solve.

But is Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick any different? Even as he struggles with regulators taking aim at his business model, Mr. Kalanick has spoken up in favor of ObamaCare. During a visit to New York last November, he enthused that ObamaCare was "huge" for companies like his, on the grounds that the individual market has democratized benefits such as health care.

That's true insofar as it means he doesn't have to provide it for his drivers. But the reality is that ObamaCare is to health what taxi commissions are to transportation. And if Uber's co-founder can't see the difference, maybe he deserves the Bill de Blasios and Hillary Clintons coming after him.



For the full commentary, see:

WILLIAM MCGURN. "MAIN STREET; Uber Crashes the Democratic Party; The ride-share app is bringing out the inner Elizabeth Warren." The New York Times (Tues., July 21, 2015): A11.

(Note: bracketed year added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 20, 2015.)






May 1, 2016

Those Who Suffer from a Problem, Can Invent to Solve It



(p. 1) Is it possible to extract blood from people without causing pain? For decades, this problem has stumped the medical industry. In an effort to replace the old-fashioned needle, companies are trying to deploy laser beams and tiny vacuums to draw blood.

In 2014, an engineer at Harvard named Ridhi Tariyal hit on a far simpler workaround. "I was trying to develop a way for women to monitor their own fertility at home," she told me, and "those kinds of diagnostic tests require a lot of blood. So I was thinking about women and blood. When you put those words together, it becomes obvious. We have an opportunity every single month to collect blood from women, without needles."

Together with her business partner, Stephen Gire, she has patented a method for capturing menstrual flow and transforming it into medical samples. "There's lots of information in there," Ms. Tariyal said, "but right now, it's all going in the trash."

Why did Ms. Tariyal see a possibility that had eluded so many engineers before her? You might say she has an unfair advantage: her gender.


. . .


(p. 4) Eric von Hippel, a scholar of innovation at M.I.T., has spent decades studying what seems like a truism: People who suffer from a problem are uniquely equipped to solve it. "What we find is that functionally novel innovations -- those for which a market is not yet defined -- tend to come from users," he said. He pointed out that young Californians pioneered skateboards so that they could "surf" the streets. And surgeons built the first heart-and-lung machines to keep patients alive during long operations. "The reason users are so inventive is twofold. One is that they know the needs firsthand," he said. The other is that they have skin in the game.



For the full commentary, see:

PAGAN KENNEDY. "The Tampon of the Future." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., APRIL 3, 2016): 1 & 4-5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date APRIL 1, 2016.)


Pagan Kennedy's book, that is related to her commentary quoted above, is:

Kennedy, Pagan. Inventology: How We Dream up Things That Change the World. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co., 2016.






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 26, 2016

Feds' Regulatory Delay Supports High-Fare Trans-Atlantic Airline Oligopoly



(p. B1) In the past three years, Norwegian, one of Europe's biggest low-cost airlines, has quietly established a beachhead in the trans-Atlantic market by offering low-fare, no-frills service on long-haul flights.

Thanks to a small but expanding fleet of fuel-efficient planes combined with deeply discounted ticket prices, Norwegian Air Shuttle has attracted a growing number of leisure travelers looking for cheap flights.

It is all part of the vision of Norwegian's outspoken chief executive, Bjorn Kjos, who is determined to force the same kind of low-fare competition on international routes that has been so successful in domestic markets for airlines like Southwest and Spirit, and Ryanair in Europe.


. . .


But Norwegian's expansion has been stymied by vigorous opposition. Legacy airlines on both sides of the Atlantic see a low-cost competitor on their cash-cow routes as a major threat to their long-term profitability. Labor unions object to Norwegian's plans to hire flight crew from Thailand, a practice they have repeatedly described as "labor dumping."

The airline has also faced lengthy delays in receiving regulatory approvals in the United States.


. . .


(p. B4) A spokeswoman for the Transportation Department did not give any reasons for the delays that have left Norwegian in bureaucratic limbo in the United States. The airline's first request was filed more than two years ago. . . .

