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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 Boseless 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

As an Entrepreneur "You're Much More in Control of Your Life"



(p. C1) The financial crisis rocked and reshaped Wall Street, forcing many people to reassess their careers. Since then, a steady stream of executives has left Wall Street firms and multimillion-dollar salaries to hang out their own shingles. But for many, the allure of autonomy quickly gives way to everyday realities that can be jarring.


. . .


(p. C2) . . . , the jump from Wall Street to entrepreneurship, and any potential fall, can be steep. Unlike in Silicon Valley, where entrepreneurs benefit from an ingrained startup culture and network of venture-capital backers, Wall Street exiles often launch startups midcareer and without an equivalent institutional framework.


. . .


Milton Berlinski, a founding member of Goldman Sachs's financial institutions investment-banking group, hopped from one work location to another as he figured out what he wanted to do after he left the bank in 2012.


. . .


This month, Mr. Berlinski moved his team of 13 people into a 6,000-square-foot office that his entire group helped design, from choosing the paint to picking the furniture. "In some ways, you're starting from scratch," said Mr. Berlinski. "You're spending time working harder, but you're much more in control of your life."



For the full story, see:

ANUPREETA DAS. "Financial Startups Take Leap Sans Net." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., April 8, 2015): C1-C2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 7, 2015, and has the title "Financial Startups Make the Jump Without a Net.")






May 2, 2015

Fongoli Chimps, Where Prey Is Scarce, Show "Respect of Ownership"



(p. A10) The Fongoli chimpanzees live in a mix of savanna and woodlands where prey is not as abundant as in rain forests. There are no red colobus monkeys, and although the chimps do hunt young vervet monkeys and baboons, the much smaller bush babies are their main prey.

Dr. Pruetz argues that less food may have prompted both technological and social innovation, resulting in new ways to hunt and new social interactions as well. Humans evolved in a similar environment, and, as she and her colleagues write in Royal Society Open Science, "tool-assisted hunting could have similarly been important for early hominins."


. . .


By and large, said Dr. Pruetz, the adult males, which could take away a kill, show a "respect of ownership." Theft rates are only about 5 percent. The chimps she studies also have more mixed-sex social groups than chimp bands in East Africa.

Travis Pickering, an anthropologist at the University of Wisconsin, said that with less food available it seems that the Fongoli chimps, "have to be more inventive" and that "these hunting weapons even the playing field for non-adults and females."

Early hominins may have been in a similar situation, he said.



For the full story, see:

JAMES GORMAN. "Hunter Chimps Offer New View on Evolution." The New York Times (Fri., APRIL 15, 2015): A10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 14, 2015, and has the title "Chimps That Hunt Offer a New View on Evolution.")


The academic article discussed above is:

Pruetz, Jill D., Paco Bertolani, K. Boyer Ontl, S. Lindshield, M. Shelley, and E. G. Wessling. "New Evidence on the Tool-Assisted Hunting Exhibited by Chimpanzees (Pan Troglodytes Verus) in a Savannah Habitat at Fongoli, Sénégal." Royal Society Open Science 2, no. 4 (Weds., April 15, 2015), URL: http://rsos.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/2/4/140507.abstract .






May 1, 2015

Resilient Italian Entrepreneur Planned to Build Trattoria and Ended Up Building Museum



FaggianoAndSonsDigToFixPipe2015-04-19.jpg "Luciano Faggiano and his sons were digging to fix a pipe in Lecce, Italy. They found a buried world tracing back before Jesus." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. A1) LECCE, Italy -- All Luciano Faggiano wanted when he purchased the seemingly unremarkable building at 56 Via Ascanio Grandi was to open a trattoria. The only problem was the toilet.

Sewage kept backing up. So Mr. Faggiano enlisted his two older sons to help him dig a trench and investigate. He predicted the job would take about a week.

If only.

"We found underground corridors and other rooms, so we kept digging," said Mr. Faggiano, 60.

His search for a sewage pipe, which began in 2000, became one family's tale of obsession and discovery. He found a subterranean world tracing back before the birth of Jesus: a Messapian tomb, a Roman granary, a Franciscan chapel and even etchings from the Knights Templar. His tratto-(p. A8)ria instead became a museum, where relics still turn up today.


. . .


If this history only later became clear, what was immediately obvious was that finding the pipe would be a much bigger project than Mr. Faggiano had anticipated. He did not initially tell his wife about the extent of the work, possibly because he was tying a rope around the chest of his youngest son, Davide, then 12, and lowering him to dig in small, darkened openings.


. . .


Mr. Faggiano still dreamed of a trattoria, even if the project had become his white whale. He supported his family with rent from an upstairs floor in the building and income on other properties.

"I was still digging to find my pipe," he said. "Every day we would find new artifacts."


. . .


Today, the building is Museum Faggiano, an independent archaeological museum authorized by the Lecce government. Spiral metal stairwells allow visitors to descend through the underground chambers, while sections of glass flooring underscore the building's historical layers.

His docent, Rosa Anna Romano, is the widow of an amateur speleologist who helped discover the Grotto of Cervi, a cave on the coastline near Lecce that is decorated in Neolithic pictographs. While taking an outdoor bathroom break, the husband had noticed holes in the ground that led to the underground grotto.

"We were brought together by sewage systems," Mr. Faggiano joked.


. . .


"I still want it," he said of the trattoria. "I'm very stubborn."



For the full story, see:

JIM YARDLEY. "Home Repair Opens a Portal to Italy's Past." The New York Times (Fri., APRIL 15, 2015): A1 & A8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 14, 2015, and has the title "Centuries of Italian History Are Unearthed in Quest to Fix Toilet.")






April 28, 2015

Creativity Was Permissionless on the Internet Before Obama Made It a Regulated Utility



(p. A15) Critics of President Obama's "net neutrality" plan call it ObamaCare for the Internet.

That's unfair to ObamaCare.

Both ObamaCare and "Obamanet" submit huge industries to complex regulations. Their supporters say the new rules had to be passed before anyone could read them. But at least ObamaCare claimed it would solve long-standing problems. Obamanet promises to fix an Internet that isn't broken.


. . .


Utility regulation was designed to maintain the status quo, and it succeeds. This is why the railroads, Ma Bell and the local water monopoly were never known for innovation. The Internet was different because its technologies, business models and creativity were permissionless.

This week Mr. Obama's bureaucrats will give him the regulated Internet he demands. Unless Congress or the courts block Obamanet, it will be the end of the Internet as we know it.



For the full commentary, see:

L. GORDON CROVITZ. "INFORMATION AGE; From Internet to Obamanet; BlackBerry and AT&T are already making moves that could exploit new 'utility' regulations." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Feb. 23, 2015): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 22, 2015,)






April 19, 2015

Successful Billionaire Mathematician Would Have Lost Math Contests, But Was Good at Slow Pondering



(p. D1) James H. Simons likes to play against type. He is a billionaire star of mathematics and private investment who often wins praise for his financial gifts to scientific research and programs to get children hooked on math.

But in his Manhattan office, high atop a Fifth Avenue building in the Flatiron district, he's quick to tell of his career failings.

He was forgetful. He was demoted. He found out the hard way that he was terrible at programming computers. "I'd keep forgetting the notation," Dr. Simons said. "I couldn't write programs to save my life."

After that, he was fired.

His message is clearly aimed at young people: If I can do it, so can you.


. . .


(p. D2) "I wasn't the fastest guy in the world," Dr. Simons said of his youthful math enthusiasms. "I wouldn't have done well in an Olympiad or a math contest. But I like to ponder. And pondering things, just sort of thinking about it and thinking about it, turns out to be a pretty good approach."



For the full story, see:

WILLIAM J. BROAD. "Seeker, Doer, Giver, Ponderer; A Billionaire Mathematician's Life of Ferocious Curiosity." The New York Times (Tues., JULY 8, 2014): D3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JULY 7, 2014.)






April 13, 2015

Italian Traditional Family Stunts Individual Enterprise



(p. 15) Hooper's book, both sweeping in scope and generous with detail, makes persuasive arguments for how geography, history and tradition have shaped Italy and its citizens, for better and sometimes for worse. Roman Catholicism, for example, has indelibly conditioned Italian society, even as the Vatican's restrictions are widely ignored. Catholicism's great allowance for human frailty has translated into a great propensity for forgiveness, as evinced in the Italian justice system, but also resistance to the notion of accountability. It's a word, Hooper adds, that has no counterpart in the Italian language.


. . .


There's . . . mammismo, the propensity of young Italians to remain too closely tied to the maternal apron strings. But while "the traditional family has been at the root of much of what Italy has achieved," Hooper writes, dependence on the family can infantilize, and lack of individual enterprise has held the country back. Indeed, various sections of Hooper's book return to Italy's economic decline and its underlying causes.

He notes that the paperwork and formalities of Italy's cumbersome bureaucracy rob the average Italian of 20 days a year. And he wonders what other country could ever have had a Minister for Simplification to deal with its plethora of often conflicting laws and regulations.

Circumventing some of that bureaucracy partly answers another common question: Why is Italy so prone to corruption? After all, Italians are masters at sidestepping regulations, or, as the saying goes, "Fatta la legge, trovato l'inganno" ("Make the law, then find a way around it"). It's no wonder foreign investment in Italy is so low.



For the full review, see:

LISABETTA POVOLEDO. "Under the Italian Sun." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., March 1, 2015): 15.

(Note: ellipses added; italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date FEB. 27, 2015, and has the title "'The Italians,' by John Hooper.")


The book under review is:

Hooper, John. The Italians. New York: Viking, 2015.






April 3, 2015

Chinese Communists Crush Innovative Entrepreneurs by Banning Open Internet



(p. A1) BEIJING -- Jing Yuechen, the founder of an Internet start-up here in the Chinese capital, has no interest in overthrowing the Communist Party. But these days she finds herself cursing the nation's smothering cyberpolice as she tries -- and fails -- to browse photo-sharing websites like Flickr and struggles to stay in touch with the Facebook friends she has made during trips to France, India and Singapore.

Gmail has become almost impossible to use here, and in recent weeks the authorities have gummed up Astrill, the software Ms. Jing and countless others depended on to circumvent the Internet restrictions that Western security analysts refer to as the Great Firewall.

By interfering with Astrill and several other popular virtual private networks, or V.P.N.s, the government has complicated the lives of Chinese astronomers seeking the latest scientific data from abroad, graphic designers shopping for clip art on Shutterstock and students submitting online applications to American universities.

If it was legal to protest and throw rotten eggs on the street, I'd definitely be up for that," Ms. Jing, 25, said.

China has long had some of the world's most onerous Internet restrictions. But until now, the authorities had effectively tolerated the proliferation of V.P.N.s as a lifeline for millions of people, from archaeologists to foreign investors, who rely heavily on less-fettered access to the Internet.

But earlier this week, after a number of V.P.N. companies, including StrongVPN and Golden Frog, complained that the Chi-(p. A6)nese government had disrupted their services with unprecedented sophistication, a senior official for the first time acknowledged its hand in the attacks and implicitly promised more of the same.

The move to disable some of the most widely used V.P.N.s has provoked a torrent of outrage among video artists, entrepreneurs and professors who complain that in its quest for so-called cybersovereignty -- Beijing's euphemism for online filtering -- the Communist Party is stifling the innovation and productivity needed to revive the Chinese economy at a time of slowing growth.

"I need to stay tuned into the rest of the world," said Henry Yang, 25, the international news editor of a state-owned media company who uses Facebook to follow American broadcasters. "I feel like we're like frogs being slowly boiled in a pot."


. . .


The vast majority of Chinese Internet users, especially those not fluent in English and other foreign languages, have little interest in vaulting the digital firewall. But those who require access to an unfiltered Internet are the very people Beijing has been counting on to transform the nation's low-end manufacturing economy into one fueled by entrepreneurial innovation.


. . .


Avery Goldstein, a professor of contemporary Chinese studies at the University of Pennsylvania, said the growing online constraints would not only dissuade expatriates from relocating here, but could also compel ambitious young Chinese studying abroad to look elsewhere for jobs.

"If they aren't able to get the information to do their jobs, the best of the best might simply decide not to go home," he said.

For those who have already returned to China and who crave membership in an increasingly globalized world, the prospect of making do with a circumscribed Internet is dispiriting. Coupled with the unrelenting air pollution and the crackdown on political dissent, a number of Chinese said the blocking of V.P.N.s could push them over the edge.

"It's as if we're shutting down half our brains," said Chin-Chin Wu, an artist who spent almost a decade in Paris and who promotes her work online. "I think that the day that information from the outside world becomes completely inaccessible in China, a lot of people will choose to leave."



For the full story, see:

ANDREW JACOBS. "China Further Tightens Grip on the Internet." The New York Times (Fri., JAN. 30, 2015): A1 & A12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 29, 2015.)






March 31, 2015

Brin: Regulatory Burden Discourages Health Entrepreneurs



(p. A13) Earlier this month, at a private conference for the CEOs of his portfolio companies, venture capitalist Vinod Khosla interviewed Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, asking them if the company might jump into health care. "It's just a painful business to be in," Mr. Brin replied, later noting that "the regulatory burden in the U.S. is so high that I think it would dissuade a lot of entrepreneurs."

Mr. Brin is right. As a neurosurgeon-scientist and entrepreneur who co-founded a bioelectronic medicine company that deploys implantable technology to supplant drugs, I wish he were wrong.


. . .


. . . entrepreneurs should be allowed to carve out their own turf and let patients choose their own level of risk.

Consider the case of Goran Ostovich, a burly, 47-year-old truck driver from Mostar, Bosnia. Mr. Ostovich has suffered from long-standing rheumatoid arthritis and needed near-permanent bed rest. With his hands and wrists swollen and aching, he could no longer hold on to a wheel or even play with his small children. He tried a variety of medications. None worked.

When I met Goran at his doctor's office in 2012, however, he didn't seem at all afflicted with the disease. That's because, one year earlier, he had been offered the opportunity to be the first participant in a clinical trial of a new therapy based on my invention. He received a bioelectronic implant and rapidly improved.


. . .


Since news of this clinical trial's success became public, people from all over the U.S. stricken with rheumatoid arthritis have emailed, called and sent letters pressing for their shot at potentially effective--but not yet FDA-approved--treatments.


. . .


Some patients are very willing to take a calculated risk, . . .



For the full commentary, see:

KEVIN J. TRACEY. "Let Patients Decide How Much Risk They'll Take; Take a tip from Sergey Brin: The health-care regulatory burden stops entrepreneurs from getting into the game." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., July 28, 2014): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 27, 2014, and has the title "Let Patients Decide How Much Risk They'll Take; Take a tip from Sergey Brin: The health-care regulatory burden stops entrepreneurs from getting into the game.")






March 27, 2015

Recovery Slows When Start-Ups Are Taxed to Pay for Bailouts of Failed Firms




Vernon Smith, whose views are quoted below, won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2002.



(p. A11) The rescue of incumbent investors in the government bailout of the largest U.S. banks in the autumn of 2008 has been widely viewed as unfair, as indeed it was in applying different rules to different players. . . .


. . .


