Main


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 nearly 6,000 American cities.


. . .


Over a period of about nine months, the researchers found a sharp increase in the number of new projects posted during the first few days of school break periods. The spike, they suggest, is tied to people having more time to perform the administrative aspects of Kickstarter projects -- working on a manufacturing plan, say, or setting up a rewards schedule. While people may be using some stretches of free time to nurture those much lauded light bulb moments, the process of innovation also appears to require time to carry out execution-oriented tasks that are not particularly creative but still necessary to transform an idea into a product, the study indicates.



For the full story, see:

PHYLLIS KORKKI. "Applied Science; Good Ideas Need Time for Tedious Legwork." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., AUG. 16, 2015): 3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date AUG. 15, 2015, and has the title "Applied Science; Looking for a Breakthrough? Study Says to Make Time for Tedium.")


The academic paper summarized in the passages quoted above, is:

Agrawal, Ajay, Christian Catalini, and Avi Goldfarb. "Slack Time and Innovation." Rotman School of Management Working Paper #2599004, April 25, 2015.






February 11, 2016

Those on the Scene Matter for Outcome of Crisis



Amanda Ripley has argued that in many disasters, it is not the well-trained "first responders" who matter most for the outcome, but those who happen to be close to the scene. The problem is that often the "first responders" do not arrive soon enough to save lives or head off the crisis. The story sketched in the passages quoted below, seems to be another example for her thesis.



(p. B1) "We had a one-minute warning," recalled Dr. Lax, a mathematician who was the director of the university's computer center at the time. "The son of a friend ran in" and shouted that the demonstrators were coming for the computer, he said. "It was too late to call the police and fortify."


. . .


Jürgen Moser, a mathematician who was the director of the Courant Institute, the university's prestigious math research center, tried to stop the demonstrators when they swarmed into Warren Weaver Hall. According to a chapter in a biography of Dr. Lax by Reuben Hersh, Dr. Moser, who died in 1999, said he was "pushed and shoved around, and was unable to deter them."


. . .


After a two-day occupation, the protesters decided to end the takeover. But they did not carry out everything they had taken in, as two assistant professors, Frederick P. Greenleaf and Emile C. Chi, discovered when they ran in.

"We thought, 'Let's go take a look before the place gets locked down,' " Dr. Greenleaf recalled last week. "They had knocked the doorknobs off the door so you couldn't open it."

But there was a small window, high up in the door, and they peered in. "We could see there was an improvised toilet paper fuse," he said. "It was slowly burning its way to a bunch of containers, bigger than gallon jugs. They were sitting on the top of the computer."


. . .


Already, he said, smoke was curling under the door.

He and Professor Chi grabbed a fire extinguisher in the stairwell.

The only way to douse the fuse was to aim the fire extinguisher under the door. The only way to know where to aim it was to look through the window in the door, which was too high for whoever was operating the fire extinguisher to look through and aim at the same time.

So one functioned as the eyes for the pair, sighting through the window and directing the other to point the fire extinguisher up or down or left or right. "In a minute, we had managed to spritz the fuse," Dr. Greenleaf said.



For the full story, see:

JAMES BARRON. "Grace Notes; The Mathematicians Who Saved a Kidnapped N.Y.U. Computer." The New York Times (Mon., DEC. 7, 2015): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 6, 2015, and has the title "Grace Notes; The Mathematicians Who Ended the Kidnapping of an N.Y.U. Computer.")


The Ripley book mentioned above, is:

Ripley, Amanda. The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes - and Why. New York: Crown Publishers, 2008.






February 10, 2016

Serendipitous Fix for Colorblindness



(p. 3) The eyeglass lenses that Don McPherson invented were meant for surgeons. But through serendipity he found an entirely different use for them: as a possible treatment for colorblindness.

Mr. McPherson is a glass scientist and an avid Ultimate Frisbee player. He discovered that the lenses he had invented, which protect surgeons' eyes from lasers and help them differentiate human tissue, caused the world at large to look candy-colored -- including the Frisbee field.

At a tournament in Santa Cruz, Calif., in 2002, while standing on a grassy field dotted with orange goal-line cones, he lent a pair of glasses with the lenses to a friend who happened to be colorblind. "He said something to the effect of, 'Dude, these are amazing,' " Mr. McPherson says. "He's like, 'I see orange cones. I've never seen them before.' "

Mr. McPherson was intrigued. He said he did not know the first thing about colorblindness, but felt compelled to figure out why the lenses were having this effect. Mr. McPherson had been inserting the lenses into glasses that he bought at stores, then selling them through Bay Glass Research, his company at the time.

Mr. McPherson went on to study colorblindness, fine-tune the lens technology and start a company called EnChroma that now sells glasses for people who are colorblind. His is among a range of companies that have brought inadvertent or accidental inventions to market. Such inventions have included products as varied as Play-Doh, which started as a wallpaper cleaner, and the pacemaker, discovered through a study of hypothermia.


. . .


EnChroma was still struggling to solve its marketing conundrum when another serendipitous event occurred: A paint company wanted to finance an ad campaign featuring the glasses. The idea was to introduce color to the colorblind. To that end, videos were made of EnChroma users wearing the glasses for the first time while looking at things like sunsets, colorful artwork and, of course, paint samples.

The ad campaign increased EnChroma's sales and spurred a trend: New EnChroma customers began filming and sharing their experiences online. The company placed inserts in its eyeglass boxes encouraging customers to participate.

Prompted by the insert, Bob Balcom, a 60-year-old retired high school science teacher and labor relations specialist in Chatham, N.Y., uploaded his first YouTube video in March. Shot by his wife, it shows Mr. Balcom putting the glasses over his own eyeglasses and staring up at the sky quietly for several seconds. "The blue sky is deeper than I've ever seen," he says. "It reminds me of Colorado. And the pine trees, they're just so green." Tears stream down his cheeks and into his gray beard.



For the full story, see:

CLAIRE MARTIN. "Finding a Niche for the Accidental Spectacles." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., AUG. 16, 2015): 3.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date AUG. 15, 2015, and has the title "EnChroma's Accidental Spectacles Find Niche Among the Colorblind." )






February 9, 2016

Canadian Cartel Seizes 20,400 Pounds of Robert Hodge's Maple Syrup



Video interviews related to the New York Times article quoted below.



(p. B1) The scenic and narrow lane that leads to Robert Hodge's sugar camp is surrounded by a cat's cradle of plastic piping that draws sap from 12,000 trees. At the end of the lane, a ramshackle hut contains reverse osmosis pumps to concentrate the harvest. A stainless steel evaporator, about the size of a truck, finishes the conversion into maple syrup.

Just one thing is missing: the maple syrup.

For weeks, security guards, hired by the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers, kept watch over Mr. Hodge's farm. Then one day, the federation seized 20,400 pounds of maple syrup, his entire annual production, worth about 60,000 Canadian dollars, or nearly $46,000.

The incident was part of the escalating battle with farmers like Mr. Hodge who break the law by not participating in the federation's tightly controlled production and sales system.

"It's a good thing that I'm not 35, 40 years old because I'd pack up all my sugar equipment that's movable, and I'd go to the United States -- oh yes, in a minute, in a minute," said Mr. Hodge, 68.

While many Americans associate Vermont with maple syrup, Quebec is its center. The province's trees produce more than 70 (p. 4) percent of the world's supply and fill the majority of the United States' needs. The federation, in turn, has used that dominance to restrict supply and control prices of the pancake topping.


. . .


Mr. Hodge is similarly intransigent. At this point in the season, Mr. Hodge would normally have sold his syrup, turning his attention to his cattle and other crops. But this year he had nothing to sell. He contends that farmers should be allowed to set their own level of production and sell directly to large buyers, regardless of what the law says.

"They call us rebels, say we're in a sugar war or something. I've heard rumors of that," said Mr. Hodge, at his farm in Bury, Quebec.

"Yeah, I guess you could call it that."

Across the table, Whitney, his 20-year-old daughter, who also farms, looked up from her smartphone and interjected.

"A war over maple syrup, like how pathetic can you get?"


. . .


Prices are set by the federation, in negotiation with a buyers' group. The federation holds most of the power, given that it controls a majority of the world's production.

Such domestic systems are facing scrutiny in a global marketplace. One major hurdle in the talks over the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a major trade deal with 12 countries, has been Canada's refusal to dismantle a similar quota system for dairy and poultry farmers.

Maple syrup buyers, including some American companies, have bristled at the federation's tactics. They appreciate the steady supply. But some have taken issue with the aggressive enforcement efforts, including large fines for companies buying from Quebec producers outside the system, and the rising prices.

The situation, critics contend, could prompt buyers and producers to shift to the neighboring province of New Brunswick, and Vermont in the United States. Or consumers might simply pour artificial syrup instead.

"People will always eat chicken," said Antoine Aylwin, a Montreal lawyer who has represented several buyers in disputes with the federation, including some American companies. "But they will not always eat maple syrup if they think that they can't afford it."

Defying the Law

Mr. Hodge was shocked in 2009 when the federation demanded 278,000 Canadian dollars for not joining the system and for selling directly to a buyer in Ontario.

Most years, Mr. Hodge's sugar bush grosses about 50,000 Canadian dollars. About half the money goes to cover electricity for the vacuum pumps and oil for the evaporator.

"I'd have to give them 100 percent of what I gross for five years, and I would have nothing for production cost," he said. "That just ain't possible."

Mr. Hodge openly acknowledges that he is defying the law. When the quota and centralized selling system were introduced, he continued to sell directly to a buyer in Ontario.


. . .


Like others who have invoked the federation's wrath, Mr. Hodge's battle seems as much about principle as avoiding a potentially crippling fine.

In Mr. Hodge's view, the system's restrictions are stunting the growth of Quebec's industry. It is less bureaucratic and less expensive, he explains, for buyers to go to Vermont or New Brunswick. He said that he had no problem with paying the federation its 12 cents a pound tax for various services, like promoting maple syrup in new markets, particularly in Asia. But he will not adhere to the quotas.

"Well, I don't accept the system because I don't believe in not being able to sell our product," he said. "We just think that that product is ours. We bought the land. We've done all the work. Why should we not be able to sell our product the way we want as long as we legitimately put it on our income tax?"

That's a question that exasperates Mr. Trépanier of the federation. While Mr. Trépanier studiously avoids calling the organization a cartel, he has described it as the OPEC of maple syrup in the past, referring to the group of oil-producing countries. The system, he said, is doomed to collapse without production discipline.



For the full story, see:

IAN AUSTEN. "The Maple Syrup Mavericks." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., AUG. 23, 2015): 1 & 4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date AUG. 20, 2015, and has the title "Canadian Maple Syrup 'Rebels' Clash With Law.")






February 8, 2016

Only a Founder Has the Moral Authority to Shake Up a Company



(p. B1) SAN FRANCISCO -- Shortly after Twitter's board of directors began its search for a new chief executive in June [2015], it said it would only accept someone willing to commit to the job full time. It was a not-so-subtle message to Twitter's co-founder and interim boss, Jack Dorsey, that he would have to give up his job running Square, a mobile payments start-up, if he wanted to run Twitter on a permanent basis.

On Monday [Oct. 5, 2015], the eight-member board reversed itself, announcing that it had decided to allow Mr. Dorsey, its chairman, to head both companies after all.


. . .


(p. B8) This is Mr. Dorsey's second go-round as Twitter's chief executive.

Evan Williams, a board member and co-founder of Twitter who was instrumental in firing him in 2008, noted that the board considered many candidates before settling on Mr. Dorsey.

"I honestly didn't think we'd land on Jack when we started unless he could step away from Square," Mr. Williams wrote in a post on Medium, the social media site he now runs. "But ultimately, we decided it was worth it."

In the end, Mr. Dorsey made a compelling case that he had matured and grown as a leader and that only a founder would have the moral authority to truly shake up a company that has been struggling to attract new users and compete for advertising dollars.



For the full story, see:

VINDU GOEL and MIKE ISAAC. "Delegating, Dorsey Will Lead Twitter and Square." The New York Times (Tues., OCT. 6, 2015): B1 & B8.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 5, 2015, and has the title "Delegating, Jack Dorsey Will Lead Twitter and Square.")






January 31, 2016

Founder Title Gives Dorsey "the Leeway to Make Significant Changes"



(p. B1) Twitter Inc. is handing the chief executive reins back to Jack Dorsey, entrusting its founding architect to reassure investors and revive the social-media service's sagging user growth.


. . .


(p. B10) Company insiders say there was nothing interim about the way Mr. Dorsey carried himself since July 1, when Dick Costolo stepped down as CEO. He initiated debates about fundamental product features, including Twitter's trademark 140-character limit per tweet. He frequently sends companywide emails late at night, which include news stories that highlight Twitter's value in the world. These messages and his close involvement have shifted the tone and boosted morale, according to these people.


. . .


His reputation as a product visionary will be tested as he tackles his priority: to figure out how to make Twitter easy enough to use by anyone. More than his product ideas, however, Mr. Currie endorsed Mr. Dorsey's leadership skills as the reason the board decided to bring him back on a permanent basis.

In the eyes of employees and users, the founder title gives him the leeway to make significant changes that weren't afforded by Mr. Costolo.



For the full story, see:


YOREE KOH. "Dorsey Is CEO of Twitter Once Again." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Oct. 6, 2015): B1 & B10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Oct. 5, 2015, and has the title "Twitter Names Co-Founder Jack Dorsey CEO.")






January 30, 2016

Some Heroes Are Punished for Doing What Is Right



At some point in the last few months watched, and jotted a few notes, on a C-SPAN presentation by Ralph Peters related to his historical novel Valley of the Shadow, that I caught part of. C-SPAN lists the show as first airing on June 23, 2015. My attention was drawn when Peters started talking about Lew Wallace. I had a minor curiosity about Lew Wallace for two obscure reasons. The first is that in young adulthood my favorite actor was Charlton Heston, one of whose most notable movies was Ben Hur, which was based on a novel by Lew Wallace. The other was that as an adult Lew Wallace lived in Crawfordsville, Indiana where there is still a small museum in his old study, a museum that holds memorabilia related to the Heston Ben Hur movie. The reason I know about the museum is that I graduated from Wabash College, which is also located in Crawfordsville, Indiana.

Peters said that he was fascinated by forgotten figures and that one of these was Lew Wallace. According to Peters, Lew Wallace saved the union during the Civil War. A confederate general named Jubal Early would have seized Washington, D.C., if Wallace and an officer named Jim Ricketts had not taken the initiative to lead a force to stop Early. For doing what had to be done, Wallace risked court martial, and Wallace was indeed fired from the army. After Ricketts gave a full account of what had happened, Wallace was re-instated, but Lincoln did not approve of his receiving a new command. Peters said that this was because Wallace was unpopular with some powerful Indiana Republicans, and that Lincoln was facing an election in which he needed to win Indiana.

The above is a rough summary of Peters's account. I don't know if any of it is disputed by other experts. But it is a good story, and I hope that it is true.

The Peters historical novel discussed on C-SPAN, was:

Peters, Ralph. Valley of the Shadow: A Novel. New York: Forge Books, 2015.






January 28, 2016

Frustrating Failure to Cure Cancer



PiersonEmmaAndGrandfather2016-01-20.jpg"Emma Pierson as a child playing chess with her grandfather, whose cancer she is trying to fight." Source of caption: print version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. D4) . . . in the four years since I learned I carried a BRCA mutation, I have watched my attempts to do something about it repeatedly miss the mark. I joined a laboratory to do cancer research, but the paper we wrote had little to do with cancer; I joined a company that offered the cheapest BRCA tests on the market, and its service was shut down a month after I arrived. I am 24 years old; at 25, I will have to choose between aggressive screening and prophylactic mastectomy. I had hoped to use my brain to protect my body, but I am running out of time.

If life's complexities confound a 20-year-old's desperate idealism, cancer's do as well. The more I learn, the more I worry that we may never find a singular cure for cancer: that each cancer's unique biological filigree necessitates a brutal and byzantine combination of treatments.

I also worry that the end goal is so far away that we sometimes lose sight of its importance, and view biological research as a competitive game rather than a means of saving lives. I feared being the worst student in my first cancer class, even though a roomful of researchers better than I am is exactly what I should want. Since then, I've seen many indications of the competitiveness in cancer research -- a teacher who made us promise not to steal other students' final projects, scientists who snipe at one another or falsify work -- that make me think I am not the only one who sometimes forgets what is at stake.


. . .


I am not going to cure cancer, not even the BRCA cancers. And I am going to watch the people I love die from diseases I cannot understand or prevent. I would be lying if I told you I have made my peace with that. It gives me hope only to fight, as my grandfather did, for futures unseen: to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.



For the full commentary, see:

EMMA PIERSON. "Leaving No Move Untried." The New York Times (Tues., Dec.. 1, 2015): D4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date NOV. 30, 2015, and has the title "Seeking a Cancer-Free World." The last words in Pierson's commentary quote the final line of Alfred Lord Tennyson's great poem "Ulysses.")






January 27, 2016

Hiring Based on What People Can Do, Instead of Their Credentials



(p. B4) Compose Inc. asks a lot of job applicants. Anyone who wants to be hired at the San Mateo, Calif., cloud-storage firm must write a short story about data, spend a day working on a mock project and complete an assignment.

There is one thing the company doesn't ask for: a résumé.

Compose is among a handful of companies trying to judge potential hires by their abilities, not their résumés. So-called "blind hiring" redacts information like a person's name or alma mater, so that hiring managers form opinions based only on that person's work. In other cases, companies invite job candidates to perform a challenge--writing a software program, say--and bring the top performers in for interviews or, eventually, job offers.

Bosses say blind hiring reveals true talents and results in more diverse hires. And the notion that career success could stem from what you know, and not who you know, is a tantalizing one.


. . .


"We were hiring people who were more fun for us to talk to," says Mr. Mackey. Trouble was, they were often a poor fit for the job, according to the CEO.

So the company, which was acquired by International Business Machines Corp. last year, added an anonymous sample project to the hiring process. Prospective hires spend about four to six hours performing a task similar to what they would do at Compose--writing a marketing blog post for a technical product, for example.


. . .


The sample projects have unearthed hires who have turned out to be top performers, says Mr. Mackey.



For the full story, see:

RACHEL FEINTZEIG. "Why Bosses Are Turning to 'Blind Hiring'." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Jan. 6, 2016): B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Jan. 5, 2016, and has the title "The Boss Doesn't Want Your Résumé.")






January 24, 2016

"Hey You, Get Busy" Bolted in Place



(p. D8) Most scientists rely on grants from the federal government and private foundations to finance their work. Michael W. Davidson turned to neckties.

Mr. Davidson, who died on Dec. 24 [2015] at 65, used sophisticated microscopes to create stunning, psychedelic images of crystallized substances like DNA and hormones, and he contributed to Nobel Prize-honored research about the inner workings of cells. His images were on the covers of scientific journals and, as unlikely as it might seem, on neckwear.

They found their way into men's apparel in the early 1990s, when Mr. Davidson called Irwin Sternberg, the president of the necktie company Stonehenge Ltd., proposing a series of ties using his ultramagnified, wildly colorful images of vitamins. Mr. Sternberg, though skeptical, agreed to take a look.

"When I saw Michael's work, I started to think I couldn't get a designer more talented," Mr. Sternberg said in an interview.

Stonehenge released a line of "vitamin ties" in September 1993. A year later, neckties with Mr. Davidson's images of moon rocks were released on the 25th anniversary of Apollo 11, the first manned lunar mission. Ties with images of cocktails, beer and wine followed. Millions of ties were sold, and a slice of the profits -- millions of dollars -- went to charity. Mr. Davidson's share went to his laboratory work at Florida State University in Tallahassee.


. . .


Mr. Davidson started college at Georgia Southern University, then attended Oglethorpe University in Georgia before earning a chemistry degree at Georgia State.

He arrived at Florida State in the early 1980s as a graduate student. He quit to start a business chrome-plating auto parts.

A few years later, Mr. Davidson returned to Florida State as a microscopy technician for a materials research laboratory. "He just came in and said, 'I think there are things we can do,' and he got hired," said Kirby Kemper, a retired Florida State physics professor who was then associate chairman of the physics department.

To produce his work, Mr. Davidson hired an army of assistants. Some were undergraduates. Others were out of school with no credentials in the field. But the work helped propel many of them to successful jobs in academia and industry.

Eric Clark had been a nurse when Mr. Davidson hired him as an assistant in 1999. Now, as an application developer, he is continuing Mr. Davidson's educational website and scientific illustration operations. (The molecular biology laboratory was disbanded.)

Mr. Davidson worked seven days a week, and he expected the same of the people who worked with him. On his door was a large metal sign that said, "Hey you, get busy." MagLab officials told him to take it down. Mr. Davidson bolted it in place, and it is still there.



For the full obituary, see:

KENNETH CHANG. "Michael W. Davidson, 65, a Scientist Who Had an Artist's Eye for Detail." The New York Times (Sat., JAN. 16, 2016): D8.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date JAN. 12, 2016, and has the title "Michael W. Davidson, a Success in Microscopes and Neckwear, Dies at 65.")






January 22, 2016

Regulations Slow Eradication of Cancer



(p. D3) . . . the triumph of chemotherapy for Hodgkin's and then for many other tumors opened an interlocking series of dilemmas. In the clinic and the hospital, the new protocols demanded that doctors muster the courage to make their patients very sick in order to make them well. But how sick was too sick? The risks and benefits of the powerful treatments now needed careful, deliberate assessment at every stage of the disease.

Similar questions dogged those who developed, evaluated and regulated the drugs. How poisonous could these agents safely be? How assiduously should desperate patients be saved by their government from pharmaceutical risk?

Dr. DeVita stands firmly among those affirming cancer patients' right to aggressive treatment. One particular exchange summarizes his philosophy: "Do your patients speak to you after you do this to them?" one skeptic asked him early on. "The answer is yes," he replied, "and for a lot longer."

The regulatory caution of the Food and Drug Administration has been a thorn in his side for decades: "I'd like to be able to say that as cancer drugs have become increasingly more complex and sophisticated, the F.D.A. has as well. But it has not." In fact, he writes, "the rate-limiting step in eradicating cancer today is not the science but the regulatory environment we work in."