The long delay in approving the application "does not reflect well on the political independence of the Department of Transportation with respect to the free trade principles behind the E.U.-U.S. open skies agreement," according to a report by analysts at the CAPA Center for Aviation. "The calculated inaction only serves to restrict competition and to deny consumer choice."


. . .


"There is still a lot to do," Mr. Kjos said. "We have to think about how to fly more people more cheaply. There are hundreds of millions of people that don't have access to cheap flights."



For the full story, see:

JAD MOUAWAD. "Norwegian Air Flies in the Face of the Trans-Atlantic Establishment." The New York Times (Tues., FEB. 23, 2016): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 22, 2016.)






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 15, 2016

Frackers Have "Enthusiasm, Empiricism, Technical Inventiveness, and Fearlessness to Try and Err"



(p. A9) It's a complicated yarn that Gary Sernovitz, a novelist and energy investor, spins in "The Green and the Black" and one that is still revealing fresh plot twists. Just last week, the shale boom's most Shakespearean figure, Aubrey McClendon, died in a car crash the day after he was indicted on charges that he had rigged bids for oil and gas leases in Oklahoma. McClendon was dazzlingly ambitious and persuasive, if perhaps blithe to humdrum legalities.

Other pioneers of America's new energy age have been equally vivid. George Mitchell of Mitchell Energy was a Greek immigrant who began wildcatting in the 1950s and fracked the Barnett Shale in Texas for nearly two decades before he could make it work financially. By that time he was 77. Harold Hamm of Continental Resources, the 13th child of Oklahoma sharecroppers, became a multi-billionaire by fracking the Bakken formations across Montana and North Dakota. It was men like these, willing to keep buying land and drilling whether they were nearly bankrupt or billionaires, that Mr. Sernovitz credits for the shale revolution.


. . .


He writes: "For those who lament that America no longer makes anything but bond traders, for those who think that 'maker' culture only exists in a bearded guy pickling compassionately farmed okra in Austin, spend some time with oil industry engineers to absorb their enthusiasm, empiricism, technical inventiveness, and fearlessness to try and err."



For the full review, see:

PHILIP DELVES BROUGHTON. "BOOKSHELF; The Shale Revolutionaries; There are energy deposits all over the world. Yet drilling oil and gas out of once-inaccessible shale was only pursued vigorously in the U.S."The Wall Street Journal (Fri., March 18, 2016): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 17, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Sernovitz, Gary. The Green and the Black: The Complete Story of the Shale Revolution, the Fight over Fracking, and the Future of Energy. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2016.






March 28, 2016

Federal Regulations Restrict Concrete Innovation



(p. B1) Chris Tuan, a professor of civil engineering for the University of Nebraska at the Peter Kiewit Institute, has been perfecting an electrically semiconductive concrete over the past 20 years.

The mixture includes a 20 percent mix of steel fibers, shavings and carbon added to a traditional concrete mix. Steel reinforcing bars serve as the conductor, and once electricity is added, the concrete heats to 35 to 40 degrees -- just enough to melt the ice and snow.


. . .


For now, the concrete can't be used in public spaces. Anything exposed and electrified above 48 volts -- much less than the 208 volts used in Tuan's concrete -- is considered high voltage and is not allowed. Federal law will have to be rewritten to change that.


. . .


Tuan said traditional concrete needs to be replaced every five years or so. Without chemical use, the electric concrete lasts much longer, with fewer potholes. His concrete is also maintenance-free, because the power cords and conductive rods are encased in the concrete and not exposed to the elements.


. . .


In 2013 Tuan also implemented his concrete on ramps in China. He recently installed a private driveway in Regency using the legally allowed 48-volt limit, which is less energy efficient.

"If the government or if insurance agencies approve this technology, then everybody can use it," Tuan said. "But right now, it's almost cost prohibitive."