The rescue, . . . , had a hidden cost for the economy that is difficult to quantify but can be crippling. New economic activity is hobbled if it is not freed from the burden of sharing its return with investors who bore risks that failed. The demand for new economic activity is enlarged when its return does not have to be shared with former claimants protected from the consequences of their risk-taking. This is the function of bankruptcy in an economic system organized on loss as well as profit principles of motivation.


. . .


Growth in both employment and output depends vitally on new and young companies. Unfortunately, U.S. firms face exceptionally high corporate income-tax rates, the highest in the developed world at 35%, which hobbles growth and investment. Now the Obama administration is going after firms that reincorporate overseas for tax purposes. Last week Treasury Secretary Jack Lew wrote a letter to the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee urging Congress to "enact legislation immediately . . . to shut down this abuse of our tax system."

This is precisely the opposite of what U.S. policy makers should be doing. To encourage investment, the U.S. needs to lower its corporate rates by at least 10 percentage points and reduce the incentive to escape the out-of-line and unreasonably high corporate tax rate. Ideally, since young firms generally reinvest their profits in production and jobs, such taxes should fall only on business income after it is paid out to individuals. As long as business income is being reinvested it is growing new income for all.

There are no quick fixes. What we can do is reduce bureaucratic and tax barriers to the emergence and growth of new economic enterprises, which hold the keys to a real economic recovery.



For the full commentary, see:

VERNON L. SMITH. "The Lingering, Hidden Costs of the Bank Bailout; Why is growth so anemic? New economic activity has been discouraged. Here are some ways to change that." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., July 24, 2014): A11.

(Note: last ellipsis in original, other ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 23, 2014.)






March 26, 2015

"If You Want to Find Something New, Look for Something New!"



(p. D8) Yves Chauvin, who shared the 2005 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for deciphering a "green chemistry" reaction now used to make pharmaceuticals and plastics more efficiently while generating less hazardous waste, died on Tuesday [January 27, 2015] in Tours, France.


. . .


He confessed that he was not a brilliant student, even in chemistry. "I chose chemistry rather by chance," he wrote, "because I firmly believed (and still do) that you can become passionately involved in your work, whatever it is."

Mr. Chauvin graduated from the Lyon School of Industrial Chemistry in 1954. Military service and other circumstances prevented him from pursuing a doctoral degree, which he said he regretted. "I had no training in research as such and as a consequence I am in a sense self-taught," he wrote in his Nobel Prize lecture.

He worked in industry for a few years before quitting, frustrated by an inability to pursue new ideas. "My motto is more, 'If you want to find something new, look for something new!' " Mr. Chauvin wrote. "There is a certain amount of risk in this attitude, as even the slightest failure tends to be resounding, but you are so happy when you succeed that it is worth taking the risk."

He found the freedom to choose his research when he joined the French Petroleum Institute in 1960, and it led to his breakthrough on metathesis.

"Like all sciences, chemistry is marked by magic moments," Mr. Chauvin wrote. "For someone fortunate enough to live such a moment, it is an instant of intense emotion: an immense field of investigation suddenly opens up before you."



For the full obituary, see:

KENNETH CHANG. "Yves Chauvin, Chemist Sharing Nobel Prize, Dies at 84." The New York Times (Sat., JAN. 31, 2015): D8.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date JAN. 30, 2015.)






March 15, 2015

Regulations Reduce Biotech Innovation



(p. A15) Modern genetic engineering, also called genetic modification or GM, has been around since the 1970s. Yet with the notable exception of biopharmaceuticals--beginning with the marketing of human insulin in 1982 and now accounting for more than 20% of U.S. drug expenditures--genetic engineering has failed to realize anything approaching its potential for vertical progress.

The reason is plain: In the non-pharmaceutical sectors, federal regulators for years seemingly have done everything they can to prevent U.S. researchers and companies from employing genetic engineering to create the "next big thing."


. . .


Regulatory disincentives are potent. It costs about $136 million to bring a genetically engineered crop plant to market. This is the primary reason more than 99% of such crop plants are those that are grown at huge scale: . . .


. . .


"Biopharming"--the once-promising biotechnology area that uses genetic engineering techniques to induce crops such as corn, tomatoes and tobacco to produce high concentrations of high-value pharmaceuticals (one of which is the Ebola drug, ZMapp)--is moribund because of the Agriculture Department's extraordinary regulatory burdens. Thanks to EPA's policies, which discriminate against organisms modified with the most precise and predictable techniques, the high hopes for genetically engineered "biorational" microbial pesticides and microorganisms to clean up toxic wastes have evaporated.



For the full commentary, see:

HENRY I. MILLER. "Regulators Put the Brakes On Biotech; Thanks to EPA, hopes have evaporated for genetically engineered microorganisms to clean up toxic wastes." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Jan. 14, 2015): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 13, 2015.)






March 14, 2015

Serendipitous Discovery that Titanium Fuses with Bone, Leads to Implants



(p. 24) Implants have been a major advance in dentistry, liberating millions of elderly people from painful, ill-fitting dentures, a diet of soft foods and the ignominy of a sneeze that sends false teeth flying out of the mouth. But addressing those problems was not Dr. Branemark's initial intent.

At the start of his career, he was studying how blood flow affects bone healing.

In 1952, he and his team put optical devices encased in titanium into the lower legs of rabbits in order to study the healing process. When the research period ended and they went to remove the devices, they discovered to their surprise that the titanium had fused into the bone and could not be removed.

Dr. Branemark called the process "osseointegration," and his research took a whole new direction as he realized that if the body could tolerate the long-term presence of titanium, the metal could be used to create an anchor for artificial teeth.


. . .


. . . , Dr. Branemark's innovation was poorly received. After Dr. Branemark gave a lecture on his work in 1969, Dr. Albrektsson recalled, one of the senior academics of Swedish dentistry rose and referred to an article in Reader's Digest describing Dr. Branemark's research, adding, "This may prove to be a popular article, but I simply do not trust people who publish themselves in Reader's Digest."

As it happened, that senior academic was well known to the Swedish public for recommending a particular brand of toothpick. So Dr. Branemark immediately rose and struck back, saying, "And I don't trust people who advertise themselves on the back of boxes of toothpicks."



For the full story, see:

TAMAR LEWIN. "Per-Ingvar Branemark, Dental Innovator, Dies at 85." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., DEC. 28, 2014): 24.

(Note: ellipses are added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 27, 2015.)






March 9, 2015

George Washington's "Entrepreneurial Bent"



(p. 87) Washington proved an excellent businessman, first as a canny speculator in western lands, then as lord of Mount Vernon. Sometimes buying human cargo directly from the holds of slave ships, he came to own more than one hundred slaves by the Revolution and expanded his estate until it encompassed thirteen square miles. An innovative farmer, he invented a plough and presided over a small industrial village at Mount Vernon that included a flour mill and a shop for manufacturing cloth, an entrepreneurial bent that appealed to Hamilton.


Source:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.






March 8, 2015

Progress Depends on Removing Barriers to Innovation




In the quotation below, Bill Gates is referring to the late, and way-under-appreciated, economist Julian Simon.



(p. A3) ". . . Simon's view was that humans would have to change to innovate," Mr. Gates said. Innovation, in other words, is not preordained. Indeed, it's happened much more in some societies than in others. And it has happened, Mr. Gates was arguing, because people and institutions took steps to remove the barriers to progress.


. . .


. . . , much of the world is enjoying one of history's most rapid increases in prosperity. Life expectancy has risen more than six years just since 1990. The world, to quote the title of a book by the economist Charles Kenny, is "Getting Better." As Mr. Gates says: "The world is actually improving a lot. We're trying to deliver both the good news on the progress and the possibility to do more."



For the full commentary, see:

David Leonhardt. "Africa's Economy Is Rising, and Focus Turns to Food." The New York Times (Thurs., JAN. 22, 2015): A3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the title "Africa's Economy Is Rising. Now What Happens to Its Food?")


The book mentioned by Charles Kenny is:

Kenny, Charles. Getting Better: Why Global Development Is Succeeding--and How We Can Improve the World Even More. Philadelphia, PA: Basic Books, 2011.


One of the great books by Julian Simon is:

Moore, Stephen, and Julian L. Simon. It's Getting Better All the Time: 100 Greatest Trends of the Last 100 Years. Washington, D.C.: Cato Institute, 2000.






March 7, 2015

Innovation and Jobs Destroyed by Tax



(p. 7A) I was humbled to receive in November the National Medal of Technology and Innovation at the White House for the development of life-changing medical devices. Traveling to our nation's capital, I couldn't help but think: There is no way I could have had the same impact if the tax on medical devices was in place when I got started over 50 years ago.

Simply put, the medical device tax is destroying job creation and innovation, and as a result, patient care is suffering.


. . .


Every day, I see firsthand the difficult choices innovators must make as a result of this ill-conceived tax. Perhaps worst of all, the medical device tax is helping cause a steep drop of investments in promising therapies.


. . .


It's time to put an end to this disastrous policy so that medical device entrepreneurs can do what America does best -- innovate.



For the full commentary, see:

Tom Fogarty. "Opposing View: Tax Destroys Jobs and Innovation." USA Today (Mon., January 5, 2015): 7A.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date January 4, 2015, and has the title "Tax Destroys Jobs and Innovation: Opposing View.")






March 5, 2015

Hamilton Was an Autodidact




Others who might be considered autodidacts include Andrew Carnegie, Winston Churchill, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Guglielomo Marconi. When the self-taught can achieve so much, it raises the question of whether we over-emphasize formal education? (Chernow also mentions Hamilton being an autodidact on pages 110, 206, and 682.)


(p. 42) Hamilton's early itinerary in America closely mirrored the connections of Hugh Knox. Through Knox, he came to know two of New York's most eminent Presbyterian clergymen: Knox's old mentor, Dr. John Rodgers-- an imposing figure who strutted grandly down Wall Street en route to church, grasping a gold-headed cane and nodding to well-wishers--and the Reverend John M. Mason, whose son would end up attempting an authorized biography of Hamilton. Through another batch of Knox introductory letters, Hamilton ended up studying at a well-regarded preparatory school across the Hudson River, the Elizabethtown Academy. Like all autodidacts, Hamilton had some glaring deficiencies to correct and required cram courses in Latin, Greek, and advanced math to qualify for college.


Source:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.






March 3, 2015

Conscientiousness and Openness Matter More than Intelligence



(p. 2) In a 2014 paper, the Australian psychology professor Arthur E. Poropat cites research showing that both conscientiousness (which he defines as a tendency to be "diligent, dutiful and hardworking") and openness (characterized by qualities like creativity and curiosity) are more highly correlated with student performance than intelligence is. And, he notes, ratings of students' personalities by outside observers -- teachers, for instance -- are even more strongly linked with academic success than the way students rate themselves. The strength of the personality-performance link is good news, he writes, because "personality has been demonstrated to change over time to a far greater extent than intelligence."


For the full commentary, see:

ANNA NORTH. "Should Schools Teach Personality?" The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., JANUARY 11, 2015): 2.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JANUARY 10, 2015.)


Relevant articles by Poropat are:

Poropat, Arthur E. "A Meta-Analysis of the Five-Factor Model of Personality and Academic Performance." Psychological Bulletin 135, no. 2 (March 2009): 322-38.

Poropat, Arthur E. "Other-Rated Personality and Academic Performance: Evidence and Implications." Learning and Individual Differences 34 (August 2014): 24-32.






February 26, 2015

The Case that Hamilton Was Better than Jefferson



One of my entrenched beliefs has been that Thomas Jefferson was one of the great heroes of human history, and Alexander Hamilton was not. It is rare that I read something that changes my entrenched beliefs. But Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton did that. He makes a strong (and long) case that Alexander Hamilton was mainly a decent, brilliant, courageous, hard-working, self-made man, who not only talked the talk on liberty, but walked the walk (taking fire in the revolution, and strongly opposing slavery). He wasn't perfect in either his personal life or his beliefs. But he now has my vote as one of the great heroes of human history (and Jefferson does not).

In the next few weeks, I will quote several of the most revealing or thought-provoking passages of Chernow's book.

PS: I also previously learned a lot from Chernow's Titan, a big book about a big entrepreneur.


Main book discussed:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.


Other book, briefly mentioned:

Chernow, Ron. Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. New York: Random House, 1998.






February 22, 2015

Free Market Tour Guide Challenges Savannah's Attack on Free Speech



(p. A25) SAVANNAH, Ga. -- Especially when she sips French onion soup at a restaurant that was featured in the Julia Roberts movie "Something to Talk About," Michelle Freenor is an irrepressible tour guide.

She rattles off the history of Methodism in this city, as well as tidbits about William T. Sherman's March to the Sea. She discusses the canopy of Spanish moss that hangs above Savannah's streets, whether "Jingle Bells" was actually composed here, and just how haunted one of the country's largest historic landmark districts might be.

But Ms. Freenor has also emerged in recent weeks in a new role: plaintiff in a federal lawsuit that could reshape Savannah's lucrative and potent tourism industry. Backed by a nonprofit law firm with libertarian leanings, Ms. Freenor and three others, including her husband, are challenging the Savannah ordinance that requires tour guides to hold licenses and pass regular academic and medical examinations.

"It's the free market that made us successful, not the City of Savannah," said Ms. Freenor, 43. "You shouldn't have to pass a test to be able to tell people where the best ice cream in Savannah is."


. . .


"What tour guides do is talk for a living," said Robert Johnson, one of Ms. Freenor's lawyers. "They're just like stand-up comedians, journalists or novelists. And in this country, you don't need a license from the government to be able to talk."



For the full story, see:

ALAN BLINDER. "Lawsuit May Reshape Tourist Industry in History-Rich Savannah." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., DEC. 21, 2014): A25 & A31.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 20, 2014. The online version says that the New York paper version of the article started on p. 28. It does not say on what page of that edition, the article continued. My page numbers are from the National Edition, which I usually receive.)






February 19, 2015

Mandated Health Treatment Regulations Are Often Reversed



(p. A25) After spending nearly two decades in medicine, I am still amazed by how spare the evidence is on which we doctors base our medical decisions. Treatment guidelines, often accompanied by a de facto mandate, are frequently reversed.

Only a few years ago, for example, beta-blocker drugs were routinely recommended for almost all patients undergoing noncardiac surgery. Since then, research has shown that these drugs may significantly increase the risk of stroke at the time of surgery. I remember colleagues questioning the beta-blocker recommendation for certain patients and being admonished for not being "evidence-based." I shudder to think how many patients were left disabled by strokes because of the blanket adoption of this standard.

What is in vogue today is often discarded tomorrow. Hormone replacement therapy for women after menopause is an example of a once widely implemented treatment that we have now largely abandoned. In September, in response to new research, the American College of Cardiology revoked a major recommendation on heart-attack treatment. "Science is not static but rather constantly evolving," said its president, Patrick T. O'Gara, in explaining the decision.


. . .


Instead of being allowed to deliver "patient-centered" care, many physicians feel they are being co-opted by regulations. Some feel pressured to prescribe "mandated" treatment, even to frail older adults who may not benefit. Guidelines are supposed to assist and advise. But all too often, recommended care in certain situations becomes mandated care in all situations.