For the full review, see:

ABIGAIL ZUGER, M.D. "An Unbowed Warrior." The New York Times (Tues., Dec.. 1, 2015): D3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date NOV. 30, 2015, and has the title "Review: Science and Politics Collide in 'The Death of Cancer'.")


The book under review, is:

DeVita, Vincent T., and Elizabeth DeVita-Raeburn. The Death of Cancer: After Fifty Years on the Front Lines of Medicine, a Pioneering Oncologist Reveals Why the War on Cancer Is Winnable--and How We Can Get There. New York: Sarah Crichton Books, 2015.






January 19, 2016

Private Start-Ups Pursue Fusion Approaches Ignored by Government



(p. B5) Fusion reactions release no carbon dioxide. Their fuel, derived from water, is abundant. Compared with contemporary nuclear reactors, which produce energy by splitting atoms apart, a fusion plant would produce little radioactive waste.

The possibilities have attracted Jeffrey P. Bezos, founder of Amazon.com. He has invested in General Fusion, a start-up in British Columbia, through Bezos Expeditions, the firm that manages his venture capital investments. Paul Allen, a co-founder of Microsoft, is betting on another fusion company, Tri Alpha Energy, based in Foothill Ranch, Calif., an hour south of Los Angeles, through his venture arm, Vulcan Capital.

Peter Thiel -- the co-founder of PayPal, who once lamented the superficiality of the technology sector by saying, "We were promised flying cars and we got 140 characters" -- has invested in a third fusion start-up, Helion Energy, based near Seattle, through Mithril Capital Management.

Government money fueled a surge in fusion research in the 1970s, but the fusion budget was cut nearly in half over the next decade. Federal research narrowed on what scientists saw as the most promising prototype -- a machine called a tokamak, which uses magnets to contain and fuse a spinning, doughnut-shape cloud of hydrogen.

Today's start-ups are trying to perfect some of the ideas that the government left by the wayside.

After earning his doctorate from the University of California, Irvine, in the mid-1990s, Michl Binderbauer had trouble securing federal funds to research an alternative approach to fusion that the American government briefly explored -- one that adds the element boron into the hydrogen fuel. The advantage of the mixture is that the reaction does not fling off neutrons that, like shrapnel, can wear down machine parts and make them radioactive.

Mr. Binderbauer, along with his Ph.D. adviser, Norman Rostoker, founded Tri Alpha Energy, eventually raising money from the venture capital arms of Mr. Allen and the Rockefeller family. The company has raised over $200 million.



For the full story, see:

DINO GRANDONI. "Start-Ups Take on Challenge of Fusion." The New York Times (Mon., OCT. 26, 2015): B1 & B5.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 25, 2015, and has the title "Start-Ups Take On Challenge of Nuclear Fusion.")






January 16, 2016

Parents Set Up For-Profit Companies for Quicker Cures



(p. B1) Karen Aiach was working as a management consultant when she learned that her first daughter, Ornella, had Sanfilippo syndrome, a rare disease in which a missing enzyme causes toxic substances to build up in the body.

Ornella was 6 months old, and the prognosis was grim: She would develop mentally and physically to between ages 2 and 4, plateau and then lose whatever she had learned. She would become extremely hyperactive and develop sleeping disorders. Most likely she would not live past 15.

Within two years of the diagnosis, Ms. Aiach, who lives in a Paris suburb, had quit her consulting job to learn everything she could about the disease. She hired a neurobiologist to guide her in the world of medical research. And when she learned that few treatments were in the works, she founded a company called Lysogene to focus on genetic therapy.

Instead of raising money and awareness by setting up a nonprofit foundation, a more typical route, she opted to start a for-profit company to seek treatments, if not a cure. Far from common, what Ms. Aiach and other parents like her are trying is to leverage their wealth, contacts and the hope of sophisticated investors to jump-start research into rare diseases.


. . .


(p. B4) . . . with some rare diseases, where minimal research has been done, a little effort goes a long way.

Nicole Boice, who founded Global Genes, one of the leading rare-disease patient advocacy organizations, said even small investments can have meaningful impacts.

"You can start moving the needle with $3,500," she said. "That leads you to the next $25,000, and then to innovation grants and funding at $100,000. That starts the interest from biotech."

Gradually, parents like Matt Wilsey, a technology entrepreneur, have made headway. First, his family spent the better part of four years trying to figure out what afflicted his daughter, Grace, now 6. Even after her genome was sequenced, the first diagnosis turned out to be wrong. Grace, it finally was determined, was the second person in the world known to have a deficiency in the gene known as NGLY1.

"We went around the country," Mr. Wilsey said. "We were just trying to find one doctor who had seen another patient with these symptoms." After years of efforts, several dozen children have been found to have the same deficiency.

"Our goal is to find a cure," said Mr. Wilsey, who lives in the San Francisco area.

"A lot of people in science dismiss that because cures are rare. But when I say cures, they're not going to be astronauts. They're going to be leading some sort of independent life. They're going to be able to eat without choking. They're going to be able to take a bath without drowning. They're going to be able to communicate, whether with some assistive device or not."

These parents also had a successful model to follow. In 1998, John Crowley left his job at Bristol-Myers Squibb to start a biotechnology company to search for a treatment for Pompe disease, a neuromuscular disorder that two of his children had. Within four years, the company, Novazyme Pharmaceuticals, had devised a treatment that he credits with saving their lives. His story was immortalized in the 2010 film "Extraordinary Measures," starring Harrison Ford. And his company was bought by the pharmaceutical giant Genzyme for $137.5 million in 2001.



For the full story, see:

PAUL SULLIVAN. "Wealth Matters; Parents of Children With Rare Diseases Find Hope in For-Profit Companies." The New York Times (Sat., DEC. 26, 2015): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 25, 2015, and has the title "Wealth Matters; Building a Company to Treat a Rare Disease.")






January 15, 2016

The Bet in Alphabet Is that Autonomy Will Work



(p. B4) To see how Google Inc. Chief Executive Larry Page hopes to turbocharge a growing fleet of speculative projects under a new holding company, look at Nest Labs.

After Google acquired the maker of connected-home devices for $3.2 billion in 2014, Nest kept its own recruiters and its own system for vetting job candidates, skirting Google's famously deliberate hiring process. Nest still rents computer servers from Amazon.com Inc., rather than use Google's data centers. Nest co-founder and CEO Tony Fadell also curbed some Google perks, such as free food, to maintain Nest's scrappy vibe.

Mr. Fadell and co-founder Matt Rogers negotiated unusual autonomy for Nest. Now, as Google reorganizes and creates a new parent company, Alphabet Inc., it is using Nest as a model for running its other startup operations--the "bets" in Alphabet--according to people familiar with the plan.

The restructuring separates Google's core businesses--including Internet search, the Android operating system and YouTube--from newer unrelated businesses such as Nest, Google Life Sciences and Fiber, the fast Internet service. Mr. Page will remain CEO of the Alphabet holding company, but step back from running Google's core to oversee the other units, which will operate more independently.


. . .


"If Google can deliver more broadly what it gave Nest, that predicts success for the rest of the Alphabet projects," said Max Levchin, a co-founder of PayPal Holdings Inc. who spent more than a year at Google after it bought his social startup Slide in 2010.



For the full story, see:

ALISTAIR BARR. "At Google, Breathing Room for New Ideas." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Oct. 2, 2015): B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Oct. 1, 2015, and has the title "At Google, Breathing Room for New Ideas.")






January 14, 2016

Koch Employees Motivated by the Fulfillment of Meaningful Work



(p. A11) . . . , Mr. Koch defines "principled entrepreneurship" as the effort to maximize profit by "creating superior value," as well as by "acting lawfully and with integrity." What is good for business, he says, is good for society--another aspect of good profit.

The culture of a company is formed, Mr. Koch observes, when employees internalize such principles and practices. Although employees should be urged, he says, to be agents of change, to think critically and, when necessary, to challenge the decisions of their bosses, they will find that their most significant motivation is a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment. "We cannot ignite a passion for creating the greatest value," Mr. Koch writes, "if there is no meaning in our work."



For the full review, see:

JOSEPH MACIARIELLO. "BOOKSHELF; The Company He Keeps; Respect means treating people on their merits--not according to the rigid categories of identity politics. Merit will always create value." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Oct. 23, 2015): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 22, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Koch, Charles G. Good Profit: How Creating Value for Others Built One of the World's Most Successful Companies. New York: Crown Business, 2015.






January 13, 2016

Focused Investing by Entrepreneurs Can Create Illiquid Wealth that Is Large But Precarious



The implications of the point made in the passages quoted below, were boldly drawn out by George Gilder in his article "The Enigma of Entrepreneurial Wealth."



(p. B4) Wealth-X found that from July 2014 to July 2015, 45 percent of the ultrawealthy in the United States lost some part of their wealth; 11 percent lost more than half of it.

The reasons for the drop in wealth differed. But why so many ultra-wealthy people -- defined as those with more than $30 million -- lost so much of their wealth so quickly offers lessons in financial management, no matter how much money you have.

Sure, this group still has a lot of money. But those who lost a lot of money made similar mistakes: Too much of their money was tied up in one investment and too little of their money was in cash or some other liquid investment. And too often, they didn't think enough about the likelihood that something could go wrong.


. . .


"A lot of people have this view that wealth is inherited," said Mykolas Rambus, chief executive of Wealth-X. "That's very much not the case." Most are successful entrepreneurs who built fortunes, he said, "And most of their money is in privately held companies, not your Googles and Facebooks."

He said 75 percent of the world's wealth, when real estate is included, was privately held.

In the period examined by Wealth-X, overconcentration and illiquidity were big factors when someone lost a fortune.

Curtis James Jackson III, better known as the rapper 50 Cent, was worth $240 million in May 2014 and about $50 million last month, according to Wealth-X. The precipitous drop was caused almost entirely by the falling values of four of his companies, with interests ranging from clothing to film production. They declined to $7.2 million from $150 million in 12 months, according to Wealth-X's research.

The same could be said for Mr. Charney, who was ousted from his company American Apparel, which later filed for bankruptcy protection. His share of the company was estimated at over $65 million in May 2014 and is now virtually worthless. At American Apparel's height, in 2007, Forbes put Mr. Charney's stake at $550 million.

"Every financial adviser in the United States says you've got to diversify," Mr. Rambus said. "There is a lesson here about volatility and concentration. Rewind to the dot-com crash. There were plenty of folks who were seriously overexposed to tech and lost their shirts."

But there's a paradox here. Generally, it was overconcentration in one, illiquid company -- whose value rose exponentially -- that made people ultrawealthy in the first place.



For the full story, see:

PAUL SULLIVAN . "Wealth Matters; Reversal of Fortunes for Some Superrich." The New York Times (Sat., DEC. 12, 2015): B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 11, 2015, and has the title "Wealth Matters; The Bad Fortune of Some Ultrawealthy People.")


The Gilder article praised above, is:

Gilder, George. "The Enigma of Entrepreneurial Wealth." Inc. 14, no. 10 (Oct. 1992): 161-64, 66 & 68.






January 12, 2016

North Dakota Plans a Drone Silicon Valley



For many years state governments and universities have been trying to plan the creation of new Silicon Valleys in their own backyards. Success has been elusive. Now North Dakota is tying to create a drone Silicon Valley. My take: Silicon Valleys cannot be planned, though they can be encouraged by low taxes and limited regulations.



(p. A1) FARGO, N.D. -- "California and New York want what we've got," said Shawn Muehler, a 30-year-old Fargo resident, gazing at a horizon of empty fields, silos, windbreak trees and hardly any people. A winged craft traces the air, mapping a field with pinpoint accuracy for his start-up, a drone software company called Botlink. "They like drones, but they've got a steep learning curve ahead."

For years, entrepreneurs have come here to farm and to drill for oil and natural gas. Now a new, tech-savvy generation is grabbing a piece of the growing market for drone technology and officials want to help them do it here, where there is plenty of open space and -- unlike in other sparsely populated states -- lots of expertise already in place.

Silicon Valley has the big money and know-how, Mr. Muehler and others say, but North Dakota can take unmanned aerial vehicles, as the officials prefer to call drones, from a fast-growing hobby to an industry. And just as Silicon Valley got its start with military contracts, entrepreneurs and cooperative universities, they believe they can do the same with drones.

"The potential up here is tremendous," said Jack Dalrymple, the state's governor. "It's not about supporting a company or two; it's creating the leading edge of an industry."

North Dakota has spent about (p. B7) $34 million fostering the state's unmanned aerial vehicle business, most notably with a civilian industrial park for drones near Grand Forks Air Force Base. The base, a former Cold War installation, now flies nothing but robot aircraft for the United States military and Customs and Border Protection.



For the full story, see:

QUENTIN HARDY. "A Silicon Valley for Drone Craft in Great Plains." The New York Times (Sat., DEC. 26, 2015): A1 & B7.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 25, 2015, and has the title "A Silicon Valley for Drones, in North Dakota.")






January 11, 2016

Entrepreneurs Who Pay Taxes "Expect Services--Like Justice"



(p. B3) ATHENS -- Demetri Politopoulos, the founder of a midsize beer producer in northern Greece, says he nearly fainted when he heard the news late one night in October.

The Greek Parliament was planning to pass a law that would increase the tax he paid for each hectoliter of beer he sold by 50 percent.

Just like that, the microbrewery he started 17 years ago would go under, as his new tax bill of 1.6 million euros would wipe out his expected 1.45 million euros in profit for the year.


. . .


He started his business in 1998, but even as demand for his Vergina beer grew, his share of the market stayed in the low single-digits as the market leader did all in its power to prevent shops and restaurants from selling his product.


. . .


In 2005, Mr. Politopoulos took his case to the Hellenic Republic Competition Commission, citing numerous examples of what he said were unfair business practices by Heineken, from persuading retailers to not stock Vergina to more serious examples of bullying and intimidation.

But as is often the case in Greece, his petition went nowhere.

With Greece under unremitting pressure to find new revenue sources, the idea to close the gap between the way small and large brewers are taxed may have seemed a good idea.

That is, until Mr. Politopoulos took the floor in Parliament on Nov. 2.

"We are proud to pay taxes in Greece, but this is going to put us out of business," he said. "And when we do pay our taxes, we expect services -- like justice. Without justice in a society, there is nothing."

His 10-minute declamation hit a cord. A video of the speech went viral and parliamentary members rallied to his cause.

Indeed, concerns are growing here that in a rush to raise much-needed revenue, Greece and its creditors are placing an unfair burden on an already decimated private sector.



For the full story, see:

LANDON THOMAS Jr. "A Greek Dvid Lands Some Big Punches." The New York Times (Sat., DEC. 12, 2015): B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 11, 2015, and has the title "In Greece, Brewer's Woes Reflect Struggle of Business Owners.")






January 5, 2016

Fewer Startups and Slower Growth Among the Fewer: Double Whammy to Economic Growth



(p. 7B) Previous studies have shown that, despite the success of firms like Facebook, the number of startups has dropped sharply, from about 13 percent of all firms in the late 1980s to about 8 percent in 2011. Now, a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research reports that the expansion of the remaining startups -- which traditionally has been much faster than the growth of existing companies -- has slowed considerably. By some measures, it now barely exceeds the average of older companies.

So there's a double whammy: fewer startups and slower growth among the survivors. This could be one reason why the recovery from the Great Recession has been so sluggish, with the economy's growth averaging about 2 percent annually from 2010 to 2014, much slower than earlier post-World War II recoveries.



For the full commentary, see:

Robert J. Samuelson. "Our rate of startups is stalling at an inopportune time." Omaha World-Herald (Sun., Dec. 20, 2015): 7B.


I strongly suspect, but am not sure, that the NBER working paper referred to above, is:

Decker, Ryan, John Haltiwanger, Ron Jarmin, and Javier Miranda. "Where Has All the Skewness Gone? The Decline in High-Growth (Young) Firms in the U.S." NBER Working Paper # 21776, Dec. 2015.






December 28, 2015

Process Innovations from "an Uber of Trucking" Can Increase Transport Efficiency



(p. B1) Investors are pouring millions of dollars into startups hoping to disrupt the $700 billion trucking industry, the latest example of Silicon Valley's efforts to upend the traditional economy.

A series of startups are vying to become an "Uber of trucking," leveraging truck drivers' smartphones to quickly connect them with nearby companies looking to ship goods. The upstarts aim to reinvent a fragmented U.S. trucking industry that has long relied on third-party brokers, essentially travel agents for trucking who connect truckers with customers.

Silicon Valley's interest in trucking has accelerated in recent months. San Francisco-based Trucker Path Inc. says it is aiming to reach a $1 billion valuation next year. The latest entrant, Seattle-based Convoy, said Tuesday it had raised $2.5 million in seed funding from investors including Amazon.com Inc. founder Jeff Bezos, Salesforce.com Inc. founder Marc Benioff, eBay Inc. founder Pierre Omidyar and Uber Technologies Inc. co-founder Garrett Camp.



For the full story, see:

JACK NICAS and LAURA STEVENS. "Startups Accelerate Efforts to Reinvent Trucking Industry." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Oct. 27, 2015): B1 & B6.






December 27, 2015

Disney Used Money from His Cartoons to Fund the "Audacious" Breakthrough Snow White



(p. C2) The 1920s were no doubt a time much like our own, full of people who could see ways to advance and exploit new technologies, and Disney was one of those. But plenty of people have ideas; only a few manage to make them reality. Like many an Internet entrepreneur, Disney was able to do so because of a combination of serendipity and tenacity. You can read a lot into that sketch of a mouse he came up with.

"He doesn't have the financial backing to support what it is he's doing," Carmenita Higginbotham, an art historian who teaches at the University of Virginia, says of his early career. "He wants to be a bigger voice than he is. And it's a perfect metaphor, him being this small mouse, this seemingly insignificant figure or individual within this big industry that he wants to break into."

The parallel to the Internet age is also evident in the speed of his ascension. His "Steamboat Willie" cartoon featuring Mickey Mouse in effect went viral after its premiere at the Colony Theater in New York in 1928, propelled by its innovative merging of image and sound.

That gave him enough credibility and money to try something audacious: "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," a project that, we're told, he outlined to his staff in 1934 by calling a meeting and enacting all the parts himself.

"What Disney was proposing had never been done, never even been tried: a feature-length, story-driven cartoon," says the narration, read by Oliver Platt. There followed a typical Hollywood story of cost overruns and jeopardized deadlines -- the animation technique used required more than 200,000 separate drawings.



For the full review, see:

NEIL GENZLINGER. "The Mind that Built the House of Mouse." The New York Times (Sat., SEPT. 12, 2015): C1-C2.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date SEPT. 11, 2015, and has the title "Review: PBS's 'Walt Disney' Explores a Complex Legacy.")

(Note: Genzlinger is reviewing the two part documentary on "Walt Disney" that aired on the "American Experience" series of PBS on Mon., Sept. 7 and Tues., Sept. 8, 2015.)






December 19, 2015

Venture Capital Backed Unicorns that Become Unicorpses



(p. 1) The technology industry's boom over the last few years has been defined by the rise of "unicorns," the private companies that investors have valued at $1 billion or more. Before the term came into vogue, LivingSocial was among the biggest unicorns of its day. It now offers a glimpse of what some of today's unicorns might look like several years down the road if things go awry.


. . .


Venture capitalists anointed daily deals as the way that the Internet would invade local business, and by late 2011 LivingSocial had raised more than $800 million and reached a valuation of $4.5 billion, according to data from the research firm VC Experts. The company counted Amazon and the mutual fund giant T. Rowe Price among its investors. LivingSocial spent heavily, blanketing the airwaves with TV ad campaigns. Riding a wave of momentum, the company explored going public.

Today, LivingSocial is more unicorpse than unicorn. The company never filed for an initial public offering and consumer fervor for daily deals has cooled. T. Rowe Price has written down its stake in LivingSocial to nearly zero, data from Morningstar shows. The company's work force has shrunk to around 800 employees from 4,500 at its peak in 2011. (Groupon, which did go public, is trading at more than 85 percent below its I.P.O. price.)


. . .


LivingSocial may soon have more company. There are now 142 unicorns that are together valued at around $500 billion, according to the research firm CB Insights. Some of those highly valued start-ups are starting to show some cracks.

Snapchat, the messaging company, and Dropbox, the online storage business, were recently marked down in value by mutual fund investors. Zenefits, a human resources start-up, has said it missed sales targets and that it is slowing its hiring. On Wednesday, the payments company Square, which was valued at $6 billion by private investors last year, priced its public offering at $2.9 billion. Silicon Valley venture capitalists such as Bill Gurley of Benchmark and Michael Moritz of Sequoia Capital have warned that a unicorn shakeout is coming.



For the full commentary, see:

MIKE ISAAC and KATIE BENNER. "LivingSocial Offers a Cautionary Tale to Today's Unicorns." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., NOV. 22, 2015): 1 & 9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated on NOV. 21, 2015. The wording of the last quoted sentence is slightly different in the print and online versions. The version above is the online version.)






December 18, 2015

Bezos Built Amazon with Methodical Patience



(p. B1) There is a simple explanation for Amazon's rise, and also a second, more complicated one. The simple story involves Amazon Web Services, the company's cloud-computing business, which rents out vast amounts of server space to other companies. Amazon began disclosing A.W.S.'s financial performance in April, and the numbers showed that selling server space was a much bigger business than anyone had realized. Deutsche Bank estimates that A.W.S., which is less than a decade old, could soon be worth $160 billion as a stand-alone company. That's more valuable than Intel.

Yet the disclosure of A.W.S.'s size has obscured a deeper change at Amazon. For years, observers have wondered if Amazon's shopping business -- you know, its main business -- could ever really work. Investors gave (p. B11) Mr. Bezos enormous leeway to spend billions building out a distribution-center infrastructure, but it remained a semi-open question if the scale and pace of investments would ever pay off. Could this company ever make a whole lot of money selling so much for so little?