For the full story, see:

Reece Ristau. "In Concrete World, This Is Hot Stuff." Omaha World-Herald (Tues., JAN. 15, 2016): B1 & B2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the title "Special Concrete Mix Can Melt Snow and Ice All by Itself -- Just Add Electricity.")






March 27, 2016

The Use of Virtual Reality (VR) in Education and Training



(p. B5) The thing that's especially difficult to convey about "room-scale" VR--the kind enabled by the HTC Vive, where you can actually walk around with a headset on, exploring a virtual environment in exactly the same way you would experience a real one--is just how compelling it is. "Any VR experience is so much more engrossing than any you'd have on a flat screen," says Patrick Hackett, senior user interface designer at Google for the Google Cardboard VR headset.

That has potentially huge implications for education.

Amir Rubin, head of VR software company Sixense, is working with a client on a system to train thousands of technicians to decommission nuclear-power plants. "Any application that has high liability, where teaching students has a high cost of insurance, and is high risk, we're seeing people ask for VR training," says Mr. Rubin. At Stanford, Dr. Bailenson is taking students on virtual tours of the world's great works of art--letting them clamber over and deeply experience, for example, Michelangelo's "David."



For the full commentary, see:

CHRISTOPHER MIMS. "Virtual Reality Isn't Just About Games." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Aug. 3, 2015): B1 & B5.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Aug. 2, 2015.)







March 20, 2016

Working for Uber Allows Flexibility for Aspiring Actors



(p. 8) Not long ago, being a waiter at the Ivy or a salesman at Fred Segal was considered the reliable way to earn a living until one got a big break in a Wes Anderson film and got picked up by a major Hollywood agency like CAA or WME.

But Krystal Harris, 27, an actress who appeared in the recent Kevin Hart film "About Last Night," quickly realized those sorts of jobs were overrated. So now she works primarily for Lyft.

"I was a lead hostess at three different restaurants," Ms. Harris said. "It really didn't allow for much flexibility at all. I ended up getting fired for going to an audition. Even when I got my shifts covered, they gave me a hard time."

In 2013, she turned her Ford Escape into a roving cash register. She had total control over her hours, never needing to clear her schedule with anyone for a last-minute audition. There weren't even rules against working for both Uber and Lyft.

When acting gigs were hard to come by, she drove as many as 40 hours a week, earning what she estimated was about $20 an hour after Uber and Lyft took their commissions (generally around 20 percent). If the casting gods shined on her, she simply shut off the apps.

"When I'm really on a roll, I don't have to work," she said. "As long as my insurance and registration are up to date, I can go back."

Mr. Totten had a similar experience. Before driving for Uber, he worked at a half-dozen restaurants. All those jobs ended when he had to take off for auditions, or was caught trying to learn lines on the job. Once, he refused to shave because a casting director was looking for someone with stubble.

"My look is my scruff," said Mr. Totten, who is blond and blue-eyed, with a James Dean meets 90210 appeal. "As soon as I started driving for Uber, things got better."


. . .


(p. 9) Recently, Mr. Totten considered getting a new side job. "I'm probably going to do Postmates," he said, referring to the app-based service that delivers artisanal food in under 60 minutes and guarantees its drivers a minimum of $25 an hour. "You can't live on this anymore."



For the full story, see:

JACOB BERNSTEIN. "Drivers With Head Shots." The New York Times, SundayStyles Section (Sun., JAN. 24, 2016): 1 & 8-9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 23, 2016, and has the title "The New Side Job for Actors and Artists in Los Angeles: Driving.")






March 12, 2016

Yamir Jackson-Adens on How You Learn



(p. B4) PHILANTHROPISTS have poured millions of dollars into improving education in the United States -- paying for new buildings, buying new computers and even creating new charter schools.

Susan Crown, a member of the billionaire Crown family of Chicago, is trying something different. Two years ago, she began working with organizations that seek to foster character traits like grit, empathy and perseverance, which studies show can be determinants of future success.