For the full commentary, see:

SANDEEP JAUHAR. "Don't Homogenize Health Care." The New York Times (Thurs., DEC. 11, 2014): A25.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date DEC. 10, 2014.)






February 18, 2015

Private Power Lights the Darkness



(p. A10) NUSEIRAT CAMP, Gaza Strip--It was just after sunset when the power went out in this Palestinian refugee camp. Within seconds, Ali al-Majdalawi flipped a switch on a blue generator in his backyard and the lights in 500 homes flickered back on again.

The 64-year-old patriarch runs what he calls the A. Majdalawi Electricity Co., a pop-up utility that consists of three generators and a spider's web of power lines radiating from an empty lot he owns in the camp.

Mr. Majdalawi has no license to operate his company. But he does have an invoice pad at the ready and boasts a long list of customers including five mosques, a library and a police station.


. . .


Along with three partners, Mr. Majdalawi, a retired school official for the U.N., invested $80,000 of their savings to buy several diesel-powered generators two years ago and set about building their own power-delivery network.

The community of about 65,000 began in 1948, the year of Israel's creation, when hundreds of families displaced by war between Jews and Arabs set up rows of temporary dwellings. Decades later, the refugees and their descendants still live here, tightly packed among schools run by the United Nations and a cemetery built into a sand dune at the center of town.

Because his company is private, Mr. Majdalawi couldn't use municipal power polls to string up lines. He and his sons asked neighbors to let them use the walls of their homes for the wiring and allow crews to come in for periodic maintenance.

In most other respects, the business runs much like any other electricity company. Customers apply to join the grid and if approved, one of Mr. Majdalawi's sons enters their names into a computer for monthly billing. Most clients request two amperes, enough to run lights, a television and a computer during blackouts. The price is 120 shekels a month, about $30.

"It is an alternate grid," explained Mr. Majdalawi's son, Rafet, the company's chief accountant.

Deya Shaheen, a 25-year-old barber, said Mr. Majdalawi's electricity has kept his year-old shop in business. The electric razors and the lights he uses to light the shop when customers drop in at night are powered on the three amperes he receives from the grid.On many nights, his shop is filled with young men looking for somewhere to watch soccer matches on television.

"Look, the power thing destroys your life," he said. "People go to bed early not because they are sleepy, but because there is no power. There is nothing to do, no TV, no Internet. It is just dark."



For the full story, see:

NICHOLAS CASEY. "Entrepreneur Fills in Gaza Electricity Gap; Palestinian Territory's One Power Plant Meets Barely a Quarter of Demand, Posing an Obstacle in Reconstruction Efforts." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., DEC. 24, 2014): A10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 23, 2014, and has the title "Entrepreneur Fills in Gaps in Gaza Electricity Supplies; Palestinian Territory's One Power Plant Meets Barely a Quarter of Demand.")






February 9, 2015

The "Miracle Machines" of Farming



(p. 75) Nobody had washing machines, vacuum cleaners, or incandescent light bulbs. But the farmers did have their miracle machines. In fifteen years, the Lucas family had gone from a walking plow pulled along behind a mule, to a riding plow, in which horses carried the blade through the soil, to a fine-tuned internal combustion plow.

"Machinery is the new Messiah," said Henry Ford, and though that sounded blasphemous to a devout sodbuster, there was something to it. Every ten seconds a new car came off Ford's factory line, and some of them were now parked next to dugouts in No Man's Land.



Source:

Egan, Timothy. The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006.






February 3, 2015

"Valuable Things Should Be Paid For . . . Music Should Not Be Free"



(p. R10) Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for. It's my opinion that music should not be free, and my prediction is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album's price point is. I hope they don't underestimate themselves or undervalue their art.


For the full commentary, see:

Swift, Taylor. "WSJ 125 (A Special Report): Music --- it's Too Soon to Write Off the Album: Yes, Musicians Aren't Selling as Many of them; but Taylor Swift Argues that the Best Artists Will always Find Ways to Break through to the Audience." Wall Street Journal (Tues., July 8, 2014): R10.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 7, 2014, and has the title "For Taylor Swift, the Future of Music Is a Love Story.")






February 2, 2015

More Than 200,000 Volunteer to Die if They Can Be on First (One Way) Trip to Mars



(p. D2) When Seth Shostak, an astronomer who scans the cosmos for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence, asks middle school students how many of them want to go to Mars, all hands shoot up. When he asks how many would rather design robots that go to Mars, most hands drop back to their desks.

And when he asks general audiences how many would go to Mars even if it meant dying a few weeks after arriving, he invariably finds volunteers in the crowd. "I kid you not," said Dr. Shostak, the director of the Center for SETI Research. "People are willing to risk everything just to see Mars, to walk on the surface of our little ruddy buddy."


. . .


There is a catch, they say. Where NASA-style flight plans are designed on the Apollo moonshot model of round-trip tickets, the "one" in Mars One means, starkly, one way. To make the project feasible and affordable, the founders say, there can be no coming back to Earth. Would-be Mars pilgrims must count on living, and dying, some 140 million miles from the splendid blue marble that all humans before them called home.

Nevertheless, enthusiasm for the Mars One scheme has been of middle-school proportions. Last year, the outfit announced that it was seeking potential colonists and that anybody over age 18 could apply, advanced degrees or no. Among the few stipulations: Candidates must be between 5-foot-2 and 6-foot-2, have a ready sense of humor and be "Olympians of tolerance." More than 200,000 people from dozens of countries applied. Mars One managers have since whittled the pool to some 660 semifinalists.



For the full story, see:

Angier, Natalie. "Basics; a One-Way Trip to Mars? Many Would Sign Up." The New York Times (Tues., Dec. 9, 2014): D2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 8, 2014.)






January 24, 2015

"You Don't Reach Serendip by Plotting a Course for It"



(p. 320) As John Barth wrote in The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor, "You don't reach Serendip by plotting a course for it. You have to set out in good faith for elsewhere and lose your bearings serendipitously."28 The challenge for educational institutions, government policy, research centers, funding agencies, and, by extension, all modern medicine, will be how to encourage scientists to lose their bearings creatively. What they discover may just save our lives!


Source:

Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

(Note: italics in original.)






January 22, 2015

As with Airplanes, Lives Must Be Risked to Achieve Routine Safety in Spaceships



(p. A21) SEATTLE -- ONE clear winter day in 1909, in Hampshire, England, a young man named Geoffrey de Havilland took off in a twin-propeller motorized flying machine of his own design, built of wood, piano wire and stiff linen hand-stitched by his wife. The launch was flawless, and soon he had an exhilarating sensation of climbing almost straight upward toward the brilliant blue sky. But he soon realized he was in terrible trouble.

The angle of ascent was unsustainable, and moments later de Havilland's experimental plane crashed, breaking apart into a tangled mass of shards, splinters and torn fabric, lethal detritus that could easily have killed him even if the impact of smashing into the ground did not. Somehow, he survived and Sir Geoffrey -- he was ultimately knighted as one of the world's great aviation pioneers -- went on to build an astonishing array of military and civilian aircraft, including the world's first jet airliner, the de Havilland Comet.

I thought immediately of de Havilland on Friday when I heard that Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo, a rocket-powered vehicle designed to take well-heeled tourists to the edge of space, had crashed on a flight over the Mojave Desert, killing one test pilot and seriously injuring the other.


. . .


Certainly the Wright brothers and others like de Havilland were involved in what we now view as an epic quest, but many experts of the day were certain that flight, however interesting, was destined to be not much more than a rich man's hobby with no practical value.

"The public has greatly over-estimated the possibilities of the aeroplane, imagining that in another generation they will be able to fly over to London in a day," said a Harvard expert in 1908. "This is manifestly impossible." Two other professors patiently explained that while laymen might think that "because a machine will carry two people another may be constructed that will carry a dozen," in fact "those who make this contention do not understand the theory of weight sustentation in the air."


. . .


There will be tragedies like the crash of SpaceShipTwo and nonlethal setbacks such as the fiery explosion, also last week, of a remote-controlled rocket intended for a resupply mission to the International Space Station. There will be debates about how to improve regulation without stifling innovation. Some will say private industry can't do the job -- though it's not as if the NASA-sponsored Apollo or space shuttle missions went off without a hitch (far from it, sadly).

But at the heart of the enterprise there will always be obsessives like Sir Geoffrey, who forged ahead with his life's work of building airplanes despite his own crash and, incredibly, the deaths of two of his three sons while piloting de Havilland aircraft, one in an attempt to break the sound barrier. Getting to routine safety aloft claimed many lives along the way, and a hundred years from now people will agree that in that regard, at least, spaceships are no different from airplanes.



For the full commentary, see:

SAM HOWE VERHOVEK. "Not a Flight of Fancy." The New York Times (Tues., NOV. 4, 2014): A21.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date NOV. 3, 2014.)






January 20, 2015

Outsiders Persevere to Pursue Breakthroughs



(p. 315) Despite all the examples given, mainstream medical research stubbornly continues to assume that new drugs and other advances will follow exclusively from a predetermined research path. Many, in fact, will. Others, if history is any indication, will not. They will come not from a committee or a research team but from an individual, a maverick who views a problem with fresh eyes. Serendipity will strike and be seized upon by a well-trained scientist or clinician who also dares to rely upon intuition, imagination, and creativity. Unbound by traditional theory, willing to suspend the usual set of beliefs, unconstrained by the requirement to obtain approval or funding for his or her pursuits, this outsider will persevere and lead the way to a dazzling breakthrough. Eventually, once the breakthrough becomes part of accepted medical wisdom, the insiders will pretend that the outsider was one of them all along.


Source:

Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.






January 16, 2015

Successful Discoverers "Follow the Evidence Wherever It Leads"



(p. 314) Why are particular people able to seize on such opportunities and say, "I've stumbled upon a solution. What's the problem?" Typically, such people are not constrained by an overly focused or dogmatic mindset. In contrast, those with a firmly held set of preconceptions are less likely to be distracted by an unexpected or contradictory observation, and yet it is exactly such things that lead to the blessing of serendipitous discovery.

Serendipitous discoverers have certain traits in common. They have a passionate intensity. They insist on trying to see beyond their own and others' expectations and resist any pressure that would close off investigation. Successful medical discoverers let nothing stand in their way. They break through, sidestep, or ignore any obstacle or objection to their chosen course, which is simply to follow the evidence wherever it leads. They have no patience with dogma of any kind.

The only things successful discoverers do not dismiss out of hand are contradictory--and perhaps serendipitously valuable--facts. They painstakingly examine every aspect of uncomfortable facts until they understand how they fit with other facts. Far from being cavalier about method, serendipitous discoverers subject their evidence and suppositions to the most rigorous methods they can find. They do not run from uncertainty, but see it as the raw material from which new scientific and medical certainties can be wrought.



Source:

Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.






January 15, 2015

Resilience of Ordinary People Matters Most in Early Stages of Crisis



(p. A11) Throughout "The Resilience Dividend," Ms. Rodin pays particular attention to the influence that ordinary people can have in a crisis, especially in the early stages, when it may not be clear what has happened and the professionals haven't had time to put a plan into place. In the minutes after Boston Marathon bombing last year, citizens rushed forward to help the injured. In New York City on 9/11, hundreds of privately owned boats carried thousands of stranded commuters off the island of Manhattan and across the Hudson River to New Jersey.


For the full review, see:

MELANIE KIRKPATRICK. "BOOKSHELF; Never Waste a Crisis; How was the city of Medellín transformed from the murder capital of South America into a thriving urban center? Escalators." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Nov. 21, 2014): A11.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Nov. 20, 2014.)


The book being reviewed is:

Rodin, Judith. The Resilience Dividend: Being Strong in a World Where Things Go Wrong. New York: PublicAffairs, 2014.






January 14, 2015

Bezos Devices Aim to Create a Virtuous Cycle 'Flywheel'



(p. B1) Amazon now makes four different kinds of devices. There are dedicated e-readers, multipurpose tablets and, starting this year, a TV streaming device and a smartphone, the Fire Phone. Just this week, Amazon introduced another streaming machine, the Fire TV Stick, a $39 gadget that is the size of a USB stick and promises to turn your television into an Amazon-powered video service.


. . .


(p. B9) What is Amazon's endgame with all these devices? Mr. Bezos has always said that his mission, with hardware, is to delight users with devices that are priced fairly. The devices also contribute to Mr. Bezos's famous "flywheel," the virtuous cycle by which greater customer satisfaction leads to more sellers in his store, which leads to more products, greater efficiencies, lower prices and, in turn, more customers.

"Everything is about getting that flywheel spinning, and it isn't necessarily about building a big and successful tablet business of their own," said Benedict Evans, an analyst who works at the investment firm Andreessen Horowitz and has studied Amazon closely. "Whether they actually drive meaningful commerce isn't entirely clear, but Amazon is rigorously focused on data, so if they're doing it, you can trust that there must be data that justifies it."

And if this year's devices don't take off, you can bet that Mr. Bezos will try a slightly different tack next year.



For the full commentary, see:

Farhad Manjoo. "STATE OF THE ART; Amazon's Grand Design for Devices." The New York Times (Thurs., OCT. 30, 2014): B1 & B9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date OCT. 29, 2014, and has the title "STATE OF THE ART; Amazon's Grand Design in Devices.")


Bezos's enthusiasm for Jim Collins's "flywheel" idea is discussed in:

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






January 13, 2015

While Looking for Spotted Fever, He Found the Cause of Lyme Disease



(p. A25) Willy Burgdorfer, a medical entomologist who in 1982 identified the cause of what had been a mysterious affliction, Lyme disease, died on Monday [November 17, 2014] at a hospital in Hamilton, Mont. He was 89.


. . .


In the early 1980s, Dr. Burgdorfer was analyzing deer ticks from Long Island that were suspected to have caused spotted fever when he stumbled on something unexpected under his microscope: spirochetes, disease-causing bacteria shaped like corkscrews. They were located in only one section of the ticks, the so-called midguts. He had studied spirochetes in graduate school.

"Once my eyes focused on these long, snakelike organisms, I recognized what I had seen a million times before: spirochetes," he said in a 2001 oral history for the National Institutes of Health, which include the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

He had not been working on Lyme disease, but he had spoken with the doctor who helped discover it, Dr. Allen Steere of Yale. After he saw the spirochetes in the Long Island ticks, he quickly realized that the bacteria might also be in the deer ticks believed to be playing a role in Lyme disease in Connecticut and elsewhere, including Long Island.



For the full obituary, see:

WILLIAM YARDLEY. "Willy Burgdorfer, Who Found Bacteria That Cause Lyme Disease, Is Dead at 89." The New York Times (Thurs., NOV. 20, 2014): A25.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date NOV. 19, 2014.)






January 12, 2015

"Peer Review Institutionalizes Dogmatism by Promoting Orthodoxy"



(p. 305) Peer review institutionalizes dogmatism by promoting orthodoxy. Reviewers prefer applications that mesh with their own perspective on how an issue should be conceptualized, and they favor individuals whom they know or whose reputations have already been established, making it harder for new people to break into the system.6 Indeed, the basic process of peer review demands conformity of thinking and disdains a maverick's approach. "We can hardly expect a committee," said the biologist and historian of science, Garrett Hardin, "to acquiesce in the dethronement of tradition. Only an individual can do that."7 Young investigators get the message loud and clear: Do not challenge existing beliefs and practices.