As we embark upon another holiday shopping season, the answer is becoming clear: Yes, Amazon can make money selling stuff. In the flood of rapturous reviews from stock analysts over the company's earnings report last month, several noted that Amazon's retail operations had reached a "critical scale" or an "inflection point." They meant that Amazon's enormous investments in infrastructure and logistics have begun to pay off. The company keeps capturing a larger slice of American and even international purchases. It keeps attracting more users to its Prime fast-shipping subscription program, and, albeit slowly, it is beginning to scratch out higher profits from shoppers.


. . .


Why is Amazon so far ahead? It is difficult to resist marveling at the way Mr. Bezos has built his indomitable shopping machine, and the very real advantages in price and convenience that he has brought to America's national pastime of buying stuff. What has been key to this rise, and missing from many of his competitors' efforts, is patience. In a very old-fashioned manner, one that is far out of step with a corporate world in which milestones are measured every three months, Amazon has been willing to build its empire methodically and at great cost over almost two decades, despite skepticism from many sectors of the business world.



For the full commentary, see:

Manjoo, Farhad. "STATE OF THE ART; Long Game at Amazon Produces Juggernaut." The New York Times (Thurs., NOV. 19, 2015): B1 & B11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date NOV. 18, 2015, and has the title "STATE OF THE ART; How Amazon's Long Game Yielded a Retail Juggernaut.")






December 17, 2015

Do Entrepreneurial Results Excuse Entrepreneurial Arrogance?



(p. A1) Robert Whaley is a professor of finance at Vanderbilt University's Owen Graduate School of Management and the developer of the two major so-called fear indices -- the VIX and VXN on the Chicago Board Options Exchange -- that are used to make bets on market volatility.

READING Right now it's "Becoming Steve Jobs," by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli. It has a somewhat different take than Walter Isaacson's "Steve Jobs." I felt Isaacson's version was a little negative. But what the books have in common is that Jobs was sheer genius. So what if he was arrogant? Consider what he's done. We wouldn't have iPhones and iPads if it wasn't for his vision. I absolutely think that excuses his behavior. If everyone just wanted for people to look back and say you were kind, how would we move forward?



For the full interview, see:

KATE MURPHY. "Download: Robert Whaley." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., SEPT. 6, 2015): 2.

(Note: the bold above is in the original. The first paragraph quoted above was written by the interviewer Kate Murphy. The paragraph following the word "Reading" is the response by the interviewee Robert Whaley.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date SEPT. 5, 2015.)


The Steve Jobs books mentioned by Whaley, are:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

Schlender, Brent, and Rick Tetzeli. Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader. New York: Crown Business, 2015.






December 16, 2015

Those Who Try Japanese Toilets, Praise Them with "Cultish Devotion"



(p. D12) Last year, Bennett Friedman, who owns a plumbing showroom in Manhattan called AF New York, took a business trip to Milan. On the morning of his return he faced a choice: stop in the bathroom there or wait until he got home. The flight was nine hours. He waited.

The move seems almost masochistic. But in his home and office bathrooms, Mr. Friedman had installed a Toto washlet. To sit upon a standard commode, he said, would be like "going back to the Stone Age."

"It feels very uncivilized," he said.

For those who own Japanese toilets, there is a cultish devotion. They boast heated seats, a bidet function for a rear cleanse and an air-purifying system that deodorizes during use. The need for toilet paper is virtually eliminated (there is an air dryer) and "you left the lid up" squabbles need never take place (the seat lifts and closes automatically in many models).


. . .


Most washlet owners, then, are converted after trying one out in the world. At a boutique hotel, say, or on a trip to Asia.

Such was the case with Robert Aboulache. Before he and his family went on a vacation to Japan, he said, friends who had visited the country told him he would love the toilets. "I thought, 'How great can the toilets be?'" Mr. Aboulache said. "They were amazing. Some have noisemakers to cover up the sound. You can pivot that little sprayer. The water can be heated or not. We got home, and I thought, 'This is not the same.'"

Three days later, Mr. Aboulache went online and bought a Toto washlet, which he installed in the shared upstairs bathroom of his home in Los Angeles as a surprise for his wife and son.

"We've been delighted," he said. "It's our favorite toilet."


. . .


Mr. Friedman, too, is an enthusiastic proselytizer for washlets, in his showroom and out in social situations, something you gather he would do even if he didn't sell them.

Whenever he talks about their virtues, he said, "I feel like one of the Apostles passing the word of God."



For the full story, see:

STEVEN KURUTZ. "For Its Devotees, the Seat of Luxury." The New York Times (Thurs., NOV. 19, 2015): D12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 18, 2015, and has the title "The Cult of the Toto Toilet.")






December 14, 2015

Health Care Mandate "Freezes You at a Time When You Need to Be Moving Fast"



(p. B4) When LaRonda Hunter opened a Fantastic Sams hair salon 10 years ago in Saginaw, Tex., a suburb of Fort Worth, she envisioned it as the first of what would eventually be a small regional collection of salons. As her sales grew, so did her business, which now encompasses four locations -- but her plans for a fifth salon are frozen, perhaps permanently.

Starting in January, the Affordable Care Act requires businesses with 50 or more full-time-equivalent employees to offer workers health insurance or face penalties that can exceed $2,000 per employee. Ms. Hunter, who has 45 employees, is determined not to cross that threshold. Paying for health insurance would wipe out her company's profit and the five-figure salary she pays herself from it, she said.

"The margins are not big enough within our industry to support it," she said. "It's not that I don't want to -- I love my employees, and I want to do everything I can for them -- but the numbers just don't work."


. . .


For some business owners on the edge of the cutoff, the mandate is forcing them to weigh very carefully the price of growing bigger.

"There's kind of a deer-in-headlights moment for those who say, 'I have this new potential client, but if I bring them on, I have to hire five additional people,'" said Philip P. Noftsinger, the payroll unit president at CBIZ, a financial services provider for businesses. "They're really trying to assess how much the 50th employee is going to cost."


. . .


For businesses that use many seasonal, variable-hour or temporary workers, like those in the hospitality industry, simply figuring out how many qualifying employees they have can be a challenge.

"I think companies are going to have to work with their payroll processor for the basic data, and then their accountant or attorney about what certain items mean," Mr. Prince said.

The expense and distraction of all that paperwork is one of the biggest frustrations for one business owner, Joseph P. Sergio. His industrial cleaning company, Polar Clean, which is based in South Bend, Ind., but dispatches teams nationally, has just under 50 core employees. One of its business lines is disaster restoration, and after a flood or hurricane, its temporary staff balloons.

Mr. Sergio offers health insurance to his permanent staff, but the premiums have risen so quickly that he had to switch to a more restrictive plan, with a higher deductible. He is reluctant to go over the 50-employee line and incur all of the new rules that come with it. That makes bidding for new jobs an arduous and risky exercise.

"I've had to pull my controller and a couple of top people to sit and spend days going through this," he said. "If you ramp up, and it pushes you over 50, there's all these unknown costs and complicated rules. Are we really going to be able to benefit from going after that opportunity? It freezes you at a time when you need to be moving fast."



For the full story, see:

STACY COWLEY. "ENTREPRENEURSHIP; Health Care Law Leads Business Owners to Rethink Plans for Growth." The New York Times (Thurs., NOV. 19, 2015): B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 18, 2015, and has the title "ENTREPRENEURSHIP; Health Care Law Forces Businesses to Consider Growth's Costs.")






December 13, 2015

Quiet Author Founds Start-Up to Help Introverts



(p. 10) Last month, 50 executives from General Electric gathered on the fourth floor of a SoHo office building for a "fireside chat" with Susan Cain, the author of the 2012 book "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking," which has sold two million copies worldwide.


. . .


A talk about "Quiet" she gave at a 2012 TED conference has been viewed more than 11.6 million times online. And she has delivered more than 100 speeches since then, sometimes commanding five figures for an appearance. (She also does pro bono work, she stressed.)


. . .

"Writing a book is rewarding," Mr. Godin said he told her. "But it doesn't change most people's lives."

And so Ms. Cain, who has been coached in public speaking, is now promoting Quiet Revolution, a for-profit company she has started that is focused on the work, education and lifestyle of introverts, which she defines roughly as people who get their psychic energy from quiet reflection and solitude (not to be confused with people who are shy and become anxious in unfamiliar social situations). Extroverts, by contrast, thrive in crowds and have long been prized in society for their ability to command attention. Many people share attributes of both, she said.

Ms. Cain and Paul Scibetta, a former senior executive at J. P. Morgan Chase whom she met when they both worked at the law firm Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton in the 1990s, have set up a Quiet Leadership Institute, working with executives at organizations like NASA, Procter & Gamble and General Electric to help them better understand the strengths of their introverted employees.


. . .


Mike Erwin, a former professor of leadership and psychology at West Point who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, invited Ms. Cain to speak to cadets in 2012 after he finished reading "Quiet." He didn't understand students who were reticent to talk in class or who wanted to explore every risk before jumping into a task. "I'm an extrovert," he said. "And, as I look back at my career, I wrote off a lot of people who didn't speak up or want to be in charge."

In May, he was appointed chief executive of the Quiet Leadership Institute, where he is helping project managers at NASA learn how to lead teams populated with introverts (a common personality type in science). At Procter & Gamble, Mr. Erwin said, executives in research and development are exploring, among other things, how to help introverts become more confident leaders.



For the full story, see:

LAURA M. HOLSON. "Instigating a 'Quiet Revolution' of Introverts." The New York Times, SundayStyles Section (Sun., JULY 26, 2015): 10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JULY 25, 2015, and has the title "Susan Cain Instigates a 'Quiet Revolution' of Introverts.")


The Cain book mentioned above, is:

Cain, Susan. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. New York: Crown, 2012.






December 12, 2015

How Democratic Operatives Fight Innovation-Crushing Regulations



(p. B1) SAN FRANCISCO -- Over the last few years, so-called sharing companies like Airbnb and Uber -- online platforms that allow strangers to pay one another for a room or a ride -- have established footholds in thousands of communities well before local regulators have figured out how to deal with them.


. . .


Chris Lehane, a Washington political operative who now serves as Airbnb's head of global policy and public affairs, framed Proposition F (p. B10) as a hotel-industry-led attack on the middle class.

In this city of about 840,000 people, roughly $8 million was raised by groups opposed to Proposition F -- about eight times the amount raised by the proposition's backers, according to records filed with the San Francisco Ethics Commission.

Much of that money was spent mobilizing Airbnb hosts and users, Mr. Lehane said. Still, he repeatedly homed in on one of the company's most important talking points: Airbnb's victory was a win for the middle class.

"Cities recognize where the world is going, right, they understand that you're either going to go forward or you're going to go backward," he said. "They understand that in a time of economic inequality, this is a question of whose side are you on: Do you want to be on the side of the middle class, or do you want to be opposed to the middle class?"


. . .


Companies like Airbnb and Uber have become multibillion-dollar companies by employing a kind of guerrilla growth strategy in which they set up a modest team of workers in a city and immediately start providing their services to the public, whether local laws allow them to or not.


. . .


Mr. Lehane, a former political operative in the Clinton administration, was nicknamed the Master of Disaster for his no-holds-barred approach to winning political fights. David Plouffe, a former adviser to President Obama, is now a senior adviser to Uber and a member of its board.

Mr. Lehane and Mr. Plouffe have both tried to frame their companies as middle-class saviors in a moment of economic anxiety and income inequality -- themes that are playing out in the presidential election as well. Jeb Bush and other Republicans have bragged about their Uber rides on the campaign trail, praising these companies as the future of self-sufficient employment.



For the full story, see:

CONOR DOUGHERTY and MIKE ISAAC. "Airbnb and Uber Mobilize Vast User Base to Sway Policy." The New York Times (Thurs., NOV. 5, 2015): B1 & B10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 4, 2015.)






December 9, 2015

Producer of "The Godfather" to Make Six Hour TV Version of Atlas Shrugged



(p. D1) LOS ANGELES -- It took a while -- more than 40 years, actually.

But Albert S. Ruddy, a movie and television producer who does not like to quit, has landed rights to make his passion project: a screen version of "Atlas Shrugged," Ayn Rand's Objectivist bible.

Mr. Ruddy, whose canon includes films as varied as "The Godfather" and "The Cannonball Run," almost had a deal back in the early 1970s, when he wooed Ms. Rand personally while sitting on a small couch in New York.

But Ms. Rand, who had left the Soviet Union in the 1920s and feared the Russians might acquire Paramount Pictures to subvert the project, wanted script approval; Mr. Ruddy, as adamant as she was, declined. "Then I'll put in my will, the one person who can't get it is you," Mr. Ruddy recalls being told by Ms. Rand, who died in 1982.


. . .


The main thing, Mr. Ruddy said, is to honor Ms. Rand's insistence on making a film for the future. That means redrawing its capitalists and creators, who go on strike against creeping collectivism, as figures more familiar than the railroad heiress and industrial titans who figured in a book that was first published in 1957.

"When you look at guys like Jeff Bezos, he's not only doing Amazon, he wants to colonize Mars," Mr. Ruddy said. He spoke by telephone last week of his plan for a mini-series in which an Internet blackout led by Bezos-like figures might shut down cellphones, banks and almost everything else.



For the full story, see:

MICHAEL CIEPLY. "Film Producer Lands Rights to 'Atlas Shrugged' Novel." The New York Times (Mon., NOV. 2, 2015): B8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 1, 2015, and has the title "Producer of 'The Godfather' Lands Rights to 'Atlas Shrugged' Novel.")






November 30, 2015

Sense of Purpose, Not Greed, Is Reason Multimillionaires Keep Working



(p. 10) I've often wondered why the so-called Masters of the Universe, those C.E.O.s with multimillion-dollar monthly paychecks, keep working. Why, once they have earned enough money to live comfortably forever, do they still drag themselves to the office? The easy answer, the one I had always settled on, was greed.

But as I watched the hours slowly drip by in my cubicle, an alternative reason came into view. Without a sense of purpose beyond the rent money, malaise sets in almost immediately. We all need a reason to get up in the morning, preferably one to which we can attach some meaning. It is why people flock to the scene of a natural disaster to rescue and rebuild, why people devote themselves to a cause, no matter how doomed it may be. In the end, it's the process as much as the reward that nourishes us.



For the full commentary, see:

TED GELTNER. "ON WORK; Bored to Tears by a Do-Nothing Dream Job." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., NOV. 22, 2015): 10.

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated on NOV. 21, 2015.)






November 27, 2015

What If Steve Jobs Ran the I.C.U.?




We'd like to think that medical intensity and competence in the real world mirror the intensity and competence of television shows like ER and House. But too often it is like the horrible surreal story told below. What if we deregulated medicine to open it to the product and process innovations of intense innovative entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, and Sam Walton?



(p. 7) Omaha -- I've been watching the monitor for hours. Natalie's asleep now and I'm worried about her pulse. It's edging above 140 beats per minute again and her blood oxygen saturation is becoming dangerously low. I'm convinced that she's slipping into shock. She needs more fluids. I ring for the nurse.

I know about stuff like septic shock because for more than 20 years I was a transplant surgeon, and some of our patients got incredibly sick after surgery. So when I'm sitting in an I.C.U. in Omaha terrified that Natalie, my 17-year-old daughter, might die, I know what I'm talking about. I tell the nurse that Natalie needs to get another slug of intravenous fluids, and fast.

The nurse says she'll call the doctor. Fifteen minutes later I find her in the lounge at a computer, and over her shoulder I see a screen full of makeup products. When I ask if we can get that fluid going, I startle her. She says she called the resident and told him the vital signs, but that he thought things were stable.

"He said to hold off for now," she says.

"Get me two bags of saline. Now," I tell her.

She says, "I'm calling my supervisor," and she runs out of the lounge.


. . .


I know I shouldn't be my daughter's doctor. They taught us the problems with that during my first week in medical school.


. . .


But right now, I don't care about any of that. I'm the one with experience taking care of really sick patients, and if I know she needs more fluids, she's going to get them.

I break into the crash cart, a box on wheels full of stuff they use to resuscitate patients. I pull out two liters of saline solution and run both into Natalie's IV in less than 20 minutes. Natalie's pulse slows and her blood pressure rises. An hour later, after the nursing supervisor and on-call resident finally arrive, I've finished infusing a third liter. Natalie finally looks better.

This wasn't the first time during Natalie's illness eight years ago that I broke my promise to just be her dad. It started a week earlier when she came into the den and showed me the blood she'd coughed up. I suspect a father without my experience might have chalked it up to flu. Maybe because I was a transplant surgeon, and always considered the worst possible cause whenever a patient had a hiccup, I took her to the hospital. I was worried the blood meant she had a bacterial pneumonia, a bad one. And it did.

On the way to the hospital, Natalie took a deep breath and looked at me. "Am I going to die?" she asked. I'm convinced that she would have been dead before morning had I not been a doctor, and one who could recognize septic shock when it affected a normal teenager.



For the full commentary, see:

BUD SHAW. "A Doctor at His Daughter's Hospital Bed." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., SEPT. 6, 2015): 7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date SEPT. 5, 2015.)


The commentary quoted above is adapted from the book:

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






November 24, 2015

Haiti Stagnates Under Crony Capitalism



(p. A13) A May 2015 World Bank "systematic country diagnostic" on Haiti is instructive.


. . .


As the World Bank report notes, Haiti suffers from crony capitalism that holds back economic growth.


. . .


The record of Haiti's elected politicians, since the transition to democracy at the beginning of the 1990s, is dismal. The political class still uses its power for personal aggrandizement, as the infamous dictators François Duvalier and his son Jean-Claude did for almost 30 years.

Just as discouraging is that after more than two decades of going to the polls, Haitians have yet to taste economic freedom, and emigration has become the only option for those who hope to get ahead by hard work. The World Bank reports that between 1971 and 2013 gross domestic product per capita "fell by .7% per year on average."


. . .


The World Bank authors gently speculate that there is "little competitive pressure." They observe this "could be the result of high legal or behavioral entry barriers" and this "could facilitate tacit agreements among families/groups to allocate markets among themselves, which may harm productivity and incentive to innovate."

This is polite jargon for collusion, which Haitians already know. They also know that absent the political will to open markets to competition, elections won't matter much.



For the full commentary, see:

MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY. "Diagnosing What Ails Haiti's Economy; The World Bank fingers cronyism, of which Bill Clinton was for years a symbol." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Oct. 12, 2015): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated on Oct. 11, 2015.)


The World Bank report mentioned in the passages quoted above, is:

HAITI: TOWARDS A NEW NARRATIVE SYSTEMATIC COUNTRY DIAGNOSTIC, May 2015.






November 23, 2015

Give Entrepreneurs "the Solitude They Need to Think Creatively"



(p. R1) . . . , numerous entrepreneurs and CEOs are either self-admitted introverts or have so many introvert qualities that they are widely thought to be introverts. These include Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, Larry Page, co-founder of Google, Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder of Facebook, Marissa Mayer, current president and CEO of Yahoo, and Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway.

As entrepreneurs, introverts succeed because they "create and lead companies from a very focused place," says Susan Cain, author of "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking" and founder of Quiet Revolution, a website for introverts.


. . .


Many people believe that introverts, by definition, are shy and extroverts are outgoing. This is incorrect. Introverts, whom experts say comprise about a third of the population, get their energy and process information internally. Some may be shy and some may be outgoing, but they all prefer to spend time alone or in small groups, and often feel drained by a lot of social interaction or large groups.


. . .


Introverts not only have the stamina to spend long periods alone--they love it. "Good entrepreneurs are able to give themselves the solitude they need to think creatively and originally--to create something where there once was nothing," says Ms. Cain. "And this is just how introverts are wired."


. . .


While extroverts are networking, promoting or celebrating success, introverts have their "butt on the seat," says Laurie Helgoe, author of "Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life is Your Hidden Strength" and assistant professor in the department of psychology and human services at Davis & Elkins College in Elkins, W.Va. "An introvert on his (p. R2) or her own is going to enjoy digging in and doing research--and be able to sustain him- or herself in that lonely place of forging your own way."

They don't need external affirmation

Another important characteristic of introverts is that they tend to rely on their own inner compass--not external signals--to know that they're making the right move or doing a good job. That can give them an edge in several ways.

For instance, they generally don't look for people to tell them whether an idea is worth pursuing. They tend to think it through before speaking about it to anybody, and rely on their own judgment about whether it's worth pursuing.

With extroverts, the need for social stimulation, for getting the idea in front of other people, can make them leap before they've thought something out, Ms. Buelow says. "It's very important for them to get outside feedback and motivation." Feedback is great, of course. But at a certain point a leader needs to decide on a plan and execute it.

Following their own compass also helps introverts stay focused on a venture. Extroverts can get sidetracked by seeking external validation, such as awards or media attention for a project, which can divert them from their main goals. While introverts welcome external validation, they won't let it define them or distract them. "It's about keeping the long-haul perspective," Ms. Buelow says.

What's more, because introverts aren't looking for outside events to validate their plans--or themselves--they don't take setbacks as personally as extroverts. Somebody who relies on external affirmation tends to take setbacks personally and may get dispirited if the company hits a rough patch.


. . .


. . . , in a 2009 study looking at how introverts and extroverts approached an "effortful task," Maya Tamir, director of the Emotion and Self-Regulation Laboratory at Boston College and Hebrew University in Jerusalem, found that extroverts sought a happy state while completing the task, while introverts preferred to maintain a neutral emotional state.

"The introverts' happy space is a quieter space with less interruptions," says Ms. Buelow. "They won't have that overstimulation."



For the full commentary, see:

ELIZABETH BERNSTEIN. "The Case for the Introverted Entrepreneur; Conventional wisdom says you need to be an extrovert to start a successful business. That's wrong for all sorts of reasons." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., August 24, 2015): R1-R2.

(Note: ellipses added; bold in original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the title "Why Introverts Make Great Entrepreneurs; Conventional wisdom says you need to be an extrovert to start a successful business. That's wrong for all sorts of reasons.")


The Cain book mentioned in the commentary quoted above is:

Cain, Susan. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. New York: Crown, 2012.


The Helgoe book mentioned in the commentary quoted above is:

Helgoe, Laurie. Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Strength. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, Inc., 2013.


The Maya Tamir article mentioned above, is:

Tamir, Maya. "Differential Preferences for Happiness: Extraversion and Trait-Consistent Emotion Regulation." Journal of Personality 77, no. 2 (April 2009): 447-70.