But financing organizations that focus on social and emotional learning programs for disadvantaged children was just part of the effort. Ms. Crown said she also wanted to go deeper into understanding why some organizations succeeded so well.


, , ,


Yamir Jackson-Adens, 18, began going to the Philadelphia Wooden Boat Factory in eighth grade. Living in a poor section in the northeast part of the city, he said he had been bullied in elementary school, and he was still shy. The boat program intrigued him, even though he knew no one who owned a boat.

"In boat building, you learn stuff," Mr. Jackson-Adens said. "You're free to move. You don't have a whole lot of restrictions. It's more of a trial-and-error kind of thing. You learn from those mistakes. In school, if you fail, you've failed."


. . .


Next fall, Mr. Jackson-Adens will be attending Colorado State University to begin studies that he hopes will lead to becoming a veterinarian.

"Boat got me into thinking outside the box," he said. "It helped me adjust to different situations."

That is a life skill anyone could use.



For the full story, see:

PAUL SULLIVAN. "A Philanthropist Drills Down to Discover Why Programs Work." The New York Times (Sat., Feb. 6, 2016): B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Feb. 5, 2016.)






March 10, 2016

Serendipity May Be Source of 50% of Patents



(p. 1) A surprising number of the conveniences of modern life were invented when someone stumbled upon a discovery or capitalized on an accident: the microwave oven, safety glass, smoke detectors, artificial sweeteners, (p. 4) X-ray imaging. Many blockbuster drugs of the 20th century emerged because a lab worker picked up on the "wrong" information.


. . .


(p. 5) So how many big ideas emerge from spills, crashes, failed experiments and blind stabs? One survey of patent holders (the PatVal study of European inventors, published in 2005) found that an incredible 50 percent of patents resulted from what could be described as a serendipitous process. Thousands of survey respondents reported that their idea evolved when they were working on an unrelated project -- and often when they weren't even trying to invent anything. This is why we need to know far more about the habits that transform a mistake into a breakthrough.


. . .


A number of pioneering scholars have already begun this work, but they seem to be doing so in their own silos and without much cross-talk. In a 2005 paper ("Serendipitous Insights Involving Nonhuman Primates"), two experts from the Washington National Primate Research Center in Seattle cataloged the chance encounters that yielded new insights from creatures like the pigtail macaque. Meanwhile, the authors of a paper titled "On the Exploitation of Serendipity in Drug Discovery" puzzled over the reasons the 1950s and '60s saw a bonanza of breakthroughs in psychiatric medication, and why that run of serendipity ended.



For the full commentary, see:

PAGAN KENNEDY. "How to Cultivate the Art of Serendipity." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., JAN. 3, 2016): 1 & 4-5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JAN. 2, 2016, and has the title "Cultivating the Art of Serendipity.")


Pagan's commentary is based on her book:

Kennedy, Pagan. Inventology: How We Dream up Things That Change the World. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co., 2016.






March 9, 2016

The Wealth of Project Entrepreneurs Is Fragile



The stories of Alfred E. Mann (below) as well as that of Malcom McLean, the entrepreneur behind standardized shipping containers, support George Gilder's point that innovative project entrepreneurs have most of their wealth tied up in their projects. Their wealth only stays large as long as the projects continue to go well.



(p. A20) Alfred E. Mann, who started medical device companies that pioneered in the development of pacemakers for erratic hearts, insulin pumps for diabetics, cochlear implants for the deaf and retinal implants for the blind, died on Thursday [February 25, 2016] in Las Vegas. He was 90.


. . .


Mr. Mann, who spent most of his career in the Los Angeles area, became a billionaire from his entrepreneurial activities. His biggest success was MiniMed, which became the leader in insulin pumps, wearable devices that deliver insulin throughout the day, allowing people with diabetes to more precisely control their blood sugar levels.


. . .


In all, Mr. Mann started and largely financed 14 companies, nine of which were acquired for a total of almost $8 billion, according to MannKind.