So enmeshed in the conventional wisdoms of the day, so-called "peers" have again and again failed to appreciate major breakthroughs even when they were staring them in the face. This reality is evidenced by the fact that so many pioneering researchers were inappropriately scheduled to present their findings at undesirable times when few people were in the audience to hear about them.



Source:

Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.






January 9, 2015

French Entrepreneurs Protest Government Crushing Them with Taxes and Regulations



FrenchBossesProtest2014-12-26.jpg "Protesting business owners in Paris brandished locks and chains to signify the constraints they said the government imposed on French businesses." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. B3) PARIS -- They jammed the boulevards, blowing whistles, tossing firecrackers, wearing locks and chains around their necks, and shouting into megaphones: "Enough is enough!"

In France, where protest marches are a well-practiced tradition, it is usually workers who take to the streets. But in a twist on Monday, thousands of French bosses demonstrated in Paris and Toulouse, the opening act in a weeklong revolt against government regulations and taxes that they say are straitjacketing companies, discouraging hiring and choking the economy.

"We feel like we're being taken hostage," said Laurence Manabre, owner of a home-maintenance business that has 28 workers -- but could employ many more, she said, if not for onerous government-imposed labor rules.

Ms. Manabre marched with the throng toward the Finance Ministry, brandishing a bronze lock, a symbol that hundreds of other bosses wore to signify the constraints they said the Socialist government imposed on French businesses. "Between regulations, taxes, new laws, and razor-thin margins," she said, "we're being crushed little by little."


. . .


. . . there are . . . entrenched parts of the French labor code, which employers say make it a difficult, lengthy process to lay off employees, and make bosses reluctant to take on new workers, especially with permanent contracts.

"France has high unemployment," Ms. Manabre said. "But the French labor code is incomprehensible, and it just keeps getting more complex. How can I possibly hire more people?"


. . .


Mr. Roland has 35 employees, and his son is supposed to take over the business when he retires. But now his son is thinking of leaving the country, Mr. Roland said, because "France doesn't seem to have a future, and the conditions for entrepreneurs are difficult."

Mr. Roland said he did not plan to hire more workers, out of concern that coming regulations would menace his already-thin profit margins.



For the full story, see:

LIZ ALDERMAN. "In Twist on French Tradition, Bosses Take to Streets in Protest." The New York Times (Tues., DEC. 2, 2014): B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 1, 2014,)






January 8, 2015

With Targeted Research, Scientists Not Allowed to Pursue Serendipitous Discoveries



(p. 303) When scientists were allowed to pursue whatever they found, serendipitous discovery flourished.

Today, targeted research is pretty much all there is. Yet, as Richard Feynman put it in his typical rough-hewn but insightful manner, giving more money "just increases the number of guys following the comet head."2 Money doesn't foster new ideas, ideas that drive science; it only fosters applications of old ideas, most often enabling improvements but not discoveries.



Source:

Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.






January 7, 2015

Pentagon Bureaucracy "Hindered Progress" on Drones



(p. A13) Compared with, say, a B-2 Bomber, drones are simple things. An empty B-2 weighs 158,000 pounds. The largest version of the Predator--the unmanned aerial vehicle now playing a critical role in every theater where the American military is engaged--weighs just under 5,000. Yet these small aircraft are revolutionizing warfare. Given the simplicity of drones, why did it take so long to put them into operation?


. . .


The most alarming take-away from Mr. Whittle's history is the persistent opposition of officials in the Pentagon who, for bureaucratic reasons, hindered progress at every step of the way.

A case in point: Two months after 9/11, the Predator was employed to incinerate one of al Qaeda's senior operatives, Mohammed Atef. The same blast also incinerated--metaphorically--a study released two weeks earlier by the Pentagon's office of operational testing and evaluation. The study had declared Predator "not operationally effective or suitable" for combat. If one seeks to understand why the drone revolution was late in coming--too late to help avert 9/11--the hidebound mentality behind that Pentagon document is one place to start.



For the full review, see:

Gabriel Schoenfeld. "BOOKSHELF; Building Birds of Prey; Red tape at the Pentagon prevented the development of a drone that could have helped avert the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Sept. 16, 2014): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sept. 15, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Predator' by Richard Whittle; Red tape at the Pentagon prevented the development of a drone that could have helped avert the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.")


The book under review is:

Whittle, Richard. Predator: The Secret Origins of the Drone Revolution. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Co., 2014.






January 4, 2015

Government Funding Rewards Conformity



(p. 302) Inherent in the system is a mindset of conformity: one will tend to submit only proposals that are likely to be approved, which is to say, those that conform to the beliefs of most members on the committee of experts. Because of the intense competition for limited money, investigators are reluctant to submit novel or maverick proposals. Needless to say, this environment stifles the spirit of innovation. Taking risks, pioneering new paths, thwarting conventional wisdom--the very things one associates with the wild-eyed, wild-haired scientists of the past--don't much enter into the picture nowadays.


Source:

Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.






January 2, 2015

Somewhere in a Garage Is the Next Google



(p. B6) . . . Monday [Oct. 13, 2014] Eric Schmidt, Google's executive chairman used a speech in Berlin to talk about Amazon's success in search, how Facebook crushed Google on social networking and his conviction that somewhere in the world there is a garage-based company that will take out Google.


. . .


Here are some excerpts from Mr. Schmidt's speech:


. . .


THE NEXT GOOGLE: "But more important, someone, somewhere in a garage is gunning for us. I know, because not long ago we were in that garage. ... The next Google won't do what Google does, just as Google didn't do what AOL did."



For the full story, see:

CONOR DOUGHERTY. "Google Chairman on Competition." The New York Times (Mon., OCT. 20, 2014): B6.

(Note: bolded words, and last ellipsis, in original; other ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 14, 2014, and has the title "Google Executive Chairman: Amazon Is a Lovely Place to Shop and Search." There are minor differences between the print and online versions. In the passages quoted above, where the two differ, I follow the print version.)






January 1, 2015

FAA Requires Drones to Carry Onboard Manuals



(p. B1) BERLIN--In four years, Service-drone.de GmbH has emerged as a promising player here in the rapidly expanding commercial-drone industry. The 20-employee startup has sold more than 400 unmanned aircraft to private-sector companies and now is pitching its fourth-generation device.

Over the same period, Seattle-based Applewhite Aero has struggled to get permission from the Federal Aviation Administration just to fly its drones, which are designed for crop monitoring. The company, founded the same year as Service-drone, has test-flown only one of its four aircraft, and is now moving some operations to Canada, where getting flight clearance is easier.

"We had to petition the FAA to not carry the aircraft manual onboard," said Applewhite founder Paul Applewhite. "I mean, who's supposed to read it?" Mr. Applewhite, like many of his U.S. peers, fears the drone industry "is moving past the U.S., and we're just getting left behind."



For the full story, see:

JACK NICAS. "U.S. Rules Clips Drone Makers' Wings." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Oct. 6, 2014): B1 & B4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Oct. 5, 2014, and has the title "Regulation Clips Wings of U.S. Drone Makers.")






December 31, 2014

Government Funding Not Conducive to Serendipity



(p. 301) Even in the early twentieth century, the climate was more conducive to serendipitous discovery. In the United States, for example, scientific research was funded by private foundations, notably the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in New York (established 1901) and the Rockefeller Foundation (1913). The Rockefeller Institute modeled itself on prestigious European organizations such as the Pasteur Institute in France and the Koch Institute in Germany, recruiting the world's best scientists and providing them with comfortable stipends, well-equipped laboratories, and freedom from teaching obligations and university politics, so that they could devote their energies to research. The Rockefeller Foundation, which was the most expansive supporter of basic research, especially in biology, between the two world wars, relied on successful programs to seek promising scientists to identify and accelerate burgeoning fields of interest. In Britain, too, the Medical Research Council believed in "picking the man, not the project," and nurturing successful results with progressive grants.

After World War II, everything about scientific research changed. The U.S. government--which previously had had little to do with funding research except for some agricultural projects--took on a major role. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) grew out of feeble beginnings in 1930 but became foremost among the granting agencies in the early 1940s at around the time they moved to Bethesda, Maryland. The government then established the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 1950 to promote progress in science and engineering. Research in the United States became centralized and therefore suffused with bureaucracy. The lone scientist working independently was now a rarity. Research came to be characterized by large teams drawing upon multiple scientific disciplines and using highly technical methods in an environment that promoted the not-very-creative phenomenon known as "groupthink." Under this new regime, the competition (p. 302) among researchers for grant approvals fostered a kind of conformity with existing dogma. As the bureaucracy of granting agencies expanded, planning and justification became the order of the day, thwarting the climate in which imaginative thought and creative ideas flourish.



Source:

Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.






December 30, 2014

"Bad Ideas Die Hard, Especially Those that Flatter Our Vanity"



(p. C5) Mütter was one of the first plastic surgeons in America.


. . .


Mütter was also a pioneer of burn surgery.


. . .


Every hero needs a good antagonist and Mütter had a great one, a professor and blowhard named Charles D. Meigs who was as contrary as a Missouri mule. Meigs was a highly regarded obstetrician and one of Mütter's colleagues at Jefferson. He rejected Mütter's namby-pamby notions by reflex. Anesthesia? Pshaw! Men and women are put on earth to suffer. Handwashing? Humbug! The very idea that physicians could spread disease was preposterous. As Meigs wrote, "a gentleman's hands are clean." Unfortunately, bad ideas die hard, especially those that flatter our vanity. The fight to make medicine as humane as possible continues long after Mütter's premature death from tuberculosis in 1859.



For the full review, see:

JOHN ROSS. "The Doctor Will See You Now." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Aug. 30, 2014): C5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 29, 2014, and has the title "Book Review: 'Dr. Mütter's Marvels' by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz.")


The book under review is:

Aptowicz, Cristin O'Keefe. Dr. Müt­ters Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine. New York: Gotham Books, 2014.






December 25, 2014

U.S. Patents and Start-Ups Fall When We Exclude Tech Immigrants



(p. A19) The process of bringing skilled immigrants to the U.S. via H-1B visas and putting them on the path to eventual citizenship has been a political football for at least a decade. It has long been bad news for those immigrants trapped in this callous process. Now the U.S. economy is beginning to suffer, too.

Every year, tens of thousands of disappointed tech workers and other professionals give up while waiting for a resident visa or green card, and go home--having learned enough to start companies that compete with their former U.S. employers. The recent historic success of China's Alibaba IPO is a reminder that a new breed of companies is being founded, and important innovation taking place, in other parts of the world. More than a quarter of all patents filed today in the U.S. bear the name of at least one foreign national residing here.

The U.S. no longer has a monopoly on great startups. In the past, the best and brightest people would come to the U.S., but now they are staying home. In Silicon Valley, according to a 2012 survey by Duke and Stanford Universities and the University of California at Berkeley, the percentage of new companies started by foreign-born entrepreneurs has begun to slide for the first time--down to 43.9% during 2006-12, from 52.4% during 1995-2005.



For the full commentary, see:

MICHAEL S. MALONE. "OPINION; The Self-Inflicted U.S. Brain Drain; Up to 1.5 million skilled workers are stuck in immigration limbo. Many give up and go home." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., OCT. 16, 2014): A19.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date OCT. 15, 2014.)


The 2012 survey is discussed further in:

Wadhwa, Vivek, AnnaLee Saxenian, and F. Daniel Siciliano. "Then and Now: America's New Immigrant Entrepreneurs, Part VII." Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, October 2012.


An in-depth discussion of the issues raised by Malone can be found in:

Wadhwa, Vivek. The Immigrant Exodus: Why America Is Losing the Global Race to Capture Entrepreneurial Talent. pb ed. Philadelphia, PA: Wharton Digital Press, 2012.






December 24, 2014

How Creative Destruction Reuses Capital



(p. B1) The Internet is moving to a shopping center near you.

In Fort Wayne, Ind., a vacated Target store is about to be home to rows of computer servers, network routers and Ethernet cables courtesy of a local data-center operator. In Jackson, Miss., a former McRae's department store will get the same treatment next year. And one quadrant of the Marley Station Mall south of Baltimore is already occupied by a data-center company that last year offered to buy out the rest of the building.

As America's retailers struggle to keep up with online shopping, the Internet is starting to settle into some of the very spaces where brick-and-mortar customers used to shop.



For the full story, see:

DREW FITZGERALD and PAUL ZIOBRO. "This Used to Be a Shopping Mall." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., NOV. 4, 2014): B1 & B6.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 3, 2014, and has the title "Malls Fill Vacant Stores With Server Rooms.")






December 23, 2014

Loewi Proved a Slow Hunch after 17 Years



(p. 243) Loewi had long been interested in the problem of neurotransmission and believed that the agent was likely a chemical substance and not an electrical impulse, as previously thought, but he was unable to find a way to test the idea. It lay dormant in his mind for seventeen years. In a dream in 1921, on the night before Easter Sunday, he envisioned an experiment to prove this. Loewi awoke from the dream and, by his own account, "jotted down a few notes on a tiny slip of thin paper." Upon awakening in the morning, he was terribly distressed: "I was unable to decipher the scrawl."

The next night, at three o'clock, the idea returned. This time he got up, dressed, and started a laboratory experiment.



Source:

Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.






December 22, 2014

Charismatic Prophets of Technological and Organizational Innovation



(p. C7) Walter Isaacson's last book was the best-selling biography of Steve Jobs --the charismatic business genius of Apple Computer and one of the beatified icons of modern technology and entrepreneurship. Mr. Isaacson's fine new book, "The Innovators," is a serial biography of the large number of ingenious scientists and engineers who, you might say, led up to Jobs and his Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak --"forerunners" who, over the past century or so, produced the transistor, the microchip and microprocessor, the programmable computer and its software, the personal computer, and the graphic interface.


. . .


Mr. Isaacson's heart is with the engineers: the wizards of coding, the artists in electrons, silicon, copper, networks and mice. But "The Innovators" also gives space to the revolutionary work done with men as well as mice: experiments in the organizational forms in which creativity might be encouraged and expressed; in the aesthetic design of personal computers, phones and graphical fonts; in predicting and creating what consumers did not yet know they wanted; and in the advertising and marketing campaigns that make them want those things. Not the least of the revolutionaries' inventions was their own role as our culture's charismatic prophets, uniquely positioned to pronounce on which way history was going and then to assemble the capital, the motivated workers and the cheering audiences that helped them make it go that way.



For the full review, see:

ALEXANDRA KIMBALL. "The Best Way to Predict the Future." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 4, 2014): C9.

(Note: ellipsis added. The first word of the title in the print version was "They." Above, I have corrected the typo.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 3, 2014, and has the title "Book Review: 'The Innovators' by Walter Isaacson.")


The book under review is:

Isaacson, Walter. The Innovators: How a Group of Inventors, Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014.