November 20, 2015

FTC Retaliated Against, and Destroyed, Innocent Firm that Stood Up for Rule of Law



(p. A17) Sometimes winning is still losing. That is certainly true for companies that find themselves caught in the cross hairs of the federal government. Since 2013, my organization has defended one such company, the cancer-screening LabMD, against meritless allegations from the Federal Trade Commission. Last Friday, [November 13, 2015] the FTC's chief administrative-law judge dismissed the agency's complaint. But it was too late. The reputational damage and expense of a six-year federal investigation forced LabMD to close last year.


. . .


Unlike many other companies in similar situations, . . . , LabMD refused to cave and in 2012 went public with the ordeal. In what appeared to be retaliation, the FTC sued LabMD in 2013, alleging that the company engaged in "unreasonable" data-security practices that amounted to an "unfair" trade practice by not taking reasonable steps to protect patient information. FTC officials publicly attacked LabMD and imposed arduous demands on the doctors who used the company's diagnostic services. In just one example, the FTC subpoenaed a Florida oncology lab to produce documents and appear for depositions before government lawyers--all at the doctors' expense.

Yet after years of investigation and enforcement action, the FTC never produced a single patient or doctor who suffered or who alleged identity theft or harm because of LabMD's data-security practices. The FTC never claimed that LabMD violated HIPAA regulations, and until 2014--four years after its investigation began--never offered any data-security standards with which LabMD failed to comply.


. . .


. . . , the FTC is likely to simply disregard the 92-page decision--which weighed witness credibility and the law--and side with commission staff. That's the still greater injustice: The FTC is not bound by administrative-law judge rulings. In fact, the agency has disregarded every adverse ruling over the past two decades, according to a February analysis by former FTC Commissioner Joshua Wright. Defendants' only recourse is appealing in federal court, a fresh burden in legal fees.

That's what happens when a federal agency serves as its own detective, prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner. As Mr. Wright observed, the FTC's record is "a strong sign of an unhealthy and biased institutional process." And he puts it perhaps most powerfully: "Even bank robbery prosecutions have less predictable outcomes than administrative adjudication at the FTC." Winning against the federal government should never require losing so much.



For the full commentary, see:

DAN EPSTEIN. "Hounded Out of Business by Regulators; The company LabMD finally won its six-year battle with the FTC, but vindication came too late." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Nov. 20, 2015): A17.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated on Nov. 19, 2015.)






November 19, 2015

Scientific Insight Requires Hard Work More than Easy Epiphany



(p. A21) The myth of the finches obscures the qualities that were really responsible for Darwin's success: the grit to formulate his theory and gather evidence for it; the creativity to seek signs of evolution in existing animals, rather than, as others did, in the fossil record; and the open-mindedness to drop his belief in creationism when the evidence against it piled up.

The mythical stories we tell about our heroes are always more romantic and often more palatable than the truth. But in science, at least, they are destructive, in that they promote false conceptions of the evolution of scientific thought.

Of the tale of Newton and the apple, the historian Richard S. Westfall wrote, "The story vulgarizes universal gravitation by treating it as a bright idea ... A bright idea cannot shape a scientific tradition." Science is just not that simple and it is not that easy.


. . .


Even if we are not scientists, every day we are challenged to make judgments and decisions about technical matters like vaccinations, financial investments, diet supplements and, of course, global warming. If our discourse on such topics is to be intelligent and productive, we need to dip below the surface and grapple with the complex underlying issues. The myths can seduce one into believing there is an easier path, one that doesn't require such hard work.

But even beyond issues of science, there is a broader lesson to learn, . . . . We all run into difficult problems in life, and we will be happier and more successful if we appreciate that the answers often aren't quick, or easy.



For the full commentary, see:

LEONARD MLODINOW. "It Is, in Fact, Rocket Science." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., MAY 16, 2015): A21.

(Note: ellipsis internal to third quoted paragraph, in original; other ellipses, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated on MAY 15, 2015.)


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

Mlodinow, Leonard. The Upright Thinkers: The Human Journey from Living in Trees to Understanding the Cosmos. New York: Pantheon Books, 2015.






November 15, 2015

Dogged Dreamers Developed Deadly Dirigibles



(p. C7) "Dirigibility" means the ability to navigate through the air by engine power, unlike balloon flight, which is captive to the wind. Beginning and ending with the Hindenburg vignette, C. Michael Hiam gives in "Dirigible Dreams" a concise but comprehensive history of the airship and its evolution. With style and some flair, Mr. Hiam introduces a cast of dogged visionaries, starting with Albert Santos-Dumont, a Brazilian whose exploits from 1901 onward usually culminated in our hero dangling from a tree or a high building, shredded gas bags draped around him like a shroud. For all of these pioneers, problems queued up from the outset: Insurance companies, for example, refused to quote a rate for aerial liability. (Try asking your broker today.) And to inflate the craft the engineers were stuck with hydrogen, since non-flammable helium was too scarce and hot air has insufficient lifting force.


. . .


In 1929, British engineers pioneered a giant dirigible--at 133 feet in diameter, Mr. Hiam notes, it was "the largest object ever flown"--powered by six Rolls-Royce Condor engines. But too many died as the still-flimsy crafts plunged to the ground in flames. His Majesty's secretary of state for air perished in a luxurious airship cabin on the way to visit the king's subjects in India. One by one, nations gave up their dirigible dreams, especially after 35 souls burned to death on the Hindenburg in Lakehurst, N.J., one of the first transport disasters recorded on film. After that tragedy, commercial passengers never flew in an airship again, and by the start of World War II just two years later "the airship had become entirely extinct."



For the full review, see:

SARA WHEELER. "Inflated Hopes; Early airship experimenters found that insurance companies refused to quote rates for aerial liability." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 18, 2014): C7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review was updated on Oct. 23, 2014.)


The book under review, is:

Hiam, C. Michael. Dirigible Dreams: The Age of the Airship. Lebanon, NH: ForeEdge, 2014.






November 10, 2015

Steve Jobs as Demanding Consumer: Jerk or Benefactor?



(p. D2) Mr. Jobs said he wanted freshly squeezed orange juice.

After a few minutes, the waitress returned with a large glass of juice. Mr. Jobs took a tiny sip and told her tersely that the drink was not freshly squeezed. He sent the beverage back, demanding another.

A few minutes later, the waitress returned with another large glass of juice, this time freshly squeezed. When he took a sip he told her in an aggressive tone that the drink had pulp along the top. He sent that one back, too.

My friend said he looked at Mr. Jobs and asked, "Steve, why are you being such a jerk?"

Mr. Jobs replied that if the woman had chosen waitressing as her vocation, "then she should be the best."


. . .


. . . it wasn't until my mother found out that she had terminal cancer in mid-March and was given a prognosis of only two weeks to live that I learned even if a job is just a job, you can still have a profound impact on someone else's life. You just may not know it.


. . .


. . . one evening my mother became incredibly lucid and called for me. She was craving shrimp, she said. "I'm on it," I told her as I ran down to the kitchen. "Shrimp coming right up!"


. . .


The restaurant was bustling. In the open kitchen in the back I could see a dozen men and women frantically slaving over the hot stoves and dishwashers, with busboys and waiters rushing in and out.

While I stood waiting for my mother's shrimp, I watched all these people toiling away and I thought about what Mr. Jobs had said about the waitress from a few years earlier. Though his rudeness may have been uncalled-for, there was something to be said for the idea that we should do our best at whatever job we take on.

This should be the case, not because someone else expects it. Rather, as I want to teach my son, we should do it because our jobs, no matter how seemingly small, can have a profound effect on someone else's life; we just don't often get to see how we're touching them.

Certainly, the men and women who worked at that little Thai restaurant in northern England didn't know that when they went into work that evening, they would have the privilege of cooking someone's last meal.

It was a meal that I would unwrap from the takeout packaging in my mother's kitchen, carefully plucking four shrimp from the box and meticulously laying them out on one of her ornate china plates before taking it to her room. It was a meal that would end with my mother smiling for the last time before slipping away from consciousness and, in her posh British accent, saying, "Oh, that was just lovely."



For the full commentary, see:

NICK BILTON. "Rites of Passage; Life Lessons from Steve Jobs." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Fri., AUG. 7, 2015): D2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the title "Rites of Passage; What Steve Jobs Taught Me About Being a Son and a Father.")






November 6, 2015

Lives Lost Due to Peer Review Delays



(p. A25) In this age of instant information, medicine remains anchored in the practice of releasing new knowledge at a deliberate pace. It's time for medical scientists to think differently about how quickly they alert the public to breakthrough findings.

Last week the National Institutes of Health announced that it had prematurely ended a large national study of how best to treat people with high blood pressure because of its exceptional results.

In this trial of more than 9,000 people age 50 and older with high blood pressure, an aggressive treatment strategy to keep systolic blood pressure below 120 was compared with a conventional one aimed at keeping it below 140. The subjects all had a high risk of heart attacks, stroke and heart failure. The N.I.H. concluded, six years into a planned eight-year study, that for these patients, pushing blood pressure down far below currently recommended levels was very beneficial.


. . .

The new information may justify a more vigorous strategy for treating blood pressure, but for now doctors and patients have been left with incomplete results, some headlines and considerable uncertainty about whether to modify current treatments.

Medicine needs to change its approach to releasing new, important information. Throughout science we are seeing more rapid modes of communication. The traditional approach was not to publish until everything was finalized and ready to be chiseled in stone. But these sorts of delays are unnecessary with the Internet. Moreover, although all the trial data has yet to be tabulated, an analysis was considered sufficiently definitive to lead independent experts to stop the multimillion-dollar study.

We believe that when there is such strong evidence for a major public health condition, there should be rapid release of the information that led to the decision to stop the trial. This approach could easily be accomplished by placing the data on the N.I.H. website or publishing the data on such platforms as bioRxiv.org, which enables fast, open review by the medical community.


. . .


Kudos to the scientists who conducted such a large, complex and important study with what will be likely to have lifesaving consequences for a condition that can be treated easily in most patients. Now the medical community needs to adopt a new approach in situations like this one to disseminate lifesaving results in a timely, comprehensive and transparent way. Lives depend on it.



For the full commentary, see:

ERIC J. TOPOL and HARLAN M. KRUMHOLZ. "Don't Sit on Medical Breakthroughs." The New York Times (Fri., SEPT. 17, 2015): A25.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date SEPT. 17, 2015, and the title "Don't Delay News of Medical Breakthroughs.")






November 3, 2015

Top-Down Aid "Hasn't Worked in Africa"



(p. 2) John Mackey is the co-founder and co-chief executive officer of Whole Foods Market, the nation's largest chain of natural foods supermarkets.

READING . . .

. . . "The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty," by Nina Munk. Sachs is an economist and I'm sure he doesn't like the book because it points out that his top-down aid type of approach hasn't worked in Africa. A more bottom-up approach through entrepreneurship and boot strapping seems to be more effective, which is the approach we take at our Whole Planet Foundation.



For the full interview, see:

KATE MURPHY, interviewer. "Download; John Mackey." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., NOV. 23, 2014): 2.

(Note: bold in original; ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date NOV. 22, 2014.)


The book praised in the interview is:

Munk, Nina. The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty. New York: Doubleday, 2013.






October 30, 2015

Exponential Entrepreneurs Get Rich by Innovating (and Fleecing?)




The reviewer's concern about technology platforms fleecing the masses is shared by Jaron Lanier who describes, and tries to solve it, in a thought-provoking book called Who Owns the Future? (Hint: his solution involves an extension of property rights.)



(p. A9) The exponential entrepreneurs are "paving the way for a new world of abundance" by finding big problems and exploiting the "Six D's": digitalization, deception, disruption, demonetization, dematerialization, democratization.

Take the case of Kodak and photography. First came the technology that allowed photographs to be taken and stored digitally rather than on film--digitization. But it seemed too trivial for a giant like Kodak to worry about--an act of self-deception. Then came disruption, when digital photography grew from a tiny niche into a big business and then surpassed print photography. People no longer needed to pay to store or share their photographs because free digital services had sprung up. Kodak found itself demonetized. Then photography was dematerialized, as cameras were built into phones and the physical materials of the darkroom were replaced by digital tools. Finally, the entire process was democratized, since anyone with a phone can (at no additional cost) take pictures, edit them and share them.

In 1996 Kodak employed 140,000 people and had a market value of $28 billion. In January 2012 it filed for bankruptcy. Instagram was founded in October 2010 and was bought by Facebook in April 2012 for $1 billion. It had 13 employees at the time. Instagram was the definition of an exponential organization, one "whose impact (or output)--because of its use of networks or automation and/or its leveraging of the crowd--is disproportionally large compared to its number of employees." The Six D's, the authors make clear, are leaving the poor executives who think in linear rather than exponential fashion in a state of three D's: "distraught, depressed and departed."


. . .


The great lie about so much technology is that it has enabled a more sharing, more democratic age. But too much of the "sharing" that happens online seems to involve people abandoning their livelihoods to the owners of "platforms"--letting the masses be demonetized and dematerialized for the enrichment of a few. Too much of the "democracy" feels like voyeurism or surveillance. The crowd is not just sourcing and funding this new economy; it's also getting fleeced.



For the full review, see:

PHILIP DELVES BROUGHTON. "BOOKSHELF; Go Big Or Go Home." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Feb. 17, 2015): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 16, 2015.)


The book discussed in the review is:

Diamandis, Peter H., and Steven Kotler. Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015.


The book mentioned by Lanier is:

Lanier, Jaron. Who Owns the Future? pb ed. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013.






October 24, 2015

China Looks to Innovation to Increase Growth



(p. 6) Wrapping up the 11-day session at a news conference on Sunday [March 15, 2015], Premier Li Keqiang said that while the economy faced downward pressure, the government has room to step in and has "more tools in our toolbox" should growth flag and affect employment.


. . .


As exports, investment and infrastructure become more ineffective in generating economic growth, China's leadership is looking to innovation and entrepreneurship to pick up the slack.

Toward that end, Mr. Li said Beijing will continue to reduce regulatory interference. The number of government approvals required to begin a new venture has roughly halved to 50 to 60 steps in recent years, he said, although this level still raises costs and damps enthusiasm for startups.

But the Chinese state retains an oversized role in the economy and many of the outlined moves to limit its role are difficult to verify.



For the full story, see:

MARK MAGNIER. "Beijing Plans More Action to Spur Growth." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., March 16, 2015): A9.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added. Where there was a small difference in paragraph structure, the quoted passages follow the print version.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 15, 2015, has the title "China Plans More Action to Spur Growth.")






October 20, 2015

Workers May Prefer to Have More Workcations than Fewer Vacations



(p. B6) . . . for various reasons, people might choose or need to work from remote destinations, and logging in from the beach may be more relaxing than clocking into the office.

Adds Kenneth Matos, senior director of research at the Families and Work Institute: "Is the workcation detracting from the vacation you were going to have, or is it enabling the vacation you otherwise wouldn't have had?"


. . .


For Bill Raymond, Disney World proved an ideal workcation destination. In February, Mr. Raymond and his wife flew from their suburban Boston home to Orlando, where they spent a couple of days touring the theme park.

For the next two days, Mr. Raymond, a solutions architect at enterprise search firm Voyager Search, clocked full workdays from the Orlando resort, hunkering down with his laptop and taking sales calls by the pool.

Mr. Raymond even wrote a post on his personal blog with tips on how to be a productive "workcationer" at Disney, pinpointing locations at the resort that offer fewer distractions. (Among his top picks were the pool at the Disney Port Orleans French Quarter resort, which he says wasn't "overrun with kids being kids.")

Brian Goldin, Voyager's chief executive and Mr. Raymond's boss, was "totally fine" with the arrangement. "The idea of the traditional office environment doesn't really exist that much," Mr. Goldin says.


. . .


The working vacation kept Ms. Granzella Larssen, 32 years old, current with her email; she also felt more productive in a tropical setting because she wasn't being pulled into impromptu meetings. And despite being by the beach, "I felt completely plugged in."



For the full commentary, see:

RACHEL EMMA SILVERMAN. "This Summer, How About a Workcation?" The Wall Street Journal (Weds., June 24, 2015): B1 & B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 23, 2015, has the title "This Summer, How About a Workcation?")






October 19, 2015

FCC Gains Arbitrary Power Over Internet Innovation



(p. A11) Imagine if Steve Jobs, Larry Page or Mark Zuckerberg had been obliged to ask bureaucrats in Washington if it was OK to launch the iPhone, Gmail, or Facebook's forthcoming Oculus virtual-reality service. Ridiculous, right? Not anymore.

A few days before the Independence Day holiday weekend, the Federal Communications Commission announced what amounts to a system of permission slips for the Internet.


. . .


As the FCC begins to issue guidance and enforcement actions, it's becoming clearer that critics who feared there would be significant legal uncertainty were right. Under its new "transparency" rule, for example, the agency on June 17 conjured out of thin air an astonishing $100 million fine against AT&T, even though the firm explained its mobile-data plans on its websites and in numerous emails and texts to customers.

The FCC's new "Internet Conduct Standard," meanwhile, is no standard at all. It is an undefined catchall for any future behavior the agency doesn't like.


. . .


From the beginning, Internet pioneers operated in an environment of "permissionless innovation." FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler now insists that "it makes sense to have somebody watching over their shoulder and ready to jump in if necessary." But the agency is jumping in to demand that innovators get permission before they offer new services to consumers. The result will be less innovation.



For the full commentary, see:

BRET SWANSON. "Permission Slips for Internet Innovation; The FCC's new Web rules are already as onerous as feared and favor some business models over others." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Aug. 15, 2015): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Aug. 14, 2015.)






October 18, 2015

Stress Can Help Us Do Well



(p. C3) "We're bombarded with information about how bad stress is," says Jeremy Jamieson, a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester who specializes in stress. But the conventional view, he says, fails to appreciate the many ways in which physical and psychological tension can help us to perform better.

In research published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology in 2010, Prof. Jamieson tested his theory with college students who were preparing to take the Graduate Record Examination, which is used for admission to Ph.D. programs. He invited 60 students to take a practice GRE and collected saliva samples from them beforehand to get baseline measures of their levels of alpha-amylase, a hormonal indicator of stress. He told them that the goal of the study was to examine how the physiological stress response affects performance.

He then gave half the students a brief pep talk to help them rethink their pre-exam nervousness. "People think that feeling anxious while taking a standardized test will make them do poorly," he told them. "However, recent research suggests that stress doesn't hurt performance on these tests and can even help performance. People who feel anxious during a test might actually do better.... If you find yourself feeling anxious, simply remind yourself that your stress could be helping you do well."

It worked: Students who received the mind-set intervention scored higher on the practice exam than those in the control group. Nor could the difference in GRE scores be attributed to differences in ability: Students had been randomly assigned to the two groups and didn't differ, on average, in their SAT scores or college GPAs.



For the full commentary, see:

KELLY MCGONIGAL. "Stressed Out? Embrace It; To perform under pressure, research finds that welcoming anxiety is more helpful than calming down." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 16, 2015): C3.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 15, 2015, and has the title "Use Stress to Your Advantage; To perform under pressure, research finds that welcoming anxiety is more helpful than calming down.")


McGonigal's book, related to her commentary quoted above, is:

McGonigal, Kelly. The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It. New York: Avery, 2015.


The research article mentioned in the passages quoted above, is:

Jamieson, Jeremy P., Wendy Berry Mendes, Erin Blackstock, and Toni Schmader. "Turning the Knots in Your Stomach into Bows: Reappraising Arousal Improves Performance on the GRE." Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 46, no. 1 (Jan. 2010): 208-12.






October 16, 2015

"We Embrace New Technology"



(p. 2D) . . . , the first digital images created by the earliest digital cameras "were terrible," Rockbrook's Chuck Fortina said. "These were real chunky images made by big, clunky cameras."

Viewing those results, some retailers dismissed the new digital technology and clung doggedly to film. But Rockbrook Camera began stocking digital cameras alongside models that used film, Fortina said.

"Film sales were great, but we just knew digital was going to take over," Fortina said. As those cameras and their images improved, the retailer saw a huge opportunity. ''Instead of thinking this is going to kill our business, we were thinking people are going to have to buy all new gear," Fortina said of the switch from analog to digital.

"By 2000, film was over," he said. Companies that didn't refocus their business found themselves struggling or forced to close their doors.

Today, Rockbrook Camera is constantly scouring the Internet, attending trade shows and quizzing customers and employees in search of new technologies, Fortina said. "We embrace new technology," he said.



For the full story, see:

Janice Podsada. "More Ready than Not for Tech Shifts; How 3 Omaha-area businesses altered course and thrived amid technological changes." Omaha World-Herald (SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 27, 2015 ): 1D-2D.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the title "How 3 Omaha-area businesses altered course and thrived amid technological changes.")






October 15, 2015

Entrepreneurs Creating Healthy, Tasty Meat, Without Killing Animals



(p. B2) "The next couple of years will be exciting ones," says Joseph D. Puglisi, a Stanford University professor of structural biology who is working on meat alternatives. "We can use a broad range of plant protein sources and create a palette of textures and tastes -- for example, jerky, cured meats, sausage, pork."

"The true challenge will be to recreate more complex pieces of meat that are the pinnacle of the meat industry," he added. "I believe that plausible, good-tasting steaks and pork loins are only a matter of time."

Puglisi is advising Beyond Meat, a start-up that is a leader in the field, with investments from Bill Gates and both Biz Stone and Ev Williams of Twitter fame, not to mention Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, the venture capital firm that backed Google and Amazon. Beyond Meat says its sales are doubling each year.

"We're really focused on the mainstream," said Ethan Brown, the founder of Beyond Meat, over a lunch of fake chili, meatballs and hamburgers.


. . .


"We want to create the next great American meat company," Brown says. "That's the dream."


. . .


The mainstream food industry isn't saying much publicly. But recently released documents from the American Egg Board, a quasi-governmental body, show it regarded Hampton Creek's egg-free "Just Mayo" spread as a "major threat." In one internal email, an Egg Board executive jokingly suggests hiring a hit man to deal with Hampton Creek.


. . .