. . .


In 1979, while running Pacesetter, Mr. Mann was visiting a cardiac ward and was challenged by a doctor there to work on diabetes, which caused many of the heart problems in patients. That led to the creation of MiniMed and later to MannKind, which developed a form of insulin that is inhaled instead of injected.

MannKind, Mr. Mann's last big venture, may also have been his Waterloo, eating up much of his fortune.

The pharmaceutical giant Pfizer suffered a costly marketing flop with an inhaled form of insulin in 2007. After that, other big insulin manufacturers dropped their own plans for similar products.

But Mr. Mann, who was chief executive of MannKind for many years, would not give up. He insisted MannKind's inhaler was better than Pfizer's and that its insulin had desirable medical characteristics beyond being inhalable. He put about $1 billion of his own money into the company he had named for himself, keeping it afloat through years of setbacks.

"I believe this is one of the most valuable products in history in the drug industry, and I'm willing to back it up with my estate," Mr. Mann told The New York Times in 2007.

The inhaled insulin, called Afrezza, was finally approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2014, but sales have been dismal. In January, Sanofi, the big French drug company, pulled out of an agreement to market the product. MannKind is now in danger of going out of business, though it is vowing to survive.

"Our resolve is now stronger than ever to continue Al's legacy of medical innovation, as a tribute to this remarkable man, who did so much to help mankind," Matthew Pfeffer, chief executive of MannKind, said in a statement Friday.

Mr. Mann, who worked seven days a week even when he was in his 80s, was divorced three times.



For the full story, see:

ANDREW POLLACK. "Alfred E. Mann, 90, Pioneer in Medical Devices, Is Dead." The New York Times (Sat., FEB. 27, 2016): A20.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 26, 2016, and has the title "Alfred E. Mann, Pioneer in Medical Devices, Dies at 90.")


Gilder defends entrepreneurial wealth in:

Gilder, George. "The Enigma of Entrepreneurial Wealth." Inc. 14, no. 10 (Oct. 1992): 161-64, 66 & 68.






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 2, 2016

George Washington as Entrepreneur



(p. C7) While Washington was only an adequate battlefield general, Edward G. Lengel, who oversees George Washington's papers at the University of Virginia, makes a strong case in "First Entrepreneur" that he was a superb military administrator--skills he learned as a young man serving in the French and Indian War as an aide-de-camp for commanding officers. By carefully monitoring all aspects of the complex business of running a military operation, he held his ragtag army together despite a frequent lack of money, clothing, weapons and food. Without Washington's management, the Continental Army would likely have disintegrated and the Revolution fizzled out. Mr. Lengel brings needed attention to this vital and neglected aspect of Washington's generalship.

Washington was also a superb administrator of his own assets. Born to modest wealth, he married into much more and worked hard and creatively to maximize his return on investment. By the end of his life he was one of the new country's richest men.

Tobacco, the cash crop that had brought prosperity to Virginia, was declining in profitability by the mid-18th century. It exhausted the soil, and prices had been falling on the British market. Washington began to rotate and diversify his crops, import better seed, and exploit Mount Vernon's other assets, such as the springtime fish runs up the Potomac.

By the end of his life, Washington was not only growing new crops but manufacturing as well, turning his wheat production into both whiskey and flour. When the American inventor Oliver Evans developed a new, more productive type of flour mill, Washington quickly installed one. When the king of Spain sent him a donkey, named Royal Gift, Washington put him to work fathering mules, which were more efficient than horses at farm work. As Mr. Lengel makes clear, Washington was always a bottom-line man, a fact that makes this often remote figure more human.



For the full review, see:


JOHN STEELE GORDON. "Washington Discovers America; Washington traveled through all 13 states to promote the newborn federal government." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Feb. 13, 2016): C7.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 12, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Lengel, Edward G. First Entrepreneur: How George Washington Built His--and the Nation's--Prosperity. Philadelphia, PA: Da Capo Press, 2016.