December 19, 2014

Much Knowledge Results from Mistaken Hypotheses



(p. 239) If we were to eliminate from science all the great discoveries that had come about as the result of mistaken hypotheses or fluky experimental data, we would be lacking half of what we now know (or think we know). --NATHAN KLINE, AMERICAN PSYCHIATRIST


Source:

Nathan Kline as quoted in Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.






December 17, 2014

Most Venture Capital Firms Do Not Back "Ambitious, Long-Shot Projects"



(p. B4) Successful venture capitalism is about managing risk, so partners at most VC firms invest in businesses they think will become viable, or at least worthy of an acquisition, in the shortest time possible.

That doesn't leave much appetite among VCs for startups working on ambitious, long-shot projects, the sort that require basic research, and that's a shame.



For the full commentary, see:

CHRISTOPHER MIMS. "KEYWORDS; Our Last Great Hope: Venture Capital." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Oct. 21, 2014): B1 & B4.

(Note: italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Oct. 20, 2014, and the title "KEYWORDS; Humanity's Last Great Hope: Venture Capitalists.")






December 16, 2014

"People Don't Like Open Plans"



(p. A1) Originally conceived in 1950s Germany, the open-plan office has migrated from tech start-ups to advertising agencies, architecture firms and even city governments. Now it has reached what is perhaps its most unlikely frontier yet: book publishing.

Few industries seem as uniquely ill suited to the concept. The process of acquiring, editing and publishing books is rife with moments requiring privacy and quiet concentration. There are the sensitive negotiations with agents; the wooing of prospective authors; the poring over of manuscripts.


. . .


(p. B6) Even as the walls of America's workplaces continue to come crashing down, leaving only a handful of holdouts -- like corporate law firms -- a number of recent studies have been critical of the effects of open-plan offices on both the productivity and happiness of cube dwellers.

"The evidence against open-plan offices is mounting," said Nikil Saval, the author of "Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace." "The idea is that these offices encourage collaboration and serendipitous encounters. But there's not a lot of evidence behind these claims. Whereas there is a lot of evidence that people don't like open plans."

The notion of cookie-cutter cubicles is especially anathema to a certain breed of editors who see themselves more as men and women of letters than they do as businesspeople.

"It's a world of words that we're working towards, not an intellectual sweatshop," said Jonathan Galassi, president and publisher of Farrar, Straus & Giroux and an opponent of open-plan offices.

For book editors, offices provide more than just privacy. They like to fill the bookcases inside with titles that they've published, making for a kind of literary trophy case to impress visitors.



For the full story, see:

JONATHAN MAHLER. "Cubicles Rise in a Brave New World of Publishing." The New York Times (Mon., NOV. 10, 2014): A1 & B6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 9, 2014, and has the title "Climate Tools Seek to Bend Nature's Path.")


The Saval book is:

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






December 15, 2014

"The World Is Not Only Stranger than We Imagine, It Is Stranger than We Can Imagine"



(p. 238) The British geneticist J. B. S. Haldane once commented, "The world is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine." This famous quote is often used to support the notion that the mysteries of the universe are beyond our understanding. Here is another way to interpret his insight: Because so much is out there that is beyond our imagination, it is likely that we will discover new truths only when we accidentally stumble upon them. Development can then proceed apace.


Source:

Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

(Note: I have corrected a typo in the Haldane quote. Meyers mistakenly has "that" for the second "than.")






December 14, 2014

"What Valuable Company Is Nobody Building?"



(p. A15) Peter Thiel is larger than life even for a Silicon Valley billionaire. He co-founded PayPal, was the first investor in Facebook , and funded LinkedIn, Spotify, SpaceX and Airbnb. Now he has written a much-needed explanation of the information economy, masquerading as a breezy how-to book for entrepreneurs. "Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future" is based on lectures Mr. Thiel gave at Stanford.

He hopes more entrepreneurs will focus on big ideas for health, energy and transportation; his venture firm's tag line is "They promised us flying cars and all we got was 140 characters," a reference to Twitter. His explanation of innovation is also a primer on how free markets work. He encourages entrepreneurs to ask: "What valuable company is nobody building?"



For the full commentary, see:

L. GORDON CROVITZ. "INFORMATION AGE; Three Cheers for 'Creative Monopolies'." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Oct. 13, 2014): A15.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Oct. 12, 2014.)


The book praised in the passage quoted above is:

Thiel, Peter, and Blake Masters. Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future. New York: Crown Business, 2014.






December 13, 2014

Economic Hope Cures Terrorism



(p. C1) As the U.S. moves into a new theater of the war on terror, it will miss its best chance to beat back Islamic State and other radical groups in the Middle East if it doesn't deploy a crucial but little-used weapon: an aggressive agenda for economic empowerment. Right now, all we hear about are airstrikes and military maneuvers--which is to be expected when facing down thugs bent on mayhem and destruction.

But if the goal is not only to degrade what President Barack Obama rightly calls Islamic State's "network of death" but to make it impossible for radical leaders to recruit terrorists in the first place, the West must learn a simple lesson: Economic hope is the only way to win the battle for the constituencies on which terrorist groups feed.

I know something about this. A generation ago, much of Latin America was in turmoil. By 1990, a Marxist-Leninist terrorist organization called Sendero Luminoso, or Shining Path, had seized control of most of my home country, Peru, where I served as the president's principal adviser. Fashionable opinion held that the people rebelling were the impoverished or underemployed wage slaves of Latin America, that capitalism couldn't work outside the West and that Latin cultures didn't really understand market economics.

The conventional wisdom proved to be wrong, however. Reforms in Peru gave indigenous entrepreneurs and farmers control over their assets and a new, more accessible legal framework in which to run businesses, make contracts and borrow--spurring an unprecedented rise in living standards.



For the full commentary, see:

HERNANDO DE SOTO. "The Capitalist Cure for Terrorism; Military might alone won't defeat Islamic State and its ilk. The U.S. needs to promote economic empowerment and entrepreneurship to give the Arab world another path." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 11, 2014): C1-C2.

(Note: italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Oct. 10, 2014, and the title "The Capitalist Cure for Terrorism; Military might alone won't defeat Islamic State and its ilk. The U.S. needs to promote economic empowerment.")


Soto's masterpiece is:

Soto, Hernando de. The Other Path: The Invisible Revolution in the Third World. New York: Basic Books, 1989.






December 12, 2014

Scientists Seriously Discuss Geoengineering Solutions to Global Warming



(p. A1) UTRECHT, the Netherlands -- The solution to global warming, Olaf Schuiling says, lies beneath our feet.

For Dr. Schuiling, a retired geochemist, climate salvation would come in the form of olivine, a green-tinted mineral found in abundance around the world. When exposed to the elements, it slowly takes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Olivine has been doing this naturally for billions of years, but Dr. Schuiling wants to speed up the process by spreading it on fields and beaches and using it for dikes, pathways, even sandboxes. Sprinkle enough of the crushed rock around, he says, and it will eventually remove enough CO2 to slow the rise in global temperatures.

"Let the earth help us to save the earth," said Dr. Schuiling, who has been pursuing the idea single-mindedly for several decades and at 82 is still writing papers on the subject from his cluttered office at the University of Utrecht.

Once considered the stuff of wild-eyed fantasies, such ideas for countering climate change -- known as geoengineering solutions, because they intentionally manipulate nature -- are now being discussed seriously by scientists.



For the full story, see:

HENRY FOUNTAIN. "Climate Cures Seeking to Tap Nature's Power." The New York Times (Mon., NOV. 10, 2014): A1 & A6.

(Note: italics in original; ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 9, 2014, and has the title "Climate Tools Seek to Bend Nature's Path.")






December 11, 2014

Alertness to What Problem Can Be Solved with Unexpected Results



(p. 208) "Every scientist must occasionally turn around and ask not merely, 'How can I solve this problem?' but, 'Now that I have come to a result, what problem have I solved?" This use of reverse questions is of tremendous value precisely at the deepest parts of science."--NORBERT WIENER, INVENTION:THE CARE AND FEEDING OF IDEAS


Source:

Norbert Wiener as quoted in Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.






December 7, 2014

Forssmann's Courage Rewarded with "Professional Criticism and Scorn"



(p. 197) Forssmann's report in the leading German medical journal garnered him not hosannas but instead fierce professional criticism and scorn. In response to a senior physician who claimed undocumented priority for the procedure, the twenty-five-year-old Forssmann was forced to provide an addendum to his publication one month later. Rigid dogmatism and an authoritarian hierarchy characterized the German medicine of that day. The human heart, as the center of life, was considered inviolable by instrumentation and surgery.


Source:

Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.






December 6, 2014

Edison Claimed an Inventor Needs "a Logical Mind that Sees Analogies"



(p. C3) Thomas Edison famously said that genius requires "1% inspiration and 99% perspiration." Edison's third criterion for would-be innovators is less well-known but perhaps even more vital: "a logical mind that sees analogies."


. . .


The art of analogy flows from creative re-categorization and the information that we extract from surprising sources. Take the invention of the moving assembly line. Credit for this breakthrough typically goes to Henry Ford, but it was actually the brainchild of a young Ford mechanic named Bill Klann. After watching butchers at a meatpacking plant disassemble carcasses moving past them along an overhead trolley, Klann thought that auto workers could assemble cars through a similar process by adding pieces to a chassis moving along rails.

Overcoming significant management skepticism, Klann and his cohorts built a moving assembly line. Within four months, Ford's line had cut the time it took to build a Model T from 12 hours per vehicle to just 90 minutes. In short order, the moving assembly line revolutionized manufacturing and unlocked trillions of dollars in economic potential. And while in retrospect this innovation may seem like a simple, obvious step forward, it wasn't; the underlying analogy between moving disassembly and moving assembly had eluded everyone until Klann grasped its potential.



For the full essay, see:

JOHN POLLACK. "Four Ways to Innovate through Analogies; Many of history's most important breakthroughs were made by seeing analogies--for example, how a plane is like a bike." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Nov. 8, 2014): C3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the essay has the date Nov. 7, 2014, and has the title "Four Ways to Innovate through Analogies; Many of history's most important breakthroughs were made by seeing analogies--for example, how a plane is like a bike.")


The passages quoted above are related to Pollack's book:

Pollack, John. Shortcut: How Analogies Reveal Connections, Spark Innovation, and Sell Our Greatest Ideas. New York, NY: Gotham Books, 2014.






December 5, 2014

Simplot's Company Keeps Innovating with Potatoes



(p. B1) A potato genetically engineered to reduce the amounts of a potentially harmful ingredient in French fries and potato chips has been approved for commercial planting, the Department of Agriculture announced on Friday [November 7, 2014].

The potato's DNA has been altered so that less of a chemical called acrylamide, which is suspected of causing cancer in people, is produced when the potato is fried.

The new potato also resists bruising, a characteristic long sought by potato growers and processors for financial reasons. Potatoes bruised during harvesting, shipping or storage can lose value or become unusable.

The biotech tubers were developed by the J. R. Simplot Company, a privately held company based in Boise, Idaho, which was the initial supplier of frozen French fries to McDonald's in the 1960s and is still a major supplier. The company's founder, Mr. Simplot, who died in 2008, became a billionaire.

The potato is one of a new wave of genetically modified crops that aim to provide benefits to consumers, not just to farmers as the widely grown biotech crops like herbicide-tolerant soybeans and corn do. The nonbruising aspect of the potato is similar to that of genetically engineered nonbrowning apples, developed by Okanagan Specialty Fruits, which are awaiting regulatory approval.


. . .


The question now is whether the potatoes -- which come in the Russet Burbank, Ranger Russet and Atlantic varieties -- will be adopted by food companies and restaurant chains. At least one group opposed to such crops has already pressed McDonald's to reject them.



For the full story, see:

ANDREW POLLACK. "New Potato, Hot Potato: U.S. Approves Modified Crop. Next Up: French-Fry Fans." The New York Times (Sat., NOV. 8, 2014): B1-B2.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 7, 2014, and has the title "U.S.D.A. Approves Modified Potato. Next Up: French Fry Fans.")






December 3, 2014

Denied Approval to Catheterize Hearts, Forssmann Catheterized His Own



(p. 195) Forssmann received his medical degree from the University of Berlin in 1929. That year, he interned at a small hospital northwest of Berlin, the Auguste-Viktoria-Heim in Eberswalde. He pleaded with his superiors for approval to try a new procedure--to inject drugs directly into the heart--but was unable to persuade them of his new concept's validity. Undaunted, Forssmann proceeded on his own. His goal was to improve upon the administration of drugs into the central circulation during emergency operations.

The circumstances of the incident on November 5, 1929, revealed by Forssmann in his autobiography, could hardly have been (p. 196) more dramatic. The account reflects Forssmann's dogged determination, willpower, and extraordinary courage. He gained the trust of the surgical nurse who provided access to the necessary instruments. So carried away by Forssmann's vision, she volunteered herself to undergo the experiment. Pretending to go along with her, Forssmann strapped her down to the table in a small operating room while his colleagues took their afternoon naps. When she wasn't looking, he anesthetized his own left elbow crease. Once the local anesthetic took effect, Forssmann quickly performed a surgical cutdown to expose his vein and boldly manipulated a flexible ureteral catheter 30 cm toward his heart. This thin sterile rubber tubing used by urologists to drain urine from the kidney was 65 cm long (about 26 inches). He then released the angry nurse.

They walked down two flights of stairs to the X-ray department, where he fearlessly advanced the catheter into the upper chamber (atrium) on the right side of his heart, following its course on a fluoroscopic screen with the aid of a mirror held by the nurse. (Fluoroscopy is an X-ray technique whereby movement of a body organ, an introduced dye, or a catheter within the body can be followed in real time.) He documented his experiment with an X-ray film. Forssmann was oblivious to the danger of abnormal, potentially fatal heart rhythms that can be provoked when anything touches the sensitive endocardium, the inside lining of the heart chambers.



Source:

Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.






December 1, 2014

Serendipitous Discovery of CorningWare



(p. A15) S. Donald Stookey, a scientist with Corning Glass Works who in the 1950s accidentally discovered a remarkably strong material that could be used not just to make the nose cone of a missile but also to contain a casserole in both a refrigerator and hot oven -- its durable culinary incarnation was called CorningWare -- died on Tuesday [November 4, 2014] in Rochester.


. . .


Dr. Stookey had not planned to invent it. Experimenting at Corning one day in 1953, he put photosensitive glass into a furnace, intending to heat it to 600 degrees.

"When I came back, the temperature gauge was stuck on 900 degrees, and I thought I had ruined the furnace," he said in an interview several years ago. "When I opened the door to the furnace, I saw the glass was intact and had turned a milky white. I grabbed some tongs to get it out as fast as I could, but the glass slipped out of the tongs and fell to the floor. The thing bounced and didn't break. It sounded like steel hitting the floor."



For the full obituary, see:

WILLIAM YARDLEY. "S. Donald Stookey, Scientist, Dies at 99; Among His Inventions Was CorningWare." The New York Times (Sat., NOV. 8, 2014): A15.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date NOV. 6, 2014.)