. . . if I can still enjoy a juicy burger now and then, while boosting my health, helping the environment and avoiding the brutalizing of farm animals, hey, I'm in!



For the full commentary, see:

Nicholas Kristof. "The (Fake) Meat Revolution." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., SEPT. 20, 2015): 11.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date SEPT. 19, 2015.)






October 14, 2015

John Paul Stapp Thumbed His Nose at the Precautionary Principle



(p. C7) In the early 19th century, a science professor in London named Dionysus Lardner rejected the future of high-speed train travel because, he said, "passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia." A contemporary, the famed engineer Thomas Tredgold, agreed, noting "that any general system of conveying passengers . . . [traveling] at a velocity exceeding 10 miles an hour, or thereabouts, is extremely improbable."

The current land speed for a human being is 763 miles an hour, or thereabouts, thanks in large part to the brilliance, bravery and dedication of a U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel named John Paul Stapp, a wonderfully iconoclastic medical doctor, innovator and renegade consumer activist who repeatedly put his own life in peril in search of the line beyond which human survival at speed really was "extremely improbable."


. . .


Initial tests were carried out on a crash-test dummy named Oscar Eightball, then chimpanzees and pigs. There was plenty of trial and error--the term "Murphy's Law" was coined during the Gee Whiz experiments--until Stapp couldn't resist strapping himself into the Gee Whiz to experience firsthand what the cold data could never reveal: what it felt like. On May 5, 1948, for example, he "took a peak deceleration of an astounding twenty-four times the force of gravity," the author writes. "This was the equivalent of a full stop from 75 miles per hour in just seven feet or, in other words, freeway speed to zero in the length of a very tall man."

Stapp endured a total of 26 rides on the Gee Whiz over the course of 50 months, measuring an array of physiological factors as well as testing prototype helmets and safety belts. Along the way he suffered a broken wrist, torn rib cartilage, a bruised collarbone, a fractured coccyx, busted capillaries in both eyes and six cracked dental fillings. Colleagues became increasingly concerned for his health every time he staggered, gamely, off the sled, but, according to Mr. Ryan, he never lost his sense of humor, nor did these ordeals stop Dr. Stapp from voluntarily making house calls at night for families stationed on the desolate air base.


. . .


After 29 harrowing trips down the track, Stapp prepared for one grand finale, what he called the "Big Run," hoping to achieve 600 miles per hour, the speed beyond which many scientists suspected that human survivability was--really, this time--highly improbable. On Dec. 10, 1954, Sonic Wind marked a speed of 639 miles per hour, faster than a .45 caliber bullet shot from a pistol. Film footage of the test shows the sled rocketing past an overhead jet plane that was filming the event. The Big Run temporarily blinded Stapp, and he turned blue for a few days, but the experiment landed him on the cover of Time magazine as the fastest man on earth. The record stood for the next 30 years.



For the full review, see:

PATRICK COOKE. "Faster Than a Speeding Bullet--Really." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Aug. 22, 2015): C7.

(Note: first ellipsis, and bracketed word, in original; other ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 21, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Ryan, Craig. Sonic Wind: The Story of John Paul Stapp and How a Renegade Doctor Became the Fastest Man on Earth. New York: Liveright Publishing Corp., 2015.






October 13, 2015

Should You Care How Other People Perceive You?



(p. B2) Sadly, it does appear that being flawed in one area may help in others. In an article in The Atlantic titled "Why It Pays to Be a Jerk," the author Jerry Useem quotes several studies that show that nice guys don't usually win. Donald Hambrick, a management professor at Penn State, told the magazine, "To the extent that innovation and risk-taking are in short supply in the corporate world, narcissists are the ones who are going to step up to the plate."

Not everyone thinks Jobs was a jerk. Eddy Cue, Apple's senior vice president for Internet software and services, wrote on Twitter that he felt the Gibney film was "an inaccurate and meanspirited view of my friend. It's not a reflection of the Steve I knew."

But the black hat-white hat version of Jobs may be too confining.

In a fascinating interview last year with Graydon Carter of Vanity Fair, Jonathan Ive, Apple's famed designer and longtime friend of Jobs, recounted a telling story. He remembered a time when Jobs had been tough -- too tough, in Mr. Ive's estimation -- on his team. Mr. Ive pulled him aside and told him to be bit nicer. "Well, why?" Jobs replied. "Because I care about the team," Mr. Ive responded. "And he said this brutally, brilliantly insightful thing, which was, 'No, Jony, you're just really vain,' " Mr. Ive recalled. "He said, 'You just want people to like you, and I'm surprised at you because I thought you really held the work up as the most important, not how you believed you were perceived by other people.' "

That story and the documentary left me with me with two questions: Would you rather do something extraordinary that benefits the lives of millions of people? Or be liked by several hundred? And does it have to be an either-or question?

The answer, like Jobs, is complicated.



For the full commentary, see:

Andrew Ross Sorkin. "Decoding Steve Jobs, in Life and on Film." The New York Times (Tues., SEPT. 8, 2015): B1-B2.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date SEPT. 7, 2015.)






October 12, 2015

French Billionaire Entrepreneur Starts Small and Cuts Costs




On Mon., October 13, 2014, Iliad dropped its bid for T-Mobile, after lack of interest from some of the T-Mobile board and from the majority owner, Deutsche Telekom AG.



(p. B1) Iliad wants to improve T-Mobile US's cost structure by applying its own ultraslim cost base, under which it has kept costs to a minimum in everything from IT services to back office to equipment purchases. Iliad estimates it will be able to save about $2 billion annually by cutting out costs such as sending paper bills, and savings on equipment and IT systems, Mr. Niel said.


. . .


(p. B4) . . . before Mr. Niel can execute his American dream, Iliad has to win over T-Mobile US's board, which could prove a formidable challenge.


. . .


He says he is sticking to the same principle that has guided his ascent from a teenage computer programmer in a working class Paris suburb to one of France's richest men.

"I always follow the same idea: Start small and disrupt to create something big," he said.



For the full story, see:

RUTH BENDER. "Will This Billionaire Bring $3-a-Month Phone Plans to U.S.?" The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Aug. 2, 2014): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story says it was updated on Aug. 4, 2014.)






October 11, 2015

Feds Constrain Startups



(p. A15) Virtually every state has suffered a drop in startups, which suggests that this is a national, and not a regional or state, problem.


. . .


If history is any indication, many of today's economic heavyweights will ultimately decline as new businesses take their place. Research by the Kaufman Foundation shows that only about half of the 1995 Fortune 500 firms remained on the list in 2010.

Startups also have declined in high technology. John Haltiwanger of the University of Maryland reports that there are fewer startups in high technology and information-processing since 2000, as well as fewer high-growth startups--annual employment growth of more than 25%--across all sectors. Even more troubling is that the smaller number of high-growth startups is not growing as quickly as in the past.


. . .


Surveys by John Dearie and Courtney Gerduldig, authors of "Where the Jobs Are: Entrepreneurship and the Soul of the American Economy" (2013), show that entrepreneurs report being hamstrung by difficulties in finding skilled workers, by a complex tax code that penalizes small business, by regulations that raise the costs of doing business, and by difficulties in obtaining financing that have worsened since 2008.



For the full story, see:

EDWARD C. PRESCOTT and LEE E. OHANIAN. "Behind the Productivity Plunge: Fewer Startups; New businesses were created at a 30% lower rate in 2012 than the annual average rate in the 1980s." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., June 26, 2014): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 25, 2014.)






October 7, 2015

Analyst Conflict of Interest in Predicting Tesla Stock Price



(p. A1) Just like the Internet stocks of yore, Tesla has its own Wall Street cheerleader: Adam Jonas, Morgan Stanley's auto analyst. Jonas could not be less interested in mundane factors like earnings per share; indeed, he has had to lower his 2015 earnings estimates several times; he now predicts the company will lose $2.70 a share. But never mind: In the future that he envisions, Tesla will be the most important car company on earth.

Just a few weeks ago, in fact, Jonas raised his share price target for Tesla from $280 to $465, which would make Tesla more valuable than General Motors or Ford. Had anything fundamental changed for Tesla? Of course not!

Jonas based his new target on something he labeled Tesla Mobility, which he describes as "an app based, on-demand mobility service." Where did he learn about Tesla Mobility? Who knows? Tesla, a company hardly averse to hype, has never acknowledged its existence.

And that's not the worst of it. No, the worst is the timing of his call. It came days after Tesla announced that it would be issuing stock to raise yet more money -- and that Morgan Stanley was among the underwriters. (The company raised close to $800 million.)



For the full commentary, see:

Joe Nocera. "The Tesla Cheerleader." The New York Times (Sat., AUG. 29, 2015): A1 & A19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date AUG. 28, 2015.)






October 5, 2015

Belgian Government Mandates Mayo to Be No Less than 80% Fat



(p. A1) BRUSSELS--Mayonnaise here is a sauce celebre, so important that a 60-year-old royal decree governs what goes in it.


. . .


Belgian mayonnaise must contain at least 80% fat and 7.5% egg yolk. European rivals are permitted to sell mayo with a mere 70% fat and 5% egg yolk.



For the full story, see:

TOM FAIRLESS. "No Yolk, Belgian Food Producers Fed Up with Mayonnaise Rules; But effort to relax royal recipe doesn't go down well with chefs; yellow peas." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Sept. 20, 2015): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 20, 2015 and the title "In Belgium, Mayonnaise Makers Want a New Recipe; But effort to relax royal recipe doesn't go down well with chefs; yell;ow peas.")






September 28, 2015

Autism Is "Inseparably Tied to Innovation"



(p. 11) "NeuroTribes" is beautifully told, humanizing, important. It has earned its enthusiastic foreword from Oliver Sacks; it has found its place on the shelf next to "Far From the Tree," Andrew Solomon's landmark appreciation of neurological differences. At its heart is a plea for the world to make accommodations for those with autism, not the other way around, and for researchers and the public alike to focus on getting them the services they need. They are, to use Temple Grandin's words, "different, not less." Better yet, indispensable: inseparably tied to innovation, showing us there are other ways to think and work and live.


For the full review, see:

JENNIFER SENIOR. "'Skewed Diagnosis; A Science Journalist's Reading of Medical History Suggests that the 'Autism Pandemic' Is an Optical Illusion." The New York Time Book Review (Sun., AUG. 23, 2015): 11.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date AUG. 17, 2015, and has the title "'NeuroTribes,' by Steve Silberman.")


The book under review, is:

Silberman, Steve. Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity. New York: Avery/Penguin Random House, 2015.






September 27, 2015

Disneyland Started as a "Nightmare" and "Fiasco"



(p. C12) Sixty years ago, on July 18, 1955, the "Happiest Place on Earth," better known as Disneyland, opened to the public. But on that day, the former orange grove in Anaheim, Calif., was one of the most miserable places in America. A heat wave caused the park's new asphalt to stick to people's shoes. A gas leak forced parts of the site to close, a plumbers strike led to a water shortage, and lax security resulted in dangerous overcrowding.

Reviewing the $17.5 million theme park, a journalist wrote in a local newspaper, "Walt's dream is a nightmare...a fiasco the like of which I cannot recall in 30 years of show life."

Undeterred, Walt Disney added ever more attractions and innovations, transforming mass leisure from its violent origins in the ancient world to today's amusement-park industry, with $12 billion of annual revenue in the U.S.



For the full commentary, see:

AMANDA FOREMAN. "HISTORICALLY SPEAKING; From Gladiators to Mickey Mouse: Disneyland Turns 60." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., July 18, 2014): C12.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 15, 2015, an has the title "HISTORICALLY SPEAKING; From Gladiators to Mickey Mouse: Disneyland Turns 60.")






September 26, 2015

112 Years of Spectacular Progress Started With Wilbur Wright



PlutoYouthfulMountains2015-08-16.jpg
"New close-up images of a region near Pluto's equator reveal a giant surprise: a range of youthful mountains." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. A1) LAUREL, Md. -- The first close-up image of Pluto has revealed mountains as tall as the Rockies, and an absence of craters -- discoveries that, to their delight, baffled scientists working on NASA's New Horizons mission and provided punctuation for a journey nine and a half years in the making.

Only 112 years after the Wright Brothers were barely able to get their airplane off the ground, a machine from Earth has crossed the solar system to a small, icy world three billion miles away. The flyby on Tuesday, when New Horizons buzzed within 7,800 miles of the former ninth planet, came 50 years to the day after NASA's Mariner 4 spacecraft made a similar first pass by Mars.



For the full story, see:

KENNETH CHANG. "Pluto's Portrait From New Horizons: Ice Mountains and No Craters." The New York Times (Thurs., JULY 16, 2015): A1 & A17.

(Note: the online version of the article has the date JULY 15, 2015.)






September 24, 2015

Antiquated Education Needs Reform to Encourage Entrepreneurship



(p. 22) . . . "Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era," by Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith -- argues that the only way to ensure any kind of future security for our children is to totally upend the education system and rethink what school is for.

"Disrupt" is a buzz word these tech-world gurus use sparingly, but that's what they mean. Wagner works at Harvard's Innovation Lab, Dintersmith in venture capital, funding education and tech start-ups. . . . Their argument is this: Public education in America is based on antiquated late-19th-century priorities, on the need "to educate large numbers of immigrants and refugees from farms for basic citizenship and for jobs in a growing industrial economy." Most of the stuff children are forced to know, and on which our culture's sense of achievement is based, is unnecessary in the age of Google. But tests and test-makers still run the show, and kids are required to "jump through hoops" and drill and drill to assimilate reams of facts ("content") instead of learning the skills that will keep them employed and employable for years to come -- which is to say, the skills to be entrepreneurs.


. . . .


. . . the assumption that undergirds this whole tract: that every person can -- or should -- be molded into an entrepreneur.



For the full review, see:

LISA MILLER. "Raise Them Up; A Vision of Education for an Entrepreneurial America." The New York Time Book Review (Sun., AUG. 23, 2015): 22.

(Note: ellipses in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date AUG. 18, 2015, and has the title "'Most Likely to Succeed,' by Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith.")


The book under review, is:

Wagner, Tony, and Ted Dintersmith. Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era. New York: Scribner, 2015.






September 18, 2015

Disneyland "Immersed the Viewer in the Story Itself"



(p. A11) On July 17, 1955, about 28,000 people (roughly half of whom had been sold counterfeit tickets) walked, for the first time, through the gates of Disneyland and into history. To say it didn't go smoothly would be an understatement: The temperature was 101 degrees (hot, even for Southern California) and difficulties with both the plumbing system and the labor unions made it impossible for anyone to get a drink. Only a handful of the rides and attractions were open at all, and most of those were continually breaking down and closing. Even the animals--the horses and mules in the Wild West attractions--refused to cooperate. That walk may have been historic, but it was made even more difficult by all the asphalt--poured only a few hours earlier--that kept sticking to everyone's shoes.

. . .


With Disneyland, Walt Disney took the concept of narrative to the extreme: Rather than merely showing the viewer a story, even with the heightened naturalism of sound, color and a combination of cartoon characters and real actors, the theme park actually immersed the viewer in the story itself.


. . .


Walt Disney--who famously said, "Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world"--would be pleased that in the half century since his death, his creation has been constantly tinkered with. Although very little remains of the park that opened in 1955, he would still recognize it, and love it.



For the full commentary, see:

WILL FRIEDWALD. "CULTURAL COMMENTARY; Finding Disneyland; Celebrating 60 Years of Disneyland, a Park that Was ahead of Its Time." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., July 15, 2015): D5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 14, 2015, and has the title "CULTURAL COMMENTARY; Celebrating 60 Years of Disneyland; In honor of Disneyland's 60th birthday, a look back at a park that was ahead of its time.")







September 16, 2015

Should We Have a Right to the Silence that "Contributes to Creativity and Innovation"?



(p. D5) The benefits of silence are off the books. They are not measured in the gross domestic product, yet the availability of silence surely contributes to creativity and innovation. They do not show up explicitly in social statistics such as level of educational achievement, yet one consumes a great deal of silence in the course of becoming educated.


. . .


Or do we? Silence is now offered as a luxury good. In the business-class lounge at Charles de Gaulle Airport, I heard only the occasional tinkling of a spoon against china. I saw no advertisements on the walls. This silence, more than any other feature, is what makes it feel genuinely luxurious. When you step inside and the automatic doors whoosh shut behind you, the difference is nearly tactile, like slipping out of haircloth into satin. Your brow unfurrows, your neck muscles relax; after 20 minutes you no longer feel exhausted.

Outside, in the peon section, is the usual airport cacophony. . . .


. . .


To engage in inventive thinking during those idle hours spent at an airport requires silence.


. . .


I think we need to sharpen the conceptually murky right to privacy by supplementing it with a right not to be addressed. This would apply not, of course, to those who address me face to face as individuals, but to those who never show their faces, and treat my mind as a resource to be harvested.



For the full commentary, see:

MATTHEW B. CRAWFORD. "OPINION; The Cost of Paying Attention." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., MARCH 8, 2015): 5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date MARCH 7, 2015.)


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

Crawford, Matthew B. The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015.






September 14, 2015

How Jack Dorsey Achieves Work-Life Balance: "I Don't Have a Family"



(p. B1) Maybe Jack Dorsey needs to clone himself.

On July 1, the technology entrepreneur took on the challenge of turning around Twitter, the social media site that he co-founded and that he was asked to run as interim chief executive. At the same time, Mr. Dorsey has filed confidential paperwork to sell stock to the public in the other company where he is chief executive, Square, a mobile payments provider, a person briefed on the action said on Friday [July 24, 2015].

The collision of events adds fodder to one of Silicon Valley's hottest topics: how Mr. Dorsey will juggle the companies, and whether he will forgo responsibilities at one to concentrate on the other.


. . .


(p. B2) On Tuesday [July 28, 2015], Mr. Dorsey will face Twitter investors when he reports the San Francisco-based company's quarterly earnings. The executive has been preparing for the event, where his performance will be scrutinized.

Mr. Dorsey has also spent time at Square, which has offices about a block away from Twitter's on Market Street in San Francisco. Last week, he moderated a panel discussion on women in technology at Square's twice-monthly staff meeting, featuring three women -- Sarah Friar, Alyssa Henry and Francoise Brougher -- who head finance, engineering and business operations, respectively, at the mobile payments company.

During a part of the session that focused on parenting, according to a person who attended the meeting, Mr. Dorsey was asked how he managed to achieve work-life balance. He told the audience, "Uh, I don't have a family."



For the full story, see:

MIKE ISAAC and VINDU GOEL. "Square's Filing Turns Talk to Dorsey's Juggling Skills." The New York Times (Sat., JULY 25, 2015): B1-B2.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date JULY 24, 2015.)







September 13, 2015

The Dynamism of Venturesome New Yorkers: "If You Want Country Living, Move to the Country"



(p. A18) One cannot live any closer to the terminals of La Guardia Airport than the residents of East Elmhurst, Queens. Some homes sit only a few hundred yards away from the control tower, on the opposite side of the Grand Central Parkway. The new $4 billion airport hub envisioned for the site, announced this week by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Vice President Joseph R. Biden, would be even closer.

So it might be assumed that the promise of years of heavy-duty construction and the associated noise, traffic and dust would fill residents with dread.

Not quite.

"We live in New York City, honey," said Michele Mongeluzo, 56, whose house sits on a rise just south of the parkway, offering an unobstructed view of the airport and the proposed construction site. "If you want country living, move to the country."

In interviews this week along the blocks closest to the airport, residents almost universally said that they not only had no trepidation about the construction but that they also actually welcomed it. Improvements, they said, were long overdue.

Furthermore, they suggested, what was a little construction on top of the aural challenges -- the roaring jet engines, the chop of helicopter rotors, the incessant highway traffic -- that they had already contended with and apparently overcome?

"If it's noisy, I'm used to it," said Freddy Fuhrtz, 75, who retired as an employee in the cargo division of Pan Am and still lives in the two-story house on 92nd Street where he grew up and raised his children. "It's progress."



For the full story, see:

KIRK SEMPLE. "Construction Plans Don't Faze Airport Neighbors." The New York Times (Fri., JULY 31, 2015): A18 & A21.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JULY 30, 2015, and has the title "Construction Plans for La Guardia Airport Don't Faze Its Neighbors.")






September 12, 2015

Too Much Positive Thinking Creates Relaxed Complacency



(p. D5) In her smart, lucid book, "Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation," Dr. Oettingen critically re-examines positive thinking and give readers a more nuanced -- and useful -- understanding of motivation based on solid empirical evidence.

Conventional wisdom has it that dreams are supposed to excite us and inspire us to act. Putting this to the test, Dr. Oettingen recruits a group of undergraduate college students and randomly assigns them to two groups. She instructs the first group to fantasize that the coming week will be a knockout: good grades, great parties and the like; students in the second group are asked to record all their thoughts and daydreams about the coming week, good and bad.

Strikingly, the students who were told to think positively felt far less energized and accomplished than those who were instructed to have a neutral fantasy. Blind optimism, it turns out, does not motivate people; instead, as Dr. Oettingen shows in a series of clever experiments, it creates a sense of relaxation complacency. It is as if in dreaming or fantasizing about something we want, our minds are tricked into believing we have attained the desired goal.

There appears to be a physiological basis for this effect: Studies show that just fantasizing about a wish lowers blood pressure, while thinking of that same wish -- and considering not getting it -- raises blood pressure. It may feel better to daydream, but it leaves you less energized and less prepared for action.


. . .


In one study, she taught a group of third graders a mental-contrast exercise: They were told to imagine a candy prize they would receive if they finished a language assignment, and then to imagine several of their own behaviors that could prevent them from winning. A second group of students was instructed only to fantasize about winning the prize. The students who did the mental contrast outperformed those who just dreamed.



For the full review, see:

RICHARD A. FRIEDMAN, M.D. "Books; Dare to Dream of Falling Short." The New York Times (Tues., DEC. 23, 2014): D5.

(Note: italics in original; ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date DEC. 22, 2014.)


The book under review, is:

Oettingen, Gabriele. Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation. New York: Current, 2014.






September 10, 2015

Uber Used Political Entrepreneurship to Fight Government Regulations



(p. A15) Mayor Bill de Blasio's summertime battle with Uber exposed vulnerabilities in his political operation and has given rise to resentment among many of the allies he will need to advance his agenda at City Hall.