February 23, 2016

"Minds Feel More Crimped, Fear More Pervasive, Possibility More Limited"



Maybe to lead happy or satisfying lives, we need more adventure, or more projects (hard and important ones) to commit ourselves to?



(p. 19) Freedom is still out there. We all have our idea of it, the deferred dream. Your psyche builds layers of protection around your most vulnerable traits, which may be closely linked to that precious essence in which freedom resides. Freedom is inseparable from risk.


. . .


I don't know if the world is freer than a half-century ago. On paper, it is. The totalitarian Soviet Imperium is gone. The generals who bossed Latin America are gone, generally. Asia has unshackled itself and claims this century as its own. Media has opened out, gone social.

Yet minds feel more crimped, fear more pervasive, possibility more limited, adventure more choreographed, politics more stale, economics more skewed, pressure more crushing, escape more elusive.


. . .


Which brings me to Finnegan's wonderful book, a kind of hymn to freedom and passion. Freedom is inside you. It's the thing that cannot be denied. For Finnegan, that's surfing and writing. "How could you know your limits unless you tested them?" he asks -- a question as true before the ferocious energy of the wave as before the infinite possibilities of the written form.



For the full commentary, see:

Cohen, Roger. "Ways to Be Free." The New York Times (Sat., JAN. 23, 2016): A19.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JAN. 21, 2016.)


The Finnegan book praised in the passage quoted above, is:

Finnegan, William. Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life. New York: Penguin Press, 2015.







February 13, 2016

Ten Quit, or Were Fired, "to Honor the Other 290"



(p. 1) A hellbent quest for authenticity produced some indelible on-set moments for Alejandro G. Iñárritu as he directed "The Revenant," his two-and-a-half-hour opus of death, love and improvised surgery in the American West of the 1820s.


. . .


(p. 20) There were enough grumblings from the crew about delays, safety and overall misery that The Hollywood Reporter published an article in July in which one source described the experience as "a living hell." Ten people either quit or were fired during filming, Mr. Iñárritu said, and he will not apologize for that.

"I have nothing to hide," he said. "Of the 300 we started with, I had to ask some to step away, to honor the other 290. If one piece in the group is not perfect, it can screw the whole thing up."


. . .


"Standing in a freezing river and eating a fish, or climbing a mountain with a wet bear fur on my back -- those were some of the most difficult sequences for me," said Mr. DiCaprio, who is considered a strong contender for an Oscar nomination for his performance. "This entire movie was something on an entirely different level. But I don't want this to sound like a complaint. We all knew what we were signing up for. It was going to be in the elements, and it was going to be a rough ride."


. . .


In person, . . . , Mr. Iñárritu has the chilled-out affect of a man who meditates every day and loves long walks. The only hint of intensity, and just a tinge of anger, comes when he discusses other movies. Too many of them today are like the products of fast-food chains, he said, ordered up by corporations that prize predictability and sameness over all else.

"What about going to a restaurant to be surprised?" he all but shouted. "That's the risk that everybody avoids! In the context of cinema now, this movie is a bet."

Raised in Mexico City, Mr. Iñárritu, 52, is the son of a banker who would eventually file for bankruptcy and end up selling fruit and vegetables to hotels and restaurants. The younger Iñárritu started off as a radio host, playing music and writing provocative, comical sketches with a political bent. He studied theater and learned to direct by shooting brand-identity commercials for a television station. By the time he landed his first feature, "Amores Perros," released in 2000, he had spent hundreds of hours behind a camera. Then came "21 Grams" (2003), "Babel" (2006) and "Biutiful" (2010).



For the full story, see:

DAVID SEGAL. "That Bear and Other Threats." The New York Times, Arts&Leisure Section (Sun., DEC. 27, 2015): 1 & 20.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 22, 2015, and has the title "About That Bear: Alejandro G. Iñárritu Discusses Making 'The Revenant'.")






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 ne