November 30, 2014

Esther Dyson Sees a Lot of Silicon Valley as Just Motivated to Make Money



(p. C11) The U.S. Commerce Department recently said that it plans to relinquish its oversight of Icann, handing that task to an international body of some kind. The details are still being worked out, but Ms. Dyson hopes that governments won't be the new regulators. . . .

For now, she thinks there are many Silicon Valley Internet companies with inflated market values. "There is the desire to make money that motivates a lot of that in Silicon Valley, and yes, I think it's totally a bubble," she says. "It's not like the last bubble in that there are a lot of real companies there [now], but there are a lot of unreal companies and...many of them will disappear." She thinks too many people are starting similar companies. "You have people being CEOs of teeny little things who would be much better as marketing managers of someone else's company," she says.

And though her work often takes her to California, she's happy to stay in New York. These days, she finds Silicon Valley "very fashionable," she says, "and I don't really like fashion."



For the full interview, see:

ALEXANDRA WOLFE, interviewer. "WEEKEND CONFIDENTIAL; Esther Dyson's Healthy Investments; The investor is hoping to produce better health through technology with a new nonprofit." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 3, 2014): C11.

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

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date May 2, 2014, and has the title "WEEKEND CONFIDENTIAL; Esther Dyson's Healthy Investments; The investor is hoping to produce better health through technology with a new nonprofit.")






November 27, 2014

Catering to Auto Dealers, State Governments Restrict Consumers Right to Buy Direct from Tesla



(p. 7B) Backed by dealership trade groups, several states, including Arizona, New Jersey, Maryland, Texas and Virginia, have banned or restricted Tesla from selling to the public.

The Iowa Department of Transportation asked Tesla to stop its West Des Moines test drives after being alerted to the event by the Iowa Automobile Dealers Association, said Paul Steier, director of the DOT's Bureau of Investigation and Identity Protection.


. . .


State law requires auto dealers to be licensed, and by offering test drives, Tesla was acting as a dealer, Steier said. "You can't just set up in a hotel parking lot and sell cars," said Bruce Anderson, president of the Iowa Automobile Dealers Association. "This is a regulated industry."



For the full story, see:

Joel Aschbrenner, The Des Moines Register. "With Farm Robotics, the Cows Decide When It's Milking Time." USA Today (Weds., September 26, 2014): 7B.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date September 25, 2014, and differs in some respects from the print version. In the quotes above, I have followed the print version.)






November 26, 2014

Robotic Milkers Are Less Costly, Easier to Manage and More Humane to Cows



(p. A1) EASTON, N.Y. -- Something strange is happening at farms in upstate New York. The cows are milking themselves.

Desperate for reliable labor and buoyed by soaring prices, dairy operations across the state are charging into a brave new world of udder care: robotic milkers, which feed and milk cow after cow without the help of a single farmhand.

Scores of the machines have popped up across New York's dairy belt and in other states in recent years, changing age-old patterns of daily farm life and reinvigorating the allure of agriculture for a younger, tech-savvy -- and manure-averse -- generation.


. . .


The cows seem to like it, too.

Robots allow the cows to set their own hours, lining up for automated milking five or six times a day -- turning the predawn and late-afternoon sessions (p. A19) around which dairy farmers long built their lives into a thing of the past.

With transponders around their necks, the cows get individualized service. Lasers scan and map their underbellies, and a computer charts each animal's "milking speed," a critical factor in a 24-hour-a-day operation.


. . .


The Bordens and other farmers say a major force is cutting labor costs -- health insurance, room and board, overtime, and workers' compensation insurance -- particularly when immigration reform is stalled in Washington and dependable help is hard to procure.

The machines also never complain about getting up early, working late or being kicked.

"It's tough to find people to do it well and show up on time," said Tim Kurtz, who installed four robotic milkers last year at his farm in Berks County, Pa. "And you don't have to worry about that with a robot."

The Bordens say the machines allow them to do more of what they love: caring for animals.

"I'd rather be a cow manager," Tom Borden said, "than a people manager."



For the full story, see:

JESSE McKINLEY. "With Farm Robotics, the Cows Decide When It's Milking Time." The New York Times (Weds., APRIL 23, 2014): A1 & A19.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 22, 2014.)






November 25, 2014

Major Cancer Drugs Have Come from Unexpected Sources



(p. 182) Starting in the last decades of the twentieth century, last decades of the twentieth century, sophisticated genetics and molecular biology have been aimed toward a more precise understanding of the cell's mechanisms. Yet, even here, chance has continued to be a big factor. Surprising discoveries led to uncovering cancer-inducing genes (oncogenes) and tumor-suppressing genes, both of which are normal cellular genes that, when mutated, can induce a biological effect that predisposes the cell to cancer development. A search for blood substitutes led to anti-angiogenesis drugs. Veterinary medicine led to oncogenes and vaccine preparations to tumor-suppressor genes. In one of the greatest serendipitous discoveries of (p. 183) modern medicine, stem cells were stumbled upon during research on radiation effects on the blood.

Experience has clearly shown that major cancer drugs have been discovered by independent, thoughtful, and self-motivated researchers--the cancer war's "guerrillas," to use the reigning metaphor--from unexpected sources: from chemical warfare (nitrogen mustard), nutritional research (methotrexate), medicinal folklore (the vinca alkaloids), bacteriologic research (cisplatin), biochemistry research (sex hormones), blood storage research (angiogenic inhibitors), clinical observations (COX-2 inhibitors), and embryology (thalidomide).



Source:

Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.






November 20, 2014

Robert Morris Financed the Revolutionary War, and Private Ventures, But Ended in Debtors' Prison



(p. C7) The Philadelphia merchant banker Robert Morris, reputedly the richest man in Revolutionary America, performed prodigies in financing the war and then staving off the new country's insolvency. He was bullish on America's future, and when he returned to private life in 1784, he initiated a variety of ventures--a fleet of ships trading with China and India, multiple manufacturing enterprises, and, not least, vast assemblages of unimproved interior land--that eventually landed him in debtors' prison. Ryan K. Smith offers a readable and enlightening portrait of this busy and turbulent life in "Robert Morris's Folly."


For the full review, see:

CHARLES R. MORRIS. "Financing the Founders; Morris built a French-style palace out of Pennsylvania logs in the hope that Marie Antoinette would visit." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., AUG. 30, 2014): C7.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date AUG. 29, 2014, and has the title "Book Review: 'Robert Morris's Folly' by Ryan K. Smith; Robert Morris built a French-style palace out of Pennsylvania logs in the hope that Marie Antoinette would visit.")


The book being reviewed is:

Smith, Ryan K. Robert Morris's Folly: The Architectural and Financial Failures of an American Founder, The Lewis Walpole Series in Eighteenth-Century Culture and History. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014.






November 18, 2014

Japanese Try to Sell the iPhone of Toilets in United States



(p. B8) TOKYO--Yoshiaki Fujimori wants to be the Steve Jobs of toilets.

Like iPhones, app-packed commodes are objects of desire in Mr. Fujimori's Japan. The lids lift automatically. The seats heat up. Built-in bidets make cleanup a breeze. Some of them even sync with users' smartphones via Bluetooth so that they can program their preferences and play their favorite music through speakers built into the bowl.

Three-quarters of Japanese homes contain such toilets, most of them made by one of two companies: Toto Ltd., Japan's largest maker of so-called sanitary ware, or Lixil Corp., where Mr. Fujimori is the chief executive.

Now Mr. Fujimori is leading a push to bring them to the great unwashed. In May, Lixil plans to add toilets with "integrated bidets" to the lineup of American Standard Brands, which Lixil acquired last year for $542 million, including debt.


. . .


Few people realized they needed smartphones until Apple's iPhone came along. So it will be in the U.S. with American Standard's new toilets, Mr. Fujimori said.

"Industry presents iPhone--industry presents shower toilet," Mr. Fujimori said in an interview at Lixil's headquarters in Tokyo. "We can create the same type of pattern."


. . .


Mr. Fujimori maintained that once American consumers try such toilets, they won't go back.

"This improves your standard of living," he said. "It doesn't hurt you. People like comfort, they like ease, they like automatic. And people like clean."



For the full story, see:

ERIC PFANNER and ATSUKO FUKASE. "Smart Toilets Arrive in U.S." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., May 27, 2014): B8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 26, 2014.)






November 16, 2014

Steelcase Designs Quiet Space for Introverts to Think



(p. D2) Introverts' nervous systems are more sensitive to stimulation than extroverts' are, according to Susan Cain, author of "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking."

"When introverts get too much stimulation, they feel overwhelmed and jangled," she said.

With no privacy or way to shield themselves from the commotion, introverts, estimated to make up one-third to one-half of the population, can feel exposed in the modern workplace. Being on display is imposing and distracting to them, Cain said.

Office furniture maker Steelcase Inc. is trying to give the left-behind introverts some love. Its new set of "quiet spaces," designed in collaboration with Cain, aims to help introverts relax and focus away from the eyes of their coworkers.


. . .


Part of Steelcase's pitch to potential customers: this is a talent issue. Why spend so much time and money recruiting employees if they can't focus and work well in your space?



For the full story, see:

RACHEL FEINTZEIG. "How to Avoid that Sinking Feeling When in the Fish Bowl." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., June 3, 2014): D2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 2, 2014, and has the title "For Office Introverts, a Room of One's Own.")


The book mentioned in the passage quoted is:

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






November 15, 2014

"Rebel" Russian Thugs Kill Plans and Entrepreneurship in Donetsk



(p. A13) "We do not go out at night," said Irina, a journalist who lost her job when the rebels closed her newspaper in May. "We have stopped planning."

Her boyfriend, Evgeny, lost his job, too, when his security firm folded. He said the business collapsed after the rebels seized money from the central bank and armored vehicles from other banks, leading them to close. He turned to his secondary business, fixing motorbikes, only to be ordered at gunpoint to fix some stolen motorbikes for the rebels.

"I came to the conclusion there is no sense," he said. "You start a business and get a bit successful, and two weeks later men with guns come and say, 'Good boy, get lost.' "



For the full story, see:

CARLOTTA GALL. "Lured Back by a Cease-Fire in Ukraine, but Not Feeling at Home Yet." The New York Times (Thurs., SEPT. 11, 2014): A6 & A13.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 10, 2014.)






November 7, 2014

Wal-Mart Nimbly Evades Bank Industry Efforts to Restrict Competition



(p. B3) Here comes Wal-Bank.

After years of thwarted efforts to break into banking, Walmart is making its biggest foray yet into everyday financial services.

Walmart, the nation's largest retailer, is teaming up with Green Dot, known for its prepaid payment cards, to supply checking accounts to almost anyone over 18 who passes an ID check.


. . .


. . . the new Walmart initiative will be the first full-blown, off-the-shelf checking account. To help attract customers, Walmart and Green Dot will forgo a screening system many banks use to vet potential customers and rely instead on a proprietary system. The model is expected to allow almost any consumer who passes an identification check to open an account in minutes, according to Green Dot.

In the past, Walmart has tried to secure a federal bank charter to become a deposit-taking bank, but abandoned that effort in 2007 in the face of opposition from the banking industry. Since then, the retailer has assembled an array of services that could be offered without a charter, as well as partnerships with financial service companies like Green Dot.



For the full story, see:

HIROKO TABUCHI and JESSICA SILVER-GREENBERG. "Finding a Door Into Banking, Walmart Prepares to Offer Checking Accounts." The New York Times (Weds., SEPT. 24, 2014): B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 23, 2014, and has the title "Walmart Prepares to Offer Low-Cost Checking Accounts.")






November 5, 2014

"Folkman Persisted in His Genuinely Original Thinking"



(p. 141) As detailed by Robert Cooke in his 2001 book Dr. Folkman's War, the successful answers to these basic questions took Folkman through diligent investigations punctuated by an astonishing series of chance observations and circumstances. Over decades, Folkman persisted in his genuinely original thinking. His concept was far in advance of technological and other scientific advances that would provide the methodology and basic knowledge essential to its proof, forcing him to await verification and to withstand ridicule, scorn, and vicious competition for grants. Looking back three decades later, Folkman would ruefully reflect: "I was too young to realize how much trouble was in store for a theory that could not be tested immediately."


Source:

Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

(Note: italics in original.)






November 2, 2014

Zambrano Was Cement Process Innovator



(p. A22) Beginning in 1992, Mr. Zambrano bought up far-flung producers to create the third-largest cement company in the world. He remade each new acquisition, introducing high technology and logistical efficiencies that made Cemex the subject of business school case studies at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

From his own computer Mr. Zambrano could monitor any Cemex operation in more than 50 countries, said Rossana Fuentes-Berain, a Mexican journalist who wrote a 2007 book about Mr. Zambrano, "Grey Gold."

What distinguished him was "the technology, the management and the hunger to prove that you can be as good as anybody in the market," Ms. Fuentes-Berain said.



For the full obituary, see:

ELISABETH MALKIN. "Lorenzo Zambrano, 70, Leader of Cemex, Dies." The New York Times (Thurs., May 15, 2014): A22.

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date MAY 13, 2014, and has the title "Lorenzo H. Zambrano, Head of Cement Giant Cemex, Dies at 70.")


The biography mentioned above, as of this posting, is only available in Spanish:

Fuentes-Berain, Rossana. Oro Gris: Zambrano, La Gesta de Cemex y la Globalizacion en Mexico. Aguilar, 2007.






October 28, 2014

In Finding Cure for Ulcers, Marshall Was Not Constrained by the Need to Obtain Approval or Funding



(p. 113) Marshall was a youthful maverick, not bound by traditional theory and not professionally invested in a widely held set of beliefs. There is such a thing as being too much of an insider. Marshall viewed the problem with fresh eyes and was not constrained by the requirement to obtain approval or funding for his pursuits. It is also noteworthy that his work was accomplished not at a high-powered academic ivory tower with teams of investigators but instead far from the prestigious research centers in the Western Hemisphere.

The delay in acceptance of Marshall's revolutionary hypothesis reflects the tenacity with which long-held concepts are maintained. Vested interests--intellectual, financial, commercial, status--keep these entrenched. Dogmatic believers find themselves under siege by a new set of explanations.



Source:

Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.






October 24, 2014

Ideas Should Not Be Rejected Just Because They Disagree with Reigning Theory



(p. 107) . . . Claude Bernard, the nineteenth-century founder of experimental medicine, . . . famously said, "If an idea presents itself to us, we must not reject it simply because it does not agree with the logical deductions of a reigning theory."


Source:

Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

(Note: ellipses added.)






October 20, 2014

Needed Revolutionary Ideas Often Come From Outsiders



(p. 103) . . . where knowledge is no longer growing and the field has been worked out, a revolutionary new approach is required and this is more likely to come from the outsider. The skepticism with which the experts nearly always greet these revolutionary ideas confirms that the available knowledge has been a handicap."


Source:

W. I. B. Beveridge as quoted in Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






October 14, 2014

Boring Jobs Cause Stress and Lower Productivity



(p. B4) A study published this year in the journal Experimental Brain Research found that measurements of people's heart rates, hormonal levels and other factors while watching a boring movie -- men hanging laundry -- showed greater signs of stress than those watching a sad movie.