. . .


Aides to the mayor said they weren't prepared for the force of Uber's campaign-style attack of television ads, which began to air on July 14, the day after they met with Uber officials to negotiate.

Uber also ran a sophisticated digital strategy, with more than 40,000 people emailing the mayor and almost 20,000 sending him twitter messages.

City Hall repeatedly stumbled when it tried to fight back.

Aides managed to send emails to thousands of Uber users, saying they were only trying to slow the car service's expansion--while studying the issue--but were flooded by many people incorrectly accusing them of trying to totally ban the service.


. . .


After Uber staged several large rallies, the mayor's office aggressively tried to find supporters. But a rally on City Hall steps had fewer than 200 people, and many other officials didn't want to enter the fray.

Many of the city's influential black leaders were already backing Uber and had appeared at a July 14 news conference. Aides to the mayor were furious. "It was the African-American ministers that turned this fight," said Kathy Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City, a pro-business group.



For the full story, see:

JOSH DAWSEY. "War With Uber Hurt de Blasio With Allies; Aides to the mayor say they weren't prepared for the force of Uber's campaign-style attack of TV ads." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., July 31, 2015): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 30, 2015.)







August 30, 2015

In Health Care We Need More than Incremental Steps; We Need Cures



(p. 8A) In 1998, I went to the doctor so fatigued I was unable to get out of bed. He sent me home diagnosed with multiple sclerosis but without so much as a treatment plan, a prescription or what I needed most: hope. Come back when it gets worse, he said, the medical equivalent of a pat on the head.


. . .


We need advocates unwilling to tolerate the old silos who insist on pushing neurologic science into a new era of breakthroughs. We need private funders with the vision to place big bets, often on long odds, with bigger payouts, perhaps a vaccine for MS or Alzheimer's, on the other side.

At a time when the horizons of science have never spread wider, researchers and their supporters must rethink both the goals and the model of scientific research. It is a time for bold ambitions, not incremental steps.

Millions have experienced moments like the one I did in 1998. We owe these patients more than incremental progress. Ultimately, we owe them cures.



For the full commentary, see:

Ann Romney. "Bold Innovators Needed to Boost Health Research." USA Today (Mon., October 16, 2014): 4A.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date October 16, 2014, and the title "Ann Romney: Health Research Needs Boost from Bold Innovators.")







August 29, 2015

From Self-Funding, and Sony, Khanna Builds PlayStation Supercomputer to Advance Science



KhannaGauravPlaystationSupercomputer2015-07-05.jpg"Gaurav Khanna with a supercomputer he built at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth physics department using 200 Playstation 3 consoles that are housed in a refrigerated shipping container." Source of caption: print version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. D3) This spring, Gaurav Khanna noticed that the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth physics department was more crowded than usual. Why, he wondered, were so many students suddenly so interested in science?"

It wasn't a thirst for knowledge, it turns out. News of Dr. Khanna's success in building a supercomputer using only PlayStation 3 video game consoles had spread quickly; the students, a lot of them gamers, just wanted to gape at the sight of nearly 200 consoles stacked on one another.


. . .


Making a supercomputer requires a large number of processors -- standard desktops, laptops or the like -- and a way to network them. Dr. Khanna picked the PlayStation 3 for its viability and cost, currently, $250 to $300 in stores. Unlike other game consoles, the PlayStation 3 allows users to install a preferred operating system, making it attractive to programmers and developers. (The latest model, the PlayStation 4, does not have this feature.)

"Gaming had grown into a huge market," Dr. Khanna said. "There's a huge push for performance, meaning you can buy low-cost, high-performance hardware very easily. I could go out and buy 100 PlayStation 3 consoles at my neighborhood Best Buy, if I wanted."

That is just what Dr. Khanna did, though on a smaller scale. Because the National Science Foundation, which funds much of Dr. Khanna's research, might not have viewed the bulk buying of video game consoles as a responsible use of grant money, he reached out to Sony Computer Entertainment America, the company behind the PlayStation 3. Sony donated four consoles to the experiment; Dr. Khanna's university paid for eight more, and Dr. Khanna bought another four. He then installed the Linux operating system on all 16 consoles, plugged them into the Internet and booted up the supercomputer.

Lior Burko, an associate professor of physics at Georgia Gwinnett College and a past collaborator with Dr. Khanna, praised the idea as an "ingenious" way to get the function of a supercomputer without the prohibitive expense.

"Dr. Khanna was able to combine his two fields of expertise, namely general relativity and computer science, to invent something new that allowed for not just a neat new machine, but also scientific progress that otherwise might have taken many more years to achieve," Dr. Burko said.


. . .


His team linked the consoles, housing them in a refrigerated shipping container designed to carry milk. The resulting supercomputer, Dr. Khanna said, had the computational power of nearly 3,000 laptop or desktop processors, and cost only $75,000 to make -- about a tenth the cost of a comparable supercomputer made using traditional parts.



For the full story, see:

LAURA PARKER "An Economical Way to Save Progress." The New York Times (Tues., DEC. 23, 2014): D3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 22, 2014, and has the title "That Old PlayStation Can Aid Science.")






August 26, 2015

Pentagon Seeks Innovation from Private Start-Ups Since "They've Realized that the Old Model Wasn't Working Anymore"



(p. A3) SAN FRANCISCO -- A small group of high-ranking Pentagon officials made a quiet visit to Silicon Valley in December to solicit national security ideas from start-up firms with little or no history of working with the military.

The visit was made as part of an effort to find new ways to maintain a military advantage in an increasingly uncertain world.

In announcing its Defense Innovation Initiative in a speech in California in November, Chuck Hagel, then the defense secretary, mentioned examples of technologies like robotics, unmanned systems, miniaturization and 3-D printing as places to look for "game changing" technologies that would maintain military superiority.

"They've realized that the old model wasn't working anymore," said James Lewis, director of the Strategic Technologies Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "They're really worried about America's capacity to innovate."

There is a precedent for the initiative. Startled by the Soviet launch of the Sputnik satellite in 1957, President Dwight D. Eisenhower created the Advanced Research Projects Agency, or ARPA, at the Pentagon to ensure that the United States would not be blindsided by technological advances.

Now, the Pentagon has decided that the nation needs more than ARPA, renamed the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or Darpa, if it is to find new technologies to maintain American military superiority.


. . .


The Pentagon focused on smaller companies during its December visit; it did not, for example, visit Google. Mr. Welby acknowledged that Silicon Valley start-ups were not likely to be focused on the Pentagon as a customer. The military has captive suppliers and a long and complex sales cycle, and it is perceived as being a small market compared with the hundreds of millions of customers for consumer electronics products.

Mr. Welby has worked for three different Darpa directors, but he said that Pentagon officials now believed they had to look beyond their own advanced technology offices.

"The Darpa culture is about trying to understand high-risk technology," he said. "It's about big leaps." Today, however, the Pentagon needs to break out of what can be seen as a "not invented here" culture, he said.

"We're thinking about what the world is going to look like in 2030 and what tools the department will need in 20 or 30 years," he added.



For the full story, see:

JOHN MARKOFF. "Pentagon Shops in Silicon Valley for Game Changers." The New York Times (Fri., FEB. 27, 2015): A3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 26, 2015.)






August 23, 2015

Starting in Late Middle Ages the State Tried "to Control, Delineate, and Restrict Human Thought and Action"



(p. C6) . . . transregional organizations like Viking armies or the Hanseatic League mattered more than kings and courts. It was a world, as Mr. Pye says, in which "you went where you were known, where you could do the things you wanted to do, and where someone would protect you from being jailed, hanged, or broken on the wheel for doing them."


. . .


This is a world in which money rules, but money is increasingly an abstraction, based on insider information, on speculation (the Bourse or stock market itself is a regional invention) and on the ability to apply mathematics: What was bought or sold was increasingly the relationships between prices in different locations rather than the goods themselves.

What happened to bring this powerful, creative pattern to a close? The author credits first the reaction to the Black Death of the mid-14th century, when fear of contamination (perhaps similar to our modern fear of terrorism) justified laws that limited travel and kept people in their place. Religious and sectarian strife further limited the free flow of ideas and people, forcing people to choose one identity to the exclusion of others or else to attempt to disappear into the underground of clandestine and subversive activities. And behind both of these was the rise of the state, a modern invention that attempted to control, delineate, and restrict human thought and action.



For the full review, see:

PATRICK J. GEARY. "Lighting Up the Dark Ages." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 30, 2015): C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 29, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Pye, Michael. The Edge of the World: A Cultural History of the North Sea and the Transformation of Europe. New York: Pegasus Books LLC, 2014.






August 21, 2015

More Tech Stars Skip College, at Least for a While



(p. B1) The college dropout-turned-entrepreneur is a staple of Silicon Valley mythology. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg all left college.

In their day, those founders were very unusual. But a lot has changed since 2005, when Mr. Zuckerberg left Harvard. The new crop of dropouts has grown up with the Internet and smartphones. The tools to create new technology are more accessible. The cost to start a company has plunged, while the options for raising money have multiplied.

Moreover, the path isn't as lonely.


. . .


Not long ago, dropping out of school to start a company was considered risky. For this generation, it is a badge of honor, evidence of ambition and focus. Very few dropouts become tycoons, but "failure" today often means going back to school or taking a six-figure job at a big tech company.


. . .


(p. B5) There are no hard numbers on the dropout trend, but applicants for the Thiel Fellowship tripled in the most recent year; the fellowship won't disclose numbers.


. . .


It has tapped 82 fellows in the past five years.

"I don't think college is always bad, but our society seems to think college is always good, for everyone, at any cost--and that is what we have to question," says Mr. Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal and an early investor in Facebook.

Of the 43 fellows in the initial classes of 2011 and 2012, 26 didn't return to school and continued to work on startups or independent projects. Five went to work for large tech firms, including a few through acquisitions. The remaining 12 went back to school.

Mr. Thiel says companies started by the fellows have raised $73 million, a record that he says has attracted additional applicants. He says fellows "learned far more than they would have in college."



For the full story, see:

DAISUKE WAKABAYASHI. "College Dropouts Thrive in Tech." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., June 4, 2015): B1 & B10.

(Note: ellipses added. The phrase "the fellowship won't disclose numbers" was in the online, but not the print, version of the article.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date June 3, 2015, and has the title "College Dropouts Thrive in Tech.")






August 13, 2015

Cultural and Institutional Differences Between Europe and U.S. Keep Europe from Having a Silicon Valley



(p. B7) "They all want a Silicon Valley," Jacob Kirkegaard, a Danish economist and senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, told me this week. "But none of them can match the scale and focus on the new and truly innovative technologies you have in the United States. Europe and the rest of the world are playing catch-up, to the great frustration of policy makers there."

Petra Moser, assistant professor of economics at Stanford and its Europe Center, who was born in Germany, agreed that "Europeans are worried."

"They're trying to recreate Silicon Valley in places like Munich, so far with little success," she said. "The institutional and cultural differences are still too great."


. . .


There is . . . little or no stigma in Silicon Valley to being fired; Steve Jobs himself was forced out of Apple. "American companies allow their employees to leave and try something else," Professor Moser said. "Then, if it works, great, the mother company acquires the start-up. If it doesn't, they hire them back. It's a great system. It allows people to experiment and try things. In Germany, you can't do that. People would hold it against you. They'd see it as disloyal. It's a very different ethic."

Europeans are also much less receptive to the kind of truly disruptive innovation represented by a Google or a Facebook, Mr. Kirkegaard said.

He cited the example of Uber, the ride-hailing service that despite its German-sounding name is a thoroughly American upstart. Uber has been greeted in Europe like the arrival of a virus, and its reception says a lot about the power of incumbent taxi operators.

"But it goes deeper than that," Mr. Kirkegaard said. "New Yorkers don't get all nostalgic about yellow cabs. In London, the black cab is seen as something that makes London what it is. People like it that way. Americans tend to act in a more rational and less emotional way about the goods and services they consume, because it's not tied up with their national and regional identities."


. . .


With its emphasis on early testing and sorting, the educational system in Europe tends to be very rigid. "If you don't do well at age 18, you're out," Professor Moser said. "That cuts out a lot of people who could do better but never get the chance. The person who does best at a test of rote memorization at age 17 may not be innovative at 23." She added that many of Europe's most enterprising students go to the United States to study and end up staying.

She is currently doing research into creativity. "The American education system is much more forgiving," Professor Moser said. "Students can catch up and go on to excel."

Even the vaunted European child-rearing, she believes, is too prescriptive. While she concedes there is as yet no hard scientific evidence to support her thesis, "European children may be better behaved, but American children may end up being more free to explore new things."



For the full story, see:

JAMES B. STEWART. "Common Sense; A Fearless Culture Fuels Tech." The New York Times (Fri., JUNE 19, 2015): B1 & B7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JUNE 18, 2015, and has the title "Common Sense; A Fearless Culture Fuels U.S. Tech Giants.")







August 10, 2015

We Often "See" What We Expect to See



(p. 9) The Justice Department recently analyzed eight years of shootings by Philadelphia police officers. Its report contained two sobering statistics: Fifteen percent of those shot were unarmed; and in half of these cases, an officer reportedly misidentified a "nonthreatening object (e.g., a cellphone) or movement (e.g., tugging at the waistband)" as a weapon.

Many factors presumably contribute to such shootings, ranging from carelessness to unconscious bias to explicit racism, all of which have received considerable attention of late, and deservedly so.

But there is a lesser-known psychological phenomenon that might also explain some of these shootings. It's called "affective realism": the tendency of your feelings to influence what you see -- not what you think you see, but the actual content of your perceptual experience.


. . .


The brain is a predictive organ. A majority of your brain activity consists of predictions about the world -- thousands of them at a time -- based on your past experience. These predictions are not deliberate prognostications like "the Red Sox will win the World Series," but unconscious anticipations of every sight, sound and other sensation you might encounter in every instant. These neural "guesses" largely shape what you see, hear and otherwise perceive.


. . .


. . . , our lab at Northeastern University has conducted experiments to document affective realism. For example, in one study we showed an affectively neutral face to our test subjects, and using special equipment, we secretly accompanied it with a smiling or scowling face that the subjects could not consciously see. (The technique is called "continuous flash suppression.") We found that the unseen faces influenced the subjects' bodily activity (e.g., how fast their hearts beat) and their feelings. These in turn influenced their perceptions: In the presence of an unseen scowling face, our subjects felt unpleasant and perceived the neutral face as less likable, less trustworthy, less competent, less attractive and more likely to commit a crime than when we paired it with an unseen smiling face.

These weren't just impressions; they were actual visual changes. The test subjects saw the neutral faces as having a more furrowed brow, a more surly mouth and so on. (Some of these findings were published in Emotion in 2012.)


. . .


. . . the brain is wired for prediction, and you predict most of the sights, sounds and other sensations in your life. You are, in large measure, the architect of your own experience.



For the full commentary, see:

Feldman Barrett, Lisa, and Jolie Wormwood. "When a Gun Is Not a Gun." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., April 19, 2015): 9.

(Note: italics in original; ellipses added.)

(Note: the date of the online version of the commentary is APRIL 17, 2015.)


The academic article mentioned in the passage quoted above, is:

Anderson, Eric, Erika Siegel, Dominique White, and Lisa Feldman Barrett. "Out of Sight but Not out of Mind: Unseen Affective Faces Influence Evaluations and Social Impressions." Emotion 12, no. 6 (Dec. 2012): 1210-21.






August 7, 2015

Steven Johnson Is Advocate of Collaboration in Innovation



(p. A13) Theories of innovation and entrepreneurship have always yo-yoed between two basic ideas. First, that it's all about the single brilliant individual and his eureka moment that changes the world. Second, that it's about networks, collaboration and context. The truth, as in all such philosophical dogfights, is somewhere in between. But that does not stop the bickering. This controversy blew up in a political context during the 2012 presidential election, when President Obama used an ill-chosen set of words ("you didn't build that") to suggest that government and society had a role in creating the setting for entrepreneurs to flourish, and Republicans berated him for denigrating the rugged individualists of American enterprise.

Through a series of elegant books about the history of technological innovation, Steven Johnson has become one of the most persuasive advocates for the role of collaboration in innovation. His latest, "How We Got to Now," accompanies a PBS series on what he calls the "six innovations that made the modern world." The six are detailed in chapters titled "Glass," "Cold," "Sound," "Clean," "Time" and "Light." Mr. Johnson's method is to start with a single innovation and then hopscotch through history to illuminate its vast and often unintended consequences.



For the full review, see:

PHILIP DELVES BROUGHTON. "BOOKSHELF; Unintended Consequences; Gutenberg's printing press sparked a revolution in lens-making, which led to eyeglasses, microscopes and, yes, the selfie." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Sept. 30, 2014): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sept. 29, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'How We Got to Now' by Steven Johnson; Gutenberg's printing press sparked a revolution in lens-making, which led to eyeglasses, microscopes and, yes, the selfie." )


The book under review, is:

Johnson, Steven. How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World. New York: Riverhead Books, 2014.






August 5, 2015

Plant Breeders Use Old Sloppy "Natural" Process to Avoid Regulatory Stasis



(p. A11) What's in a name?

A lot, if the name is genetically modified organism, or G.M.O., which many people are dead set against. But what if scientists used the precise techniques of today's molecular biology to give back to plants genes that had long ago been bred out of them? And what if that process were called "rewilding?"

That is the idea being floated by a group at the University of Copenhagen, which is proposing the name for the process that would result if scientists took a gene or two from an ancient plant variety and melded it with more modern species to promote greater resistant to drought, for example.

"I consider this something worth discussing," said Michael B. Palmgren, a plant biologist at the Danish university who headed a group, including scientists, ethicists and lawyers, that is funded by the university and the Danish National Research Foundation.

They pondered the problem of fragile plants in organic farming, came up with the rewilding idea, and published their proposal Thursday in the journal Trends in Plant Science.

. . .


The idea of restoring long-lost genes to plants is not new, said Julian I. Schroeder, a plant researcher at the University of California, Davis. But, wary of the taint of genetic engineering, scientists have used traditional breeding methods to cross modern plants with ancient ones until they have the gene they want in a crop plant that needs it. The tedious process inevitably drags other genes along with the one that is targeted. But the older process is "natural," Dr. Schroeder said.


. . .


Researchers have previously crossbred wheat plants with traits found in ancient varieties, noted Maarten Van Ginkel, who headed such a program in Mexico at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center.

"We selected for disease resistance, drought tolerance," he said. "This method works but it has drawbacks. You prefer to move only the genes you want."

When Dr. Van Ginkel crossbred for traits, he did not look for the specific genes conferring those traits. But with the flood-resistant rice plants, researchers knew exactly which gene they wanted. Nonetheless, they crossbred and did not use precision breeding to alter the plants.

Asked why not, Dr. Schroeder had a simple answer -- a complex maze of regulations governing genetically engineered crops. With crossbreeding, he said, "the first varieties hit the fields in a couple of years."

And if the researchers had used precision breeding to get the gene into the rice?

"They would still be stuck in the regulatory process," Dr. Schroeder said.



For the full story, see:

GINA KOLATA. "A Proposal to Modify Plants Gives G.M.O. Debate New Life." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., MAY 29, 2015): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 28, 2015.)







August 3, 2015

Tesla Cars Are Built on Government Subsidies



(p. A13) Nowhere in Mr. Vance's book, . . . , does the figure $7,500 appear--the direct taxpayer rebate to each U.S. buyer of Mr. Musk's car. You wouldn't know that 10% of all Model S cars have been sold in Norway--though Tesla's own 10-K lists the possible loss of generous Norwegian tax benefits as a substantial risk to the company.

Barely developed in passing is that Tesla likely might not exist without a former State Department official whom Mr. Musk hired to explore "what types of tax credits and rebates Tesla might be able to drum up around its electric vehicles," which eventually would include a $465 million government-backed loan.

And how Tesla came by its ex-Toyota factory in California "for free," via a "string of fortunate turns" that allowed Tesla to float its IPO a few weeks later, is just a thing that happens in Mr. Vance's book, not the full-bore political intrigue it actually was.

The fact is, Mr. Musk has yet to show that Tesla's stock market value (currently $32 billion) is anything but a modest fraction of the discounted value of its expected future subsidies. In 2017, he plans to introduce his Model 3, a $35,000 car for the middle class. He expects to sell hundreds of thousands a year. Somehow we doubt he intends to make it easy for politicians to whip away the $7,500 tax credit just when somebody besides the rich can benefit from it--in which case the annual gift from taxpayers will quickly mount to several billion dollars each year.

Mother Jones, in a long piece about what Mr. Musk owes the taxpayer, suggested the wunderkind could be a "bit more grateful, a bit more humble." Unmentioned was the shaky underpinning of this largess. Even today's politicized climate modeling allows the possibility that climate sensitivity to carbon dioxide is far less than would justify incurring major expense to change the energy infrastructure of the world (and you certainly wouldn't begin with luxury cars). Were this understanding to become widespread, the subliminal hum of government favoritism could overnight become Tesla's biggest liability.



For the full commentary, see:

HOLMAN W. JENKINS, JR. "BUSINESS WORLD; The Savior Elon Musk; Tesla's impresario is right about one thing: Humanity's preservation is a legitimate government interest." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 30, 2015): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 29, 2015.)


The book discussed in the commentary is:

Vance, Ashlee. Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future. New York: Ecco, 2015.


The Mother Jones article discussing government subsidies for Musk's Tesla, is:

Harkinson, Josh. "Free Ride." Mother Jones 38, no. 5 (Sept./Oct. 2013): 20-25.






August 1, 2015

Little Progress Toward Complex Autonomous Robots



(p. A8) [In June 2015] . . . , the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a Pentagon research arm, . . . [held] the final competition in its Robotics Challenge in Pomona, Calif. With $2 million in prize money for the robot that performs best in a series of rescue-oriented tasks in under an hour, the event . . . offer[ed] what engineers refer to as the "ground truth" -- a reality check on the state of the art in the field of mobile robotics.