"We tend to think of boredom as someone lazy, as a couch potato," said James Danckert, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, and a co-author of the paper. "It's actually when someone is motivated to engage with their environment and all attempts to do so fail. It's aggressively dissatisfying."

It's not just the amount of work, Professor Spector said, also but the type.   . . .

"You can be very busy and a have a lot to do and still be bored," he said. The job -- whether a white-collar managerial position or blue-collar assembly line role -- also needs to be stimulating.


. . .


In a 2011 paper based on the doctoral dissertation of his student Kari Bruursema, Professor Spector and his co-authors found that the stress of boredom can lead to counterproductive work behavior, like calling in sick, taking long breaks, spending time on the Internet for nonwork-related reasons, gossiping about colleagues, playing practical jokes or even stealing. While most workers engage in some of these activities at times, the bored employee does it far more frequently, he said.



For the full story, see:

ALINA TUGEND. "Shortcuts; The Contrarians on Stress: It Can Be Good for You." The New York Times (Sat., OCT. 4, 2014): B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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


The Experimental Brain Research study mentioned above, is:

Merrifield, Colleen, and James Danckert. "Characterizing the Psychophysiological Signature of Boredom." Experimental Brain Research 232, no. 2 (Feb. 2014): 481-91.


The article mentioned above, that is co-authored by Spector, is:

Bruursema, Kari, Stacey R. Kessler, and Paul E. Spector. "Bored Employees Misbehaving: The Relationship between Boredom and Counterproductive Work Behaviour." Work & Stress 25, no. 2 (April 2011): 93-107.






October 8, 2014

Why Did Waksman Not Pursue the Streptomycin Antibiotic?




What did Waksman lack to pursue the streptomycin antibiotic sooner? Enough independent funding? Alertness? Enough desire to make a ding in the universe? Enough unhappiness about unnecessary death? Willingness to embrace the hard work of embracing dissonant facts?


(p. 83) Waksman missed several opportunities to make the great discovery earlier in his career, but his single-mindedness did not allow for, in Salvador Luria's phrase, "the chance observation falling on the receptive eye." In 1975 Waksman recalled that he first brushed past an antibiotic as early as 1923 when he observed that "certain actinomycetes produce substances toxic to bacteria" since it can be noted at times that "around an actinomycetes colony upon a plate a zone is formed free from fungous and bacterial growth." In 1935 Chester Rhines, a graduate student of Waksman's, noticed that tubercle bacilli would not grow in the presence of a soil organism, but Waksman did not think that this lead was worth pursuing: "In the scientific climate of the time, the result did not suggest any practical application for treatment of tuberculosis." The same year, Waksman's friend Fred Beau-dette, the poultry pathologist at Rutgers, brought him an agar tube with a culture of tubercle bacilli killed by a contaminant fungus growing on top of them. Again, Waksman was not interested: "I was not moved to jump to the logical conclusion and direct my efforts accordingly.... My major interest at that time was the subject of organic matter decomposition and the interrelationships among soil micro-organisms responsible for this process."


Source:

Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)






October 6, 2014

Shellshock Bug Shows Low Quality of Open Source Software



(p. B1) Long before the commercial success of the Internet, Brian J. Fox invented one of its most widely used tools.

In 1987, Mr. Fox, then a young programmer, wrote Bash, short for Bourne-Again Shell, a free piece of software that is now built into more than 70 percent of the machines that connect to the Internet. That includes servers, computers, routers, some mobile phones and even everyday items like refrigerators and cameras.

On Thursday [Sept. 25, 2014], security experts warned that Bash contained a particularly alarming software bug that could be used to take control of hundreds of millions of machines around the world, potentially including Macintosh computers and smartphones that use the Android operating system.

The bug, named "Shellshock," drew comparisons to the Heartbleed bug that was discovered in a crucial piece of software last spring.

But Shellshock could be a bigger threat. While Heartbleed could be used to do things like steal passwords from a server, Shellshock can be used to take over the entire machine. And Heartbleed went unnoticed for two years and affected an estimated 500,000 machines, but Shellshock was not discovered for 22 years.


. . .


Mr. Fox maintained Bash -- which serves as a sort of software interpreter for different commands from a user -- for five years before handing over the reins to Chet Ramey, a 49-year-old programmer who, for the last 22 years, has maintained the software as an unpaid hobby. That is, when he is not working at his day job as a senior technology architect at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio.


. . .


(p. 2) The mantra of open source was perhaps best articulated by Eric S. Raymond, one of the elders of the open-source movement, who wrote in 1997 that "given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow." But, in this case, Steven M. Bellovin, a computer science professor at Columbia University, said, those eyeballs are more consumed with new features than quality. "Quality takes work, design, review and testing and those are not nearly as much fun as coding," Mr. Bellovin said. "If the open-source community does not develop those skills, it's going to fall further behind in the quality race."



For the full story, see:

NICOLE PERLROTH. "Flaw in Code Puts Millions At Big Risk." The New York Times (Fri., SEPT. 26, 2014): B1-B2.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 25, 2014, and has the title "Security Experts Expect 'Shellshock' Software Bug in Bash to Be Significant.")






October 4, 2014

Cancer Will Likely Be Cured by "Lone Wolves, Awkward Individualists, Nonconformists"




Morton Meyers quotes Ernst Chain, who received the Nobel Prize in 1945, along with Fleming and Florey, for developing penicillin:


(p. 81) But do not let us fall victims of the naive illusion that problems like cancer, mental illness, degeneration or old age... can be solved by bulldozer organizational methods, such as were used in the Manhattan Project. In the latter, we had the geniuses whose basic discoveries made its development possible, the Curies, the Rutherfords, the Einsteins, the Niels Bohrs and many others; in the biologic field... these geniuses have not yet appeared.... No mass attack will replace them.... When they do appear, it is our job to recognize them and give them the opportunities to develop their talents, which is not an easy task, for they are bound to be lone wolves, awkward individualists, nonconformists, and they will not very well fit into any established organization.


Source:

Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

(Note: ellipses in original.)






October 2, 2014

Regulations Deter Start-Ups, Creating a "Senile Economy"



(p. 5B) We may have a "senile economy," says economist Robert Litan of the Brookings Institution. That's senile as in old, rigid and undynamic.


. . .


Litan is not just blowing smoke. In a new study, he and Ian Hathaway measured the age of American businesses. They were astonished by what they found: From 1992 to 2011, the share of U.S. firms that were 16 and older jumped from 23 percent to 34 percent.


. . .


What happened to all the entrepreneurs? Good question.

"We do not have an explanation," write the University of Maryland and the Census Bureau economists. Neither does Litan. "One theory is that the cumulative effect of regulations," he says, discriminates against new businesses and favors "established firms that have the experience and resources to deal with it." What allegedly deters and hampers startups is not any one regulation but the cost and time of complying with a blizzard of them.



For the full commentary, see:

ROBERT J. SAMUELSON. "Fewer entrepreneurs spells trouble." Omaha World-Herald (Mon., August 11, 2014): 5B.

(Note: ellipses added.)


The article mentioned above by Hathaway and Litan is:

Hathaway, Ian, and Robert E. Litan. "The Other Aging of America: The Increasing Dominance of Older Firms." In Economic Studies at Brookings, The Brookings Institution (July 2014): 1-17.






September 30, 2014

"Seeing What Everybody Has Seen and Thinking What Nobody Has Thought"




Szent-Györgyi is onto something important below. But I think it would be more accurate to say that we all experience dissonant events (but usually not the same dissonant events, as Szent-Györgyi implies), and that most of us let the events pass without noticing, or remembering, or making use of them. What is rare is to notice the events, remember them and make use of them. Those who carry around with them the burden of unsolved problems, and unfixed frustrations, are more likely to see in unexpected events solutions to those problems and fixes for the frustrations. This all takes the effort of our better self (what Kahneman calls our System 2). It takes effort to carry around the problems, to bear the dissonant observations, and to suffer the indifference of friends and the ridicule of experts. But it is through such effort that we better understand the world and, most importantly, that we improve the world.


(p. 12) "Discovery (p. 13) consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought," according to Nobelist Albert Szent-Györgyi.14


. . .


(p. 324) 14. Albert Szent-Györgyi, Bioenergetics (New York: Academic Press, 1957), 57.



Source:

Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

(Note: italics in original.)






September 29, 2014

For Health Entrepreneurs "the Regulatory Burden in the U.S. Is So High"



(p. A11) Yo is a smartphone app. MelaFind is a medical device. Yo sends one meaningless message: "Yo!" MelaFind tells you: "biopsy this and don't biopsy that." MelaFind saves lives. Yo does not. Guess which firm found it easier to put their product in consumers hands?


. . .


In January 2010, Jeffrey Shuren, a veteran FDA official, was appointed director of the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, the division responsible for evaluating MelaFind. Dr. Shuren, Dr. Gulfo writes, had "a reputation for being somewhat anti-industry" and "an aggressive agenda to completely revamp the device approval process." Thus in March MELA Sciences was issued something called a "Not Approvable letter" raising various questions about MelaFind.


. . .


The letter sent the author into survival mode. He battled the FDA, calmed investors, and defended against the lawsuit all while trying to keep the company afloat. Under stress, Dr. Gulfo's health began to decline: He lost 29 pounds, his hair began to fall out, and the pain in his gut became so intense he needed an endoscopy.


. . .


The climax to this medical thriller comes when, in "the greatest 15 minutes of [his] life," Dr. Gulfo delivers an impassioned speech, à la "Twelve Angry Men," to the FDA's advisory committee. The committee voted for approval, 8 to 7, and, perhaps with the congressional hearing in mind, the FDA approved MelaFind in September 2011.

It was a major triumph for the company, but Dr. Gulfo was beat. He retired from the company in June 2013-- . . .


. . .


Google's Sergey Brin recently said that he didn't want to be a health entrepreneur because "It's just a painful business to be in . . . the regulatory burden in the U.S. is so high that I think it would dissuade a lot of entrepreneurs." Mr. Brin won't find anything in Dr. Gulfo's book to persuade him otherwise. Until we get our regulatory system in order, expect a lot more Yo's and not enough life-saving innovations.



For the full review, see:

ALEX TABARROK. "BOOKSHELF; It's Broke. Fix It. MelaFind's breakthrough optical technology promised earlier, more accurate detection of melanoma. Then the FDA got involved." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Aug. 12, 2014): A11.

(Note: ellipses added, except for the one internal to the final paragraph, which is in the original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 11, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Innovation Breakdown' by Joseph V. Gulfo; MelaFind's breakthrough optical technology promised earlier, more accurate detection of melanoma. Then the FDA got involved.")


The book under review is:

Gulfo, Joseph V. Innovation Breakdown: How the FDA and Wall Street Cripple Medical Advances. Franklin, TN: Post Hill Press, 2014.






September 19, 2014

Curing Cancer Requires Enabling Serendipity, Not a Centrally Planned War



Happy Accidents is a wonderful book on serendipitous discovery that I ran across serendipitously. I had never heard of the author, but was interested in serendipity, so I started to collect books that Amazon says have something to do with serendipity. I let Happy Accidents sit on my shelf for about four years before starting to read.

The author is a retired, distinguished physician. The book is mainly a compendium of cases where major medical advances resulted from chance discoveries. Of course, the discoveries usually required more than just good luck. They usually required that someone was alert to the unexpected, and was willing to work in order to turn the unexpected into a cure. Their efforts are often made all the harder because of resistance from powerful incumbent "experts" and institutions. Often the discoveries go against the current theory, and are discovered by underfunded marginal outsiders.

Meyers points out that the centrally planned War on Cancer has cost the taxpayer a lot of money, and has largely failed to achieve its intended and predicted results. The reason is that you cannot centrally plan serendipity.

During the next several weeks, I will be quoting some of Meyers' more revealing examples or thought-provoking comments.


Book discussed:

Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.






September 17, 2014

Bill Gates on Xerox's Inventions and Mistakes



(p. C3) Not long after I first met Warren Buffett back in 1991, I asked him to recommend his favorite book about business. He didn't miss a beat: "It's 'Business Adventures,' by John Brooks, " he said. "I'll send you my copy." I was intrigued: I had never heard of "Business Adventures" or John Brooks.

Today, more than two decades after Warren lent it to me--and more than four decades after it was first published--"Business Adventures" remains the best business book I've ever read. John Brooks is still my favorite business writer. (And Warren, if you're reading this, I still have your copy.)


. . .


One of Brooks's most instructive stories is "Xerox Xerox Xerox Xerox." (The headline alone belongs in the Journalism Hall of Fame.) The example of Xerox is one that everyone in the tech industry should study. Starting in the early '70s, Xerox funded a huge amount of R&D that wasn't directly related to copiers, including research that led to Ethernet networks and the first graphical user interface (the look you know today as Windows or OS X).

But because Xerox executives didn't think these ideas fit their core business, they chose not to turn them into marketable products. Others stepped in and went to market with products based on the research that Xerox had done. Both Apple and Microsoft, for example, drew on Xerox's work on graphical user interfaces.

I know I'm not alone in seeing this decision as a mistake on Xerox's part. I was certainly determined to avoid it at Microsoft. I pushed hard to make sure that we kept thinking big about the opportunities created by our research in areas like computer vision and speech recognition. Many other journalists have written about Xerox, but Brooks's article tells an important part of the company's early story. He shows how it was built on original, outside-the-box thinking, which makes it all the more surprising that as Xerox matured, it would miss out on unconventional ideas developed by its own researchers. (To download a free e-book of "Xerox Xerox Xerox Xerox," go to GatesNotes.com.)



For the full review, see:

BILL GATES. "My Favorite Business Book." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., July 12, 2014): C3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the last quoted sentence is in the location, and has the wording, of the printer version, not the online version.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 11, 2014, and has the title "Bill Gates's Favorite Business Book.")


The book being reviewed is:

Brooks, John. Business Adventures: Twelve Classic Tales from the World of Wall Street. pb ed. New York: Open Road Integrated Media, Inc., 2014.






September 16, 2014

Structural Reforms Needed to Increase Innovation



(p. A13) . . . , a lack of "demand" is no longer the problem.


. . .


Where, instead, are the problems? John Taylor, Stanford's Nick Bloom and Chicago Booth's Steve Davis see the uncertainty induced by seat-of-the-pants policy at fault. Who wants to hire, lend or invest when the next stroke of the presidential pen or Justice Department witch hunt can undo all the hard work? Ed Prescott emphasizes large distorting taxes and intrusive regulations. The University of Chicago's Casey Mulligan deconstructs the unintended disincentives of social programs. And so forth. These problems did not cause the recession. But they are worse now, and they can impede recovery and retard growth.

These views are a lot less sexy than a unicausal "demand," fixable by simple, magic-bullet policies. They require us to do the hard work of fixing the things we all agree need fixing: our tax code, our cronyist regulatory state, our welter of anticompetitive and anti-innovative protections, education, immigration, social program disincentives, and so on. They require "structural reform," not "stimulus," in policy lingo.



For the commentary, see:

JOHN H. COCHRANE. "OPINION; The Failure of Macroeconomics; When models don't yield the spending policies they want, some Keynesians abandon models--but not the spending." The Wall Street Journal (Thur., July 3, 2014): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 2, 2014.)