A preview of their work suggests that nobody needs to worry about a Terminator creating havoc anytime soon. Given a year and a half to improve their machines, the roboticists, who shared details about their work in interviews before the contest in June, appear to have made limited progress.


. . .


"The extraordinary thing that has happened in the last five years is that we have seemed to make extraordininary progress in machine perception," said Gill Pratt, the Darpa program manager in charge of the Robotics Challenge.

Pattern recognition hardware and software has made it possible for computers to make dramatic progress in computer vision and speech understanding. In contrast, Dr. Pratt said, little headway has been made in "cognition," the higher-level humanlike processes required for robot planning and true autonomy. As a result, both in the Darpa contest and in the field of robotics more broadly, there has been a re-emphasis on the idea of human-machine partnerships.

"It is extremely important to remember that the Darpa Robotics Challenge is about a team of humans and machines working together," he said. "Without the person, these machines could hardly do anything at all."

In fact, the steep challenge in making progress toward mobile robots that can mimic human capabilities is causing robotics researchers worldwide to rethink their goals. Now, instead of trying to build completely autonomous robots, many researchers have begun to think instead of creating ensembles of humans and robots, an approach they describe as co-robots or "cloud robotics."

Ken Goldberg, a University of California, Berkeley, roboticist, has called on the computing world to drop its obsession with singularity, the much-ballyhooed time when computers are predicted to surpass their human designers. Rather, he has proposed a concept he calls "multiplicity," with diverse groups of humans and machines solving problems through collaboration.

For decades, artificial-intelligence researchers have noted that the simplest tasks for humans, such as reaching into a pocket to retrieve a quarter, are the most challenging for machines.

"The intuitive idea is that the more money you spend on a robot, the more autonomy you will be able to design into it," said Rodney Brooks, an M.I.T. roboticist and co-founder two early companies, iRobot and Rethink Robotics. "The fact is actually the opposite is true: The cheaper the robot, the more autonomy it has."

For example, iRobot's Roomba robot is autonomous, but the vacuuming task it performs by wandering around rooms is extremely simple. By contrast, the company's Packbot is more expensive, designed for defusing bombs, and must be teleoperated or controlled wirelessly by people.



For the full story, see:

JOHN MARKOFF. "A Reality Check for A.I." The New York Times (Tues., MAY 26, 2015): D2.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed expressions, added. I corrected a misspelling of "extraordinary.")

(Note: the date of the online version of the story is MAY 25, 2015, and has the title "Relax, the Terminator Is Far Away.")






July 31, 2015

George Bailey Wanted to Make Money, But He Wanted to Do More than Just Make Money



(p. 219) Actually, it's not so strange. The norm for bankers was never just moneymaking, any more than it was for doctors or lawyers. Bankers made a livelihood, often quite a good one, by serving their clients-- the depositors and borrowers-- and the communities in which they worked. But traditionally, the aim of banking-- even if sometimes honored only in the breach-- was service, not just moneymaking.

In the movie It's a Wonderful Life, James Stewart plays George Bailey, a small-town banker faced with a run on the bank-- a liquidity crisis. When the townspeople rush into the bank to withdraw their money, Bailey tells them, "You're thinking of this place all wrong. As if I had the money back in a safe. The money's not here." He goes on. "Your money's in Joe's house. Right next to yours. And in the Kennedy house, and Mrs. Backlin's house, and a hundred others. Why, you're lending them the money to build, and they're going to pay you back, as best they can.... What are you going to do, foreclose on them?"

No, says George Bailey, "we've got to stick together. We've got to have faith in one another." Fail to stick together, and the community will be ruined. Bailey took all the money he could get his hands on and gave it to his depositors to help see them through the crisis. Of course, George Bailey was interested in making money, but money was not the only point of what Bailey did.

Relying on a Hollywood script to provide evidence of good bankers is at some level absurd, but it does indicate something valuable about society's expectations regarding the role of bankers. The norm for a "good banker" throughout most of the twentieth century was in fact someone who was trustworthy and who served the community, who was responsible to clients, and who took an interest in them.



Source:

Schwartz, Barry, and Kenneth Sharpe. Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing. New York: Riverhead Books, 2010.

(Note: italics in original.)






July 25, 2015

Computers Lack Intuition about How to Handle Novel Situations



(p. 11) It seems obvious: The best way to get rid of human error is to get rid of humans.

But that assumption, however fashionable, is itself erroneous. Our desire to liberate ourselves from ourselves is founded on a fallacy. We exaggerate the abilities of computers even as we give our own talents short shrift.


. . .


Human skill has no such constraints. Think of how Capt. Chesley B. Sullenberger III landed that Airbus A320 in the Hudson River after it hit a flock of geese and its engines lost power. Born of deep experience in the real world, such intuition lies beyond calculation. If computers had the ability to be amazed, they'd be amazed by us.


. . .


Computers break down. They have bugs. They get hacked. And when let loose in the world, they face situations that their programmers didn't prepare them for. They work perfectly until they don't.


. . .


We should view computers as our partners, with complementary abilities, not as our replacements.



For the full commentary, see:

NICHOLAS CARR. "Why Robots Will Always Need Us." The New York Times (Weds., MAY 20, 2015): 11.

(Note: ellipses added.)






July 18, 2015

Conflict-of-Interest Politics Reduces Medical Collaboration with Industry and Slows Down Cures



(p. A15) The reality of modern medicine, Dr. Stossel argues, is that private industry is the engine of innovation, with productivity and new advances dependent on relationships between commercial interests and academic and research medicine. Companies, not universities or research with federal funding, run 85% of the medical-products pipeline. "We all inevitably have conflicts all the time. You only stop having conflicts when you're dead. The only conflict-free situation is the grave," he says.

The pursuit of the illusion "to be pure, to be priestly, to be supposedly uncorrupted by the profit motive," Dr. Stossel says, often has the effect of banishing or else discounting the expertise of the people who know the most but whose integrity and objectivity are allegedly compromised by industry ties. What ought to matter more, he adds, is simply "Results. Competence. LeBron James--it's putting the ball in the basket."


. . .


Zero-tolerance conflict-of-interest editorial policies, Dr. Stossel says, suppress and distort debate by withholding positions of authority. "If you have an industry connection, if you really understand the topic, you can't say anything," he notes. "If you're an editor, and you have an ideological predilection, you have all this power and you can say anything you want."

Dr. Stossel is equally scorching about the drug and device companies and their trade organizations, which he says drift around like Rodney Dangerfield, complaining they don't get no respect. They prefer not to be confrontational, they rarely fight back against the conflict-of-interest scolds. "They're laying responsibility by default to the patients, the people who actually have a first-hand connection to whatever the disease is: 'Goddammit, I want a cure.' "

Which is the larger point: The to-and-fro between publications not meant for lay readers can seem arcane, but the product of conflict-of-interest politics is fewer cures and new therapies. The predisposition against selling out to industry is pervasive, while reputations can be ruined overnight when researchers find themselves in a page-one exposé or hauled before Congress, even if there is no evidence of misconduct or bias.

Better, then, to conform in the cloisters than risk offending the conflict-of-interest orthodoxy--or translating some basic-research insight into a new treatment for patients. Dr. Rosenbaum reports: "The result is a stifling of honest discourse and potential discouragement of productive collaborations. . . . More strikingly, some of the young, talented physician-investigators I spoke with expressed worry about how any industry relationship would affect their careers."


. . .


'Pharmaphobia"--part polemic, part analytic investigation, a history of medicine and a memoir--deserves a wide readership. . . . "I'd rather get a conversation started with people who are smarter than I am about how complicated and granular and nuanced and unpredictable discovery is. Let's not slow it down."



For the full interview, see:

JOSEPH RAGO. "The Weekend Interview with Tom Stossel; A Cure for 'Conflict of Interest' Mania; A crusading physician says medical progress is hampered by a holier-than-thou 'moralistic bullying.'." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., June 27, 2015): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date June 26, 2015, and has the title "A Cure for 'Conflict of Interest' Mania; A crusading physician says medical progress is hampered by a holier-than-thou 'moralistic bullying.'.")


The book mentioned in the interview, is:

Stossel, Thomas P. Pharmaphobia: How the Conflict of Interest Myth Undermines American Medical Innovation. Lanham, MS: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2015.






July 14, 2015

Intel Entrepreneur Gordon Moore Was "Introverted"



(p. A11) "In the world of the silicon microchip," [Thackray, Brock and Jones] write, "Moore was a master strategist and risk taker. Even so, he was not especially a self-starter." Mr. Moore possesses many of the stereotypical character traits of an introverted Ph.D. chemist: working for hours on his own, avoiding small talk and favoring laconic statements. Indeed, as a manager he often avoided conflict, even when a colleague's errors persisted in plain sight.


. . .


After two leadership changes at Fairchild in 1967 and 1968, which unsettled its talented employees, Mr. Moore departed to help found a new firm, Intel, with a fellow Fairchild engineer, the charming and brilliant Robert Noyce (another of the "traitorous eight"). They also brought along a younger colleague, the confrontational and hyper-energetic Andy Grove. Each one of the famous triumvirate would serve as CEO at some point over the next three decades.



For the full review, see:

SHANE GREENSTEIN. "BOOKSHELF; Silicon Valley's Lawmaker; What became Moore's law first emerged in a 1965 article modestly titled 'Cramming More Components Onto Integrated Circuits'." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., May 26, 2015): A11.

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

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 25, 2015.)


The book under review is:

Thackray, Arnold, David C. Brock, and Rachel Jones. Moore's Law: The Life of Gordon Moore, Silicon Valley's Quiet Revolutionary. New York: Basic Books, 2015.






July 11, 2015

Canny Outlaws in Education and at Hogwarts



(p. 174) Interestingly, the union members in some of the schools run by Green Dot Public Schools, a charter school group with a solid educational track record, did not boycott the benchmark tests. The reason that they refused is revealing. Green Dot's exams are created by a panel of teachers from its schools and are regularly reviewed for effectiveness and modified by the teachers. The tests have more credibility with the teachers than the tests for the rest of the district's schools, which are written by an outside company, imposed from above, and don't mesh with year-round schedules.

The quiet resistance of canny outlaws and the vocal protests of others are signs that teachers dedicated to preserving and encouraging discretion and wise judgment are not going quietly into the night. These teachers are not people who simply rebel at rules or who are just committed to their own ways of doing things. They are committed to the aims of teaching, a practice whose purpose is to educate students to be knowledgeable, thoughtful, reasonable, reflective, and humane. And they are brave enough to act on these commitments, taking the risks necessary to find ways around the rules. We suspect that many of our readers are canny outlaws themselves or know people who are: practitioners who have the know-how and courage to bend or sidestep for-(p. 175)mulaic procedures or rigid scripts or bureaucratic requirements in order to accomplish the aims of their practice. We admire canny outlaws in the stories we tell ourselves about such people and even in some of our children's stories. We read the Harry Potter tales to them because Harry, Ron, and Hermione are canny outlaws who gain the guts and skill to break school rules and stand up to illegitimate power in order to do the right thing to achieve the aims of wizardry, indeed to save the practice itself.



Source:

Schwartz, Barry, and Kenneth Sharpe. Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing. New York: Riverhead Books, 2010.






July 10, 2015

Insights More Likely When Mood Is Positive and Distractions Few




If insights are more likely in the absence of distractions, then why are business executives so universally gung-ho on imposing on their workers the open office space layouts that are guaranteed to maximize distractions?



(p. C7) We can't put a mathematician inside an fMRI machine and demand that she have a breakthrough over the course of 20 minutes or even an hour. These kinds of breakthroughs are too mercurial and rare to be subjected to experimentation.

We are, however, able to study the phenomenon more generally. Enter John Kounios and Mark Beeman, two cognitive neuroscientists and the authors of the "The Eureka Factor." Messrs. Kounios and Beeman focus their book on the science behind insights and how to cultivate them.

As Mr. Irvine recognizes, studying insights in the lab is difficult. But it's not impossible. Scientists have devised experiments that can provoke in subjects these kinds of insights, ones that feel genuine but occur on a much smaller scale.


. . .


The book includes some practical takeaways of how to improve our odds of getting insights as well. Blocking out distractions can create an environment conducive to insights. So can having a positive mood. While many of the suggestions contain caveats, as befits the delicate nature of creativity, ultimately it seems that there are ways to be more open to these moments of insight.



For the full review, see:

SAMUEL ARBESMAN. "Every Man an Archimedes; Insights can seem to appear spontaneously, but fully formed. No wonder the ancients spoke of muses." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 23, 2015): C7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 22, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Kounios, John, and Mark Beeman. The Eureka Factor: Aha Moments, Creative Insight, and the Brain. New York: Random House, 2015.






July 8, 2015

Not Clear If Net Neutrality Is Good for Consumers



(p. B2) Of course, government antitrust and communications policy is supposed to benefit consumers, not any individual company or group of companies. "It's fair to say Netflix has gotten something of a free pass," said Scott Hemphill, visiting professor of antitrust and intellectual property at New York University School of Law. "This open Internet principle that's in ascendance is certainly good for Netflix. It's harder to say it's good for consumers."

. . .


Despite Netflix's arguments that it shouldn't have to pay fees to a broadband provider, that proposition is hardly self-evident. The fees Netflix so fiercely opposes are analogous to those found in many industries, such as credit cards, where both consumers and merchants pay the credit card companies. "It's hard to say if these fees are good or bad for consumers," Professor Hemphill said.



For the full story, see:

JAMES B. STEWART. "Common Sense; Netflix's Invisible Hand In Policy and Mergers." The New York Times (Fri., MAY 29, 2015): B2-B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the date of the online version of the story is MAY 28, 2015, and has the title "Her Majesty's Jihadists" which was also the title used on the cover, but not at the start of the actual article on p. 42, which has the title "Common Sense; How Netflix Keeps Finding Itself on the Same Side as Regulators.")






July 7, 2015

Too Many Rules Results in "Adherence Instead of Audacity"



(p. 159) . . . Wong found a distinct downside to this division of labor. "Put all the directed requirements together and the life of a company commander is spent executing somebody else's good ideas." Too many rules and requirements "removes all discretion" and stifles the development of flexible officers, resulting in "reactive instead of proactive thought, compliance instead of creativity, and adherence instead of audacity." These are not the kinds of officers the army needs in unpredictable and quickly changing situations where specific orders are absent and military protocol is unclear. The army is creating cooks, says Wong, leaders who are "quite adept at carrying out a recipe," rather than chefs who can "look at the ingredients available to them and create a meal." Wong found a number of top brass who agreed. Retired General Wesley Clark observed that senior army leaders have "gone too far in over-planning, over-prescribing, and over-controlling." The consequence, according to retired General Frederick Kroesen, is that "initiative is stymied, and decision making is replaced by waiting to be told.... There is no more effective way to destroy the leadership potential of young officers and noncommissioned officers than to deny them opportunities to make decisions appropriate for their assignments."

The same thing can be said about public school teachers.



Source:

Schwartz, Barry, and Kenneth Sharpe. Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing. New York: Riverhead Books, 2010.

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






July 3, 2015

Officers Used to Learn from Trial and Error in Training Their Units



(p. 156) In the army, wartime experience is considered the best possible teacher, at least for those who survive the first weeks. Wong found another good one--the practice junior officers get while training their units. The decisions these officers have to make as teachers help develop the capacity for the judgment they will need on the battlefield. But Wong discovered that in the 1980s, the army had begun to restructure training in ways that had the opposite results.

Traditionally, company commanders had the opportunity to plan, (p. 157) execute, and assess the training they gave their units. "Innovation," Wong explained, "develops when an officer is given a minimal number of parameters (e.g., task, condition, and standards) and the requisite time to plan and execute the training. Giving the commanders time to create their own training develops confidence in operating within the boundaries of a higher commander's intent without constant supervision." The junior officers develop practical wisdom through their teaching of trainees, but only if their teaching allows them discretion and flexibility. Just as psychologist Karl Weick found studying firefighters, experience applying a limited number of guidelines teaches soldiers how to improvise in dangerous situations.

Wong's research showed that the responsibility for training at the company level was being taken away from junior officers. First, the time they needed was being eaten away by "cascading requirements" placed on company commanders from above. There was, Wong explained, such a "rush by higher headquarters to incorporate every good idea into training" that "the total number of training days required by all mandatory training directives literally exceeds the number of training days available to company commanders. Company commanders somehow have to fit 297 days of mandatory requirements into 256 available training days." On top of this, there were administrative requirements to track data on as many as 125 items, including sexual responsibility training, family care packets, community volunteer hours, and even soldiers who had vehicles with Firestone tires.

Second, headquarters increasingly dictated what would be trained and how it would be trained, essentially requiring commanders "to follow a script." Commanders lost the opportunity to analyze their units' weaknesses and plan the training accordingly. Worse, headquarters took away the "assessment function" from battalion commanders. Certifying units as "ready" was now done from the top.

The learning through trial and error that taught officers how to improvise, Wong found, happens when officers try to plan an action, (p. 158) then actually execute it and reflect on what worked and what didn't. Officers who did not have to adhere to strict training protocols were in an excellent position to learn because they could immediately see results, make adjustments, and assess how well their training regimens were working. And most important, it was this kind of experience that taught the commanders how to improvise, which helped them learn to be flexible, adaptive, and creative on the battlefield. Wong was concerned about changes in the training program because they squeezed out these learning experiences; they prevented officers from experiencing the wisdom-nurturing cycle of planning, executing the plan, assessing what worked and didn't, reevaluating the original plan, and trying again.



Source:

Schwartz, Barry, and Kenneth Sharpe. Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing. New York: Riverhead Books, 2010.

(Note: italics in original.)






July 2, 2015

Video Games Tap into an Ancient Way to Process the World



(p. 30) "What looks like escapist fun is actually deep concentration," [Greg Toppo] says of the increasingly sophisticated video games that now occupy a major role in popular culture. "What looks like a 21st-century, flashy, high-tech way to keep kids entertained is in fact a tool that taps into an ancient way to process, explore and understand the world."


. . .


As the parent of a young child, I began "The Game Believes in You" thinking of video games as a kind of menace. I finished it believing that games are one of the most promising opportunities to liberate children from the damaging effects of schools that are hostile to fun.



For the full review, see:

KEVIN CAREY. "THE SHORTLIST; Education." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., APRIL 19, 2015): 30.

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

(Note: the online version of the review has the date APRIL 17, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Toppo, Greg. The Game Believes in You: How Digital Play Can Make Our Kids Smarter. New York: Palgrave Macmillan Trade, 2015.






June 26, 2015

Seven Seconds to See Whether Design Is Right or Wrong



(p. B14) Jacob Jensen, an industrial designer whose sleek minimalism exemplified the style known as Danish modern, most notably with the stereo systems and other audio products he created for the consumer electronics company Bang & Olufsen, died on May 15 [2015] at his home in Virksund, Denmark.


. . .


. . , Mr. Jensen wrote of his working method:

"In my view, constructing a fountain pen, writing a poem, producing a play or designing a locomotive, all demand the same components, the same ingredients: perspective, creativity, new ideas, understanding and first and foremost, the ability to rework, almost infinitely, over and over. That 'over and over' is for me the cruelest torture.

"The only way I can work," he continued, "is to make 30-40 models before I find the right one. The question is, when do you find the right one? My method is, when I have reached a point where I think, O.K., that's it, there it is, I put the model on a table in the living room, illuminate it, and otherwise spend the evening as usual, and go to bed. The next morning I go in and look at it, knowing with 100 percent certainty that I have 6-7 seconds to see and decide whether it's right or wrong.

"If I look at it longer, I automatically compensate. 'Oh, it's not too high,' and 'It's not so bad.' There are only those 6-7 seconds; then I make some notes as to what's wrong. Finished. After breakfast, I make the changes. That's the only way I know."



For the full obituary, see:

BRUCE WEBER. "Jacob Jensen, 89, Danish Designer, Dies." The New York Times (Fri., May 22, 2015): B14.

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

(Note: the date of the online version of the obituary is MAY 21, 2015, and has the title "Jacob Jensen, Designer in Danish Modern Style, Dies at 89.")






June 25, 2015

More Detailed Rules Reduce Ability to Improvise, and Result in More Deaths



(p. 41) How do wildland firefighters make decisions in life-threatening situations when, for instance, a fire explodes and threatens to engulf the crew? They are confronted with endless variables, the most intense, high-stakes atmosphere imaginable, and the need to make instant decisions. Psychologist Karl Weick found that traditionally, successful firefighters kept four simple survival guidelines in mind:

1. Build a backfire if you have time.
2. Get to the top of the ridge where the fuel is thinner, where there are stretches of rock and shale, and where winds usually fluctuate.
3. Turn into the fire and try to work through it by piecing together burned-out stretches.
4. Do not allow the fire to pick the spot where it hits you, because it will hit you where it is burning fiercest and fastest.

But starting in the mid-1950s, this short list of survival rules was gradually replaced by much longer and more detailed ones. The current lists, which came to exceed forty-eight items, were designed to specify in greater detail what to do to survive in each particular circumstance (e.g., fires at the urban-wildland interface).

Weick reports that teaching the firefighters these detailed lists was a factor in decreasing the survival rates. The original short list was a general guide. The firefighters could easily remember it, but they knew it needed to be interpreted, modified, and embellished based on (p. 42) circumstance. And they knew that experience would teach them how to do the modifying and embellishing. As a result, they were open to being taught by experience. The very shortness of the list gave the firefighters tacit permission-- even encouragement-- to improvise in the face of unexpected events. Weick found that the longer the checklists for the wildland firefighters became, the more improvisation was shut down. Rules are aids, allies, guides, and checks. But too much reliance on rules can squeeze out the judgment that is necessary to do our work well. When general principles morph into detailed instructions, formulas, unbending commands-- wisdom substitutes-- the important nuances of context are squeezed out. Better to minimize the number of rules, give up trying to cover every particular circumstance, and instead do more training to encourage skill at practical reasoning and intuition.



Source:

Schwartz, Barry, and Kenneth Sharpe. Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing. New York: Riverhead Books, 2010.






June 23, 2015

"Brazen Federal Overreach" Blocks Wine Process Innovation



(p. A13) On May 27, our Napa Valley winery will pull eight cases of Cabernet Sauvignon out of Charleston Harbor in South Carolina. We placed them there six months ago, protected from the elements, following similar experiments in the past two years. The cold water and the tides seem to expedite the aging process, and we believe that our ocean-aged fine wine--which we've trademarked as Aquaoir--could revolutionize how vintners around the world think about winemaking. The only obstacle: the federal government.

For more than a year, our winery has been targeted by the Treasury Department, specifically, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. The agency believes our product is unfit for human consumption, despite an utter lack of evidence, and it has threatened to revoke our winemaking license. Washington doesn't recognize this wine for what it is: the product of entrepreneurship and experimentation.


. . .


We don't envision expanding into vast underwater wine-storage development. We simply want to try to understand the ocean-aging effects so that we can try to simulate them on dry land. It would be lamentable if brazen federal overreach blocked the potential for innovation in an industry that could be on the cusp of a true sea change. Only in Washington could you raise a glass to that.



For the full commentary, see:

JIM DYKE JR. "The Wine-Dark Sea of Regulation; We aged wine at the bottom of the ocean--then the feds threatened our license." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., May 21, 2015): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the date of the online version of the commentary is MAY 20, 2015.)






June 20, 2015

Early Standard Oil Executive Preserved Shakespeare First Folios



(p. 17) "The Millionaire and the Bard," by Andrea Mays, is an American love story. It is the engaging chronicle of a sober, hard-working, respectably married industrialist of the Gilded Age who became obsessed with the object of his desire. Though generally frugal and self-­disciplined, he was willing to pay extraordinary sums in order to put his hands on his mistress, to gaze at her lovingly and longingly, to caress her. To possess her only once was not enough for him; he craved the experience again and again, without limit.


. . .


I am, as readers have probably surmised, speaking of the peculiar passion of book collecting. The lover in question was Henry Clay Folger, who made his fortune as one of the presidents and, by 1923, the chairman of the board of Standard Oil of New York. And the beloved, which he pursued with unflagging ardor, was a single book: "Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies, Published according to the True Originall Copies." Printed in London in 1623, seven years after the author's death, it is the book known to all lovers of Shakespeare simply as the First Folio.


. . .


Andrea Mays is a professor of economics, and the great strength of her book is an unflagging interest in exactly how Folger played the game.


. . .


Rarely has a mad passion brought forth such a splendid and enduring fruit.



For the full review, see:

STEPHEN GREENBLATT. "In Love with Shakespeare." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., MAY 24, 2015): 17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date MAY 22, 2015, and has the title "'The Millionaire and the Bard,' by Andrea E. Mays.")


The book under review, is:

Mays, Andrea E. The Millionaire and the Bard: Henry Folger's Obsessive Hunt for Shakespeare's First Folio. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015.






June 14, 2015

Jury Out on Whether Bossless Zappos Will Succeed



(p. A1) Brironni Alex was so good at answering telephone calls and emails from customers at Zappos.com Inc. that the company promoted her to customer-service manager.

But when the online retailer adopted a management philosophy called Holacracy, she lost her job title and responsibility for performance reviews. Since the end of April, Zappos has zero managers to oversee employees, who are supposed to decide largely for themselves how to get their work done.

"I am managing the work, but before I was managing the worker," says Ms. Alex, 26 years old, now part of a team implementing Holacracy throughout Zappos. Ex-managers haven't been guaranteed another job and could have their pay cut next year, though Zappos says that is unlikely. Ms. Alex says the changes give her more time for a workplace diversity committee and to perform on the Zappos dance team.

The shake-up has been jarring even for a company famous for doing things differently. Earlier this month, Zappos said about 14%, or 210, of its roughly 1,500 employees had decided Holacracy wasn't for them, and they will leave the retailer.

They were offered at least three months of severance pay by Zappos Chief Executive Tony Hsieh, who wrote in a 4,700-word memo in March that the company hadn't "made fast enough progress towards self-management."


. . .


(p. A10) Mr. Hsieh, 41, concedes that Holacracy "takes time and a lot of trial and error." He still has faith that the system empowers employees "to act more like entrepreneurs" and stokes faster "idea flow," collaboration and innovation, he says.


. . .


Research shows that the value of flat organizations is mixed, though highly motivated workers who thrive on creativity generally are best suited for going bossless.

The results at Zappos will be watched closely because it has long embraced employee independence even while striving to meet exacting customer-service standards. "Delivering Happiness," a 2010 book by Mr. Hsieh, was a best seller and spawned a management consulting firm.


. . .


"They are adopting Holacracy as more how to get to the next level, as opposed to how to fix something broken in their system, which is actually one of their unique challenges," says Brian Robertson, 36, the inventor of Holacracy. The term comes from the word "holarchy," coined by writer Arthur Koestler for self-organizing units that combine to form a larger organization.



For the full story, see:

RACHEL EMMA SILVERMAN. "Going Bossless Backfires at Zappos." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., May 21, 2015): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the date of the online version of the story is MAY 20, 2015, and has the title "At Zappos, Banishing the Bosses Brings Confusion.")






June 13, 2015

Ed Telling's Band of Irregulars Had the Freedom to Perform



(p. 482) . . . Bill Sanders, Charlie Bacon's replacement as the head of corporate personnel, . . . had once served Telling in the East despite having hair that flowed far below his ears. Sanders had grown his hair out in order to irritate an old-school store manager who exercised his sovereign rights by refusing to hire any man not sporting a crew cut. The fact that Telling never told Sanders to cut his hair was an early indication to others in the East that Ed Telling was much more interested in people who could do the job and who exhibited a healthy contempt for the status quo than he was in appearances.


. . .


(p. 492) It was more than dumb luck that his band of loyalists happened to include several supersensitive and insecure men, some deeply religious men, some obsessively ambitious men, several quite short men, and others, from secretaries to former window-dressers, who never fit into the status quo until Ed Telling discovered them and helped them flourish among his private band of irregulars. Along the way, the Eastern Territory troupe was joined by others. Whether they were bright-button kids from Utah itching to accomplish an act that truly counted on a large scale, or frustrated wordsmiths so enamored of the metaphors of power that the practice of management appeared to them in Biblical panoramas, they all had a part. All irregulars were welcome, and in his quiet way Ed Telling played them all. Telling could sense through instinct which people were willing to submit and which ones were willing to fight. Far from being unaware of his motivational skills, Telling would on occasion call Pat Jamieson into his office after one of his managers left, then convey to Pat the elliptical words he'd uttered to the manager, and predict the number of days it would take the officer to come back with the problem ironed out. He was rarely off by more than twenty-four hours. He said his management style involved giving subordinates a great deal of freedom, "the freedom," he called it, "to perform."



Source:

Katz, Donald R. The Big Store: Inside the Crisis and Revolution at Sears. New York: Viking Adult, 1987.

(Note: ellipses added.)






June 8, 2015

"The Most Astonishing Feat Mankind Has Ever Accomplished"



(p. 11) It's been nearly half a century since David McCullough published "The Johns­town Flood," which initiated his career as our matchless master of popular history. His 10th book, "The Wright Brothers," has neither the heft of his earlier volumes nor, in its intense focus on a short period in its subjects' lives, the grandness of vision that made those works as ambitious as they were compelling. Yet this is nonetheless unmistakably McCullough: a story of timeless importance, told with uncommon empathy and fluency.


. . .


David McCullough is interested in only one thing, namely how it was possible that two autodidacts from Ohio managed to satisfy a longing that the species had harbored for centuries. "The Wright Brothers" is merely this: a story, well told, about what might be the most astonishing feat mankind has ever accomplished. As the comic Louis C.K. has said, reprovingly, to those who complain about the inconveniences and insults of modern air travel: "You're sitting. In a chair. In the SKY!!"

Which is saying a lot. On its own terms, "The Wright Brothers" soars.



For the full review, see:

DANIEL OKRENT. "'The Aviators." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., MAY 10, 2015): 11.

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

(Note: the online version of the review has the date MAY 4, 2015, and has the title "'The Wright Brothers,' by David McCullough.")


The book under review, is:

McCullough, David. The Wright Brothers. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015.






June 7, 2015

Merton Miller Applauded Bankers Who Cleverly Evaded Government Interference with Free Markets



(p. 12) . . . Merton Miller, a Nobel laureate economist at the University of Chicago, . . . was in many ways the father of financial innovation. Miller praised complex financial instruments, in large part because they helped institutions avoid the law. He applauded bankers for cleverly avoiding government attempts to interfere with markets.


For the full review, see:

FRANK PARTNOY. "Societal Bonds." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., MAY 10, 2015): 28.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date MAY 8, 2015, and has the title "'Smart Money,' by Andrew Palmer.")






June 4, 2015

Entrepreneur Elon Musk Is Determined and Works Intensely



(p. C7) "Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future" isn't the first biography we've had of Mr. Musk, nor will it be the last. But it is easily the richest to date. It's also the first one Mr. Musk has cooperated with, though he had no control, the author says, over its contents. Mr. Vance is a technology writer for Bloomberg Businessweek. He won over Mr. Musk, who initially declined to be interviewed, impressing him with his diligence after he had interviewed some 200 people.

The result is a book that is smart, light on its feet and possesses a crunchy thoroughness. Mr. Vance can occasionally veer toward hagiography and the diction of news releases. After noting that Mr. Musk's grand vision is to colonize Mars, for example, Mr. Vance writes:

"He's the possessed genius on the grandest quest anyone has ever concocted. He's less a C.E.O. chasing riches than a general marshaling troops to secure victory. Where Mark Zuckerberg wants to help you share baby photos, Musk wants to ... well ... save the human race from self-imposed or accidental annihilation."


. . .


The best thing Mr. Vance does in this book, though, is tell Mr. Musk's story simply and well. It's the story of an intelligent man, for sure. But more so it is the story of a determined one. Mr. Musk's work ethic has always been intense. One observer says about him early on, "We all worked 20 hour days, and he worked 23 hours."



For the full review, see:

DWIGHT GARNER. "Books of The Times; For Industrialist, Sky Is No Limit." The New York Times (Weds., MAY 13, 2015): C1 & C7.

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

(Note: the online version of the review has the date MAY 12, 2015, and has the title "Books of The Times; 'Elon Musk,' a Biography by Ashlee Vance, Paints a Driven Portrait.")


The book under review, is:

Vance, Ashlee. Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future. New York: Ecco, 2015.






June 2, 2015

Hamburger Grown in Lab from Cow Stem Cells



(p. D5) A hamburger made from cow muscle grown in a laboratory was fried, served and eaten in London on Monday in an odd demonstration of one view of the future of food.


. . .


The two-year project to make the one burger, plus extra tissue for testing, cost $325,000. On Monday it was revealed that Sergey Brin, one of the founders of Google, paid for the project. Dr. Post said Mr. Brin got involved because "he basically shares the same concerns about the sustainability of meat production and animal welfare."

The meat was produced using stem cells -- basic cells that can turn into tissue-specific cells -- from cow shoulder muscle from a slaughterhouse. The cells were multiplied in a nutrient solution and put into small petri dishes, where they became muscle cells and formed tiny strips of muscle fiber. About 20,000 strips were used to make the five-ounce burger, which contained breadcrumbs, salt, and some natural colorings as well.



For the full story, see:

Fountain, Henry. "Frying up a Lab-Grown Hamburger." The New York Times (Tues., Aug. 6, 2013): D5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 5, 2013, and has the title "A Lab-Grown Burger Gets a Taste Test.")






June 1, 2015

Ed Telling's Nimble, Intuitive Labor Decisions at Sears



(p. 49) Telling rarely gave a direct order, so the Searsmen near him knew they had to listen hard and learn to read his arcane signals. You had to understand his gnomic comments and apparent throwaway lines, for you would only hear what Telling thought about something twice. The requirement made people scared, because the third time he spoke you were gone. "No need to beat a horse if he's not able to pull," he'd say. "Let's get another horse."

He had a habit he said he couldn't do anything about of judging the utility and character of a man the first time he looked into his eyes. Quick-draw decisions like this were a part of the general managerial ethos at Sears. The practice might have descended from the store master's knack for spotting at fifteen paces a shopper in the mood to spend freely.



Source:

Katz, Donald R. The Big Store: Inside the Crisis and Revolution at Sears. New York: Viking Adult, 1987.






May 29, 2015

Studebaker Competed with "Unique Designs and Powerful Engines"



LangeGregWithStudebakerPresident2015-04-25.jpg

"Greg Lange, 53, with his two-tone 1955 Studebaker President, near his home in Edmonds, Wash." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. D4) I've always rooted for underdogs.


. . .


Studebaker wasn't a big Detroit corporation. It was a smaller company out of South Bend, Ind., and had to be highly imaginative to compete with Ford and General Motors. This resulted in unique designs and powerful engines. The one in my President is called a Passmaster (a 259 cubic inch V8); the meaning is obvious.



For the full interview, see:

Greg Lange as told to interviewer A.J. BAIME. "Studebaker: President Still in Office." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., April 8, 2015): D4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date April 7, 2015, and has the title "Studebaker: Still Stands Out After 60 Years." Where the online version differs from the print version, the quoted passage follows the online version.)






May 28, 2015

Ed Telling Centralized as He Talked of Decentralization



(p. 491) Like de Gaulle, Telling talked of decentralization as he centralized all things beneath him. He pulled the authority of individual stores into the purview of the retail groups, then the power of the groups into the territory, and then the awesome power of the territories up into the Tower--with an assist to Ed Brennan at the end. The killing off of layers of management in many large companies causes the authority to fall down as if by gravity, but Telling pulled it back up manually. Every retirement caused former authority to come up to him.


Source:

Katz, Donald R. The Big Store: Inside the Crisis and Revolution at Sears. New York: Viking Adult, 1987.






May 25, 2015

To FDA Aging Is Not a Disease, So FDA Will Not Approve Drugs that Extend Life



(p. D1) Some of the top researchers on aging in the country are trying to get an unusual clinical trial up and running.


. . .


The trial aims to test the drug metformin, a common medication often used to treat Type 2 diabetes, and see if it can delay or prevent other chronic diseases. (The project is being called Targeting/Taming Aging With Metformin, or TAME.) Metformin isn't necessarily more promising than other drugs that have shown signs of extending life and reducing age-related chronic diseases. But metformin has been widely and safely used for more than 60 years, has very few side effects and is inexpensive.

The scientists say that if TAME is a well-designed, large-scale study, the Food and Drug Administration might be persuaded to consider aging as an indication, or preventable condition, a move that could spur drug makers to target factors that contribute to aging.


. . .


(p. D4) Fighting each major disease of old age separately isn't winnable, said S. Jay Olshansky, another TAME project planner and a professor at the school of public health at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "We lower the risk of heart disease, somebody lives long enough to get cancer. If we reduce the risk of cancer, somebody lives long enough to get Alzheimer's disease."

"We are suggesting that the time has arrived to attack them all by going after the biological process of aging," Dr. Olshansky said.

Sandy Walsh, an FDA spokeswoman, said the agency's perspective has long been that "aging" isn't a disease. "We clearly have approved drugs that treat consequences of aging," she said. Although the FDA currently is inclined to treat diseases prevalent in older people as separate medical conditions, "if someone in the drug-development industry found something that treated all of these, we might revisit our thinking."



For the full story, see:

SUMATHI REDDY. "To Grow Old Without Disease." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., March 17, 2015): D1 & D4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 16, 2015, and has the title "Scientists' New Goal: Growing Old Without Disease.")






May 24, 2015

Sears CEO Ed Telling Opposed the "Sloppiness" of Across-the-Board Layoffs



(p. 46) It was never that layoffs were anathema to Telling as such; he just resented the sloppiness of a 10-percent across-the-board layoff when some areas of the company should have been cut by 40 percent and some built up by half.


Source:

Katz, Donald R. The Big Store: Inside the Crisis and Revolution at Sears. New York: Viking Adult, 1987.






May 19, 2015

Technicolor Entrepreneur Kalmus Was Visionary, Stubborn and "in It for the Long Haul"



(p. C15) Judy Garland opening a door from black-and-white Kansas into Technicolor Oz is one of the most enchanting effects in all of movies. But as film historians James Layton and David Pierce relate in "The Dawn of Technicolor: 1915-1935," the technology that made "The Wizard of Oz" possible came from people who were looking to start a business, not to make art.

The creators of Technicolor--engineer W. Burton Wescott and MIT graduates Daniel Comstock and Herbert T. Kalmus--were visionary, though stubborn is just as accurate.


. . .


In 1934 Fortune magazine wrote, "Businessmen regard Dr. Kalmus as a scientist, and scientists regard him as a businessman." Comstock and Westcott eventually left the company in the mid-1920s, but Kalmus was in it for the long haul. . . .

Once perfected, Technicolor had a virtual monopoly on color Hollywood productions, and it did indeed make Kalmus and his investors rich. But it took steel nerves to put money into the unprofitable, ever-tinkering Technicolor of the early days.



For the full review, see:

FARRAN SMITH NEHME. "The Very Thought of Hue; Early color films gave viewers headaches. It took decades to develop a process that didn't simply look odd." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., April 11, 2015): C15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date April 10, 2015.)


The book under review is:

Layton, James, and David Pierce. The Dawn of Technicolor: 1915-1935. Rochester, NY: George Eastman House, 2015.






May 17, 2015

The Process Innovations of Ed Telling at Sears



There are a fair number of case studies and biographies of important new product innovations. Rarer are the case studies of process innovations. Two great exceptions are Marc Levinson's The Box and The Great A&P. I have recently read another exception, this one by Donald Katz, about how Ed Telling brought process innovations to Sears from the mid-1970s through the mid-1980s.

In the next few weeks, I will be quoting several of the more useful, or thought-provoking passages.


The book discussed, is:

Katz, Donald R. The Big Store: Inside the Crisis and Revolution at Sears. New York: Viking Adult, 1987.






May 16, 2015

Leadership Depends on Accumulated Experience as Much as Packaged College Courses



(p. 17) The dominant brand, Harvard Business School, claims to "educate leaders who make a difference in the world." The University of Michigan's Ross School does one better, developing "leaders who make a positive difference in the world." Kellogg at Northwestern develops "brave leaders who inspire growth in people, organizations and markets." And Duke's Fuqua says it does what it does because "the world needs leaders of consequence."


. . .


Which raises the question, once again, of whether leadership can be packaged and taught, rather than accumulated through experience.

John Van Maanen, a professor of management at M.I.T. Sloan who teaches a course named "Leading Organizations," isn't so sure it can. "Even today, three-plus decades in, there's no real definition of it," he says. "We can make people more conscious of ethical dilemmas in business, of the difficulty of directing people in times of adversity, and the confidence and communication skills necessary to do so. But the idea that such skills can be transmitted so that you can lead anybody at any time, that's ideologically vacuous."



For the full commentary, see:

DUFF McDONALD. "Can You Learn to Lead?" The New York Times, Education Life Section (Sun., APRIL 12, 2015): 17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date APRIL 7 (sic), 2015.)






May 7, 2015

Frugal Entrepreneurs May Be Able to Self-Finance Their Innovations




In my Economics of Entrepreneurship seminar we spend part of an evening reading the summary chapter of The Millionaire Next Door, discussed in the tribute below. In the seminar I suggest that at key early moments, innovative entrepreneurs may need to self-finance their innovations. They will be more likely to be able to do so if they have followed Stanley and Danko's advice on how to live frugally.


(p. B1) . . . the enduring lesson of the classic personal finance book, "The Millionaire Next Door," is this: Most of the rich grow wealthy because of modesty, thrift and prudence. They live happily in starter homes. They don't subsidize irresponsible adult children. They have an allergy to luxury automobiles.


. . .


The book, which has sold more than three million copies since its publication in 1996, made its co-author, William D. Danko, a millionaire himself and helped Mr. Stanley achieve similar security and leave academia for research and writing.


. . .


(p. B2) . . . even Mr. Danko, who ought to know better, has not always been able to resist the siren call of the Germans and their advertising. He bought one older Mercedes from a widowed friend, but his other one came new. "I was planning on buying a used one again, but the salesman was very good, and I was weak," he said. "These luxury cars are clearly overrated when you have to get your oil changed, and it costs $200."


. . .


. . . I was curious that Mr. Stanley died behind the wheel of a 2013 Corvette, rammed by another driver who might soon face charges in the accident. Mr. Stanley too, it turns out, couldn't help but have a taste for the finer things in life.

So does that make him a hypocrite? Or just a human being? All the best research tells us that we get much more joy out of doing things than having things, and a weekend drive in a car that goes really fast probably falls into both categories. But he earned that drive -- and that car -- by putting untold numbers of readers in a position where they'd be lucky enough to have that same choice themselves.



For the full commentary, see:

RON LIEBER. "YOUR MONEY; A Tribute to the 'Millionaire Next Door'." The New York Times (Sat., MARCH 7, 2015): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date MARCH 6, 2015, and has the title "YOUR MONEY; Paying Tribute to Thomas Stanley and His 'Millionaire Next Door'.")


The book under discussion is:

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






May 6, 2015

Economic Growth Depends on the Talented Becoming Entrepreneurs Instead of Rent Seekers



(p. 6) In an influential paper, the economists Kevin M. Murphy and Robert W. Vishny, both at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and Andrei Shleifer at Harvard University argue that countries suffer when talented people become what we economists call "rent seekers." Instead of creating wealth, rent seekers simply transfer it -- from others to themselves.

Job titles don't tell you whether someone is primarily a rent seeker. A lawyer who helps draft precise contracts may actually be helping the wheels of commerce turn, and so creating wealth. But trial lawyers in a country with poorly functioning tort systems may simply be extracting rents: They can make money by pursuing frivolous lawsuits.



For the full commentary, see:

SENDHIL MULLAINATHAN. "Economic View; Maximizing the Social Returns to a Career in Finance." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., APRIL 12, 2015): 6.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date APRIL 10, 2015, and has the title "Economic View; Why a Harvard Professor Has Mixed Feelings When Students Take Jobs in Finance.")


The paper praised and summarized above, is:

Murphy, Kevin M., Andrei Shleifer, and Robert W. Vishny. "The Allocation of Talent: Implications for Growth." Quarterly Journal of Economics 106, no. 2 (May 1991): 503-30.






May 5, 2015