September 4, 2014

Established Companies Are Not Structured for Exponential Growth



(p. A13) Why are large tech companies losing the ability to innovate? Entrepreneur and author Salim Ismail studies the new generation of "exponential corporations," enterprises that grow 10 times faster than the average rate. He believes that established companies simply aren't structured for this kind of speed. So their only choice is to buy those companies that can still innovate rapidly.

If Mr. Ismail is correct--and the current dynamic in Silicon Valley suggests that he may be--we're on the brink of a major restructuring of business strategy, venture capital and almost every part of the high-tech world. It may be time to stop waiting for famous tech companies to roll out the hottest new product and start investing in startups that can sell their innovations to big companies. Tech appears to be evolving into a different kind of field: one that is, paradoxically, more static at the top but also more dependent on entrepreneurship than ever before.



For the full commentary, see:

MICHAEL S. MALONE. "An Innovation Slowdown at the Tech Giants; Seen anything new and big lately from Cisco, Yahoo or even Twitter?" The Wall Street Journal (Weds., July 2, 2014): A13.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 1, 2014.)


The Ismail research mentioned above, is discussed further in:

Ismail, Salim, Mike Malone, and Yuri van Geest. Exponential Organizations: Why New Organizations Are Ten Times Better, Faster, Cheaper Than Yours (and What to Do About It). New York: Diversion Books, 2014.






September 2, 2014

Poggio Helped Invent Italics Script



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


Source:

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






August 31, 2014

John Jacob Astor on Why His Son Gave More to Charity



John Jacob Astor . . . enjoyed making fun of his own foibles, including his carefully restrained charitable instincts. One day when a man dropped by his office to solicit a contribution to some worthy cause, Astor grumpily wrote out a check. Looking at the paltry amount from the richest man in the country in some dismay, the man said that Astor's son, William, had already given twice as much.

"Ah, well," replied Astor, "but then William has a rich man for a father."



Source:

Klepper, Michael, and Robert Gunther. "The American Heritage 40." American Heritage 49, no. 6 (Oct. 1998): 56-66.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






August 30, 2014

Rollin King Found Legal Way to Avoid Fed's Regulations



(p. 25) Rollin W. King, a co-founder of Southwest Airlines, the low-cost carrier that helped to change the way Americans travel, died Thursday [June 26, 2014] in Dallas. He was 83.


. . .


The concept for Southwest came to Mr. King when he noticed that businessmen in Texas were willing to charter planes instead of paying the high fares of the domestic airlines.

At the time that Mr. King first proposed the idea to Mr. Kelleher over drinks, the federal government regulated the fares, schedules and routes of interstate airlines, and the mandated prices were high.

Competitors like Texas International Airlines, Braniff International Airways and Continental Airlines waged a protracted legal battle before Southwest could make its first flight. By not flying across state borders, Southwest was able to get around prices set by the Civil Aeronautics Board.



For the full obituary, see:

MICHAEL CORKERY. "Rollin King, 83, Pilot Who Helped Start Southwest Airlines." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., June 29, 2014): 25.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date June 28, 2014, and has the title "Rollin King, Texas Pilot Who Helped Start Southwest, Dies at 83.")






August 19, 2014

Political Entrepreneurs Can Find Ways to Overcome Vested Interests



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


. . .


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



Source:

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

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


The book Rodrik discusses is:

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






August 18, 2014

"The Lone Commando Who Answers to No One and Breaks Rules to Save Patients Is No Longer a Viable Job Description"



(p. D5) A keen sense of loss permeates "Code Black," an affecting love letter from a young doctor to his hospital. Over the years, plenty of similar romances have been immortalized in book form, but this may be the first to play out as a documentary, and is surely the first to emerge from our newly reformed health care climate. You'd think you'd be in for some celebration.

But not in the least. In fact, among all its familiar themes, the film's most striking is the profound sense of estrangement between the young doctors on the screen and all the recent efforts at improving the health care system. The spirit that brought them to medicine and keeps them there, they say over and over, was never even part of the national discussion.


. . .


. . . , as their department chairman points out, the day of the cowboy doctor is over; the lone commando who answers to no one and breaks rules to save patients is no longer a viable job description. Newly smothered in paperwork and quality control, many of these young doctors grieve for a self-image that has ridden off into the sunset.



For the full review, see:

ABIGAIL ZUGER, M.D.. "Saving Lives and Pushing Paper." The New York Times (Tues., July 1, 2014): D5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JUNE 30, 2014.)






August 4, 2014

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



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


. . .


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


. . .


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


. . .


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


. . .


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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The book under review is:

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






July 31, 2014

Early Cars Were Playthings of the Idle Rich



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













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




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

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

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



For the full review, see:

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

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


The book under review is:

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






July 28, 2014

Entrepreneur Gutenberg's Press Creatively Destroyed the Jobs of Scribes



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


Source:

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

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






July 23, 2014

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



ConsoleWarsBk2014-06-05.jpg

















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



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

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

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


. . .


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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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


The book under review is:

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






July 19, 2014

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



MadnessAndMemoryBK2014-06-05.jpg












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








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

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

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

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



For the full review, see:

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

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


The book under review is:

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






July 17, 2014

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



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



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

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

This process, advocates say, ensures trustworthy computer code.

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

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


. . .


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

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

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


. . .


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

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



For the full story, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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



Raymond's open source manifesto is:

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






July 16, 2014

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



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


Source:

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






July 13, 2014

Harvard Rejects Christensen's Advice to Try Disruptive MOOCs



PorterMichaelHBS2014-06-01.jpg "Harvard Business School faced a choice between different models of online instruction. Prof. Michael Porter favored the development of online courses that would reflect the school's existing strategy." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. 1) Universities across the country are wrestling with the same question -- call it the educator's quandary -- of whether to plunge into the rapidly growing realm of online teaching, at the risk of devaluing the on-campus education for which students pay tens of thousands of dollars, or to stand pat at the risk of being left behind.

At Harvard Business School, the pros and cons of the argument were personified by two of its most famous faculty members. For Michael Porter, widely considered the father of modern business strategy, the answer is yes -- create online courses, but not in a way that undermines the school's existing strategy. "A company must stay the course," Professor Porter has written, "even in times of upheaval, while constantly improving and extending its distinctive positioning."

For Clayton Christensen, whose 1997 book, "The Innovator's Dilemma," propelled him to academic stardom, the only way that market leaders like Harvard (p. 4) Business School survive "disruptive innovation" is by disrupting their existing businesses themselves. This is arguably what rival business schools like Stanford and the Wharton School have been doing by having professors stand in front of cameras and teach MOOCs, or massive open online courses, free of charge to anyone, anywhere in the world. For a modest investment by the school -- about $20,000 to $30,000 a course -- a professor can reach a million students, says Karl Ulrich, vice dean for innovation at Wharton, part of the University of Pennsylvania.

"Do it cheap and simple," Professor Christensen says. "Get it out there."

But Harvard Business School's online education program is not cheap, simple, or open. It could be said that the school opted for the Porter theory.


. . .


"Harvard is going to make a lot of money," Mr. Ulrich predicted. "They will sell a lot of seats at those courses. But those seats are very carefully designed to be off to the side. It's designed to be not at all threatening to what they're doing at the core of the business school."

Exactly, warned Professor Christensen, who said he was not consulted about the project. "What they're doing is, in my language, a sustaining innovation," akin to Kodak introducing better film, circa 2005. "It's not truly disruptive."


. . .


One morning, [Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria] sat down for one of his regular breakfasts with students. "Three of them had just been in Clay's course," which had included a case study on the future of Harvard Business School, Mr. Nohria said. "So I asked them, 'What was the debate like, and how would you think about this?' They, too, split very deeply."

Some took Professor Christensen's view that the school was a potential Blockbuster Video: a high-cost incumbent -- students put the total cost of the two-year M.B.A. at around $100,0000 -- that would be upended by cheaper technology if it didn't act quickly to make its own model obsolete. At least one suggested putting the entire first-year curriculum online.

Others weren't so sure. " 'This disruption is going to happen,' " is how Mr. Nohria described their thinking, " 'but it's going to happen to a very different segment of business education, not to us.' " The power of Harvard's brand, networking opportunities and classroom experience would protect it from the fate of second- and third-tier schools, a view that even Professor Christensen endorses -- up to a point.

"We're at the very high end of the market, and disruption always hits the high end last," said Professor Christensen, who recently predicted that half of the United States' universities could face bankruptcy within 15 years.



For the full story, see:

JERRY USEEM. "B-School, Disrupted." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., June 1, 2014): 1 & 4.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 31, 2014, and has the title "Business School, Disrupted.")


Some of Christensen's thoughts on higher education can be found in:

Christensen, Clayton M., and Henry J. Eyring. The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the inside Out. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2011.



ChristensenClaytonHBS2014-06-01.jpg
















"On the topic of online instruction, Prof. Clayton Christensen said: 'Do it cheap and simple. Get it out there."" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.






July 12, 2014

They Begged for a Chance to Help Edison Create the Future



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


Source:

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






July 9, 2014

French Protest Amazon, but Buy There for Low Prices



(p. B1) LONDON -- On weekends, Guillaume Rosquin browses the shelves of local bookstores in Lyon, France. He enjoys peppering the staff with questions about what he should be reading next. But his visits, he says, are also a protest against the growing power of Amazon. He is bothered by the way the American online retailer treats its warehouse employees.

Still, as with millions of other Europeans, there is a limit to how much he will protest.

"It depends on the price," said Mr. Rosquin, 49, who acknowledged that he was planning to buy a $400 BlackBerry smartphone on Amazon because the handset was not yet available on rival French websites. "If you can get something for half-price at Amazon, you may put your issues with their working conditions aside."



For the full story, see:

MARK SCOTT. "Principles Are No Match for Europe's Love of U.S. Web Titans." The New York Times (Mon., JULY 7, 2014): B1 & B3.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JULY 6, 2014.)







July 8, 2014

We Were Right to Honor Edison



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

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

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


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

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



Source:

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






July 4, 2014

Insull the Innovator



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


Source:

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






July 3, 2014

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



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



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


For the full review, see:

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

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


The book under review is:

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






June 30, 2014

Insull Took 50% Pay Cut to Get Chief Executive Position



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


Source:

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






June 27, 2014

Instead of 50 Silicon Valleys, Andreessen Sees 50 Kinds of Silicon Valley



AndreessenMarcCofounderNetscape2014-05-31.jpg "Marc Andreessen, co-founder of the first major web browser, Netscape, has a record for knowing what's coming next with technology." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. B8) Mr. Andreessen said new valleys will eventually emerge. But they won't be Silicon Valley copycats.

Over the past couple of years, venture firms have invested in start-ups in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and all over China. Los Angeles, for example, is home to Snapchat, Tinder, Whisper, Oculus VR and Beats, some of the big tech stories of the year. Mr. Andreessen said another hot place is Atlanta, the home of Georgia Tech.

But he offers a caveat.

"My personal view is that Silicon Valley will continue to take a disproportionate share of the No. 1 positions in great new markets, and I think that's just a reflection that the fact that the valley works as well as it does," Mr. Andreessen said.

There is a caveat to his caveat.

In Mr. Andreessen's view, there shouldn't be 50 Silicon Valleys. Instead, there should be 50 different kinds of Silicon Valley. For example, there could be Biotech Valley, a Stem Cell Valley, a 3-D Printing Valley or a Drone Valley. As he noted, there are huge regulatory hurdles in many of these fields. If a city wanted to spur innovation around drones, for instance, it might have to remove any local legal barriers to flying unmanned aircraft.



For the full interview, see:

NICK BILTON. "DISRUPTIONS; Forecasting the Next Big Moves in Tech." The New York Times (Mon., MAY 19, 2014): B8.

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date MAY 18, 2014, and has the title "DISRUPTIONS; Marc Andreessen on the Future of Silicon Valley(s), and the Next Big Technology." )






June 26, 2014

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



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


Source:

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






June 22, 2014

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



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


Source:

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






June 18, 2014

If Inventors Were Allowed to Educate



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


Source:

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

(Note: italics in original)






June 17, 2014

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



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


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


. . .


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



For the full review, see:

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

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

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


The book under review is:

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



SonsOfWichitaBK2014-05-28.jpg
















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






June 14, 2014

How Edison Brought Tears to the Eyes of Maria Montessori



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


Source:

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






June 13, 2014

Federal Tax Reduction Fueled Craft Beer Revolution



TheCraftBeerRevolutionBK2014-05-28.jpg













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




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


. . .


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


. . .


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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The book under review is:

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






June 9, 2014

Government Regulations Favor Health Care Incumbents



WhereDoesItHurtBK2014-05-28.jpg





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





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

Enter Jonathan Bush, dyslexic entrepreneur, . . .


. . .


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


. . .


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

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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The book under review is:

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






June 6, 2014

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



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

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



Source:

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






June 3, 2014

Public Cannot Go into Space Because of Government Run Space Programs



BransonRichard2014-04-25.jpg "'You don't have to be a rocket scientist to be able to run a spaceship company,' says Richard Branson." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. C11) Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, is just months away from launching what he considers "the biggest Virgin company we've ever built." At 63, he's already founded multiple businesses worth billions, including a record label and a mobile company. But it's his foray into outer space with Virgin Galactic that has Mr. Branson excited.


. . .


Safety has been one of the biggest challenges in building Virgin Galactic. In 2007, two workers died after a tank explosion during a rocket test, and three were seriously wounded. The accident, which occurred at a partner company's facility, delayed the program for an estimated 18 months.

Risk factors weigh on the minds of potential customers as well, especially after NASA's 1986 Challenger disaster, in which seven crew members, including a schoolteacher, died. Mr. Branson thinks that today most people would want to go into space if they could be guaranteed a safe return trip. "Sadly, I think because the space program was run by governments, there was never any real interest in enabling members of the public to go to space after they tried once" with the Challenger, he explains. "After that, they decided not to take any risks whatsoever." He adds, "I would say 90% of people my age thought they would go to space because they saw the moon landing."



For the full story, see:

ALEXANDRA WOLFE. "WEEKEND CONFIDENTIAL; Richard Branson; The Virgin Group founder on his out-of-this world venture: space travel." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Nov. 2, 2013): C11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 1, 2013, and has the title "WEEKEND CONFIDENTIAL; Richard Branson on Space Travel; The Virgin Group founder on his latest out-of-this world venture, Virgin Galactic'.")






June 2, 2014

Edison Failed to Stop Film Projectors from Disrupting His Kinetoscope




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


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

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

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



Source:

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






May 29, 2014

In Bringing Us Electricity, Westinghouse Rejected the Precautionary Principle



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


Source:

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






May 25, 2014

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




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

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


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

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

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

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

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



Source:

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



Schumpeter's book is:

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

The other book I mention, is:

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






May 24, 2014

"A Libertarian Celebration of Hustling, Hacking and Free-Form Development"



TheBrightContinentBK2014-04-28.jpg















Source of book image: http://www.hmhco.com/shop/books/the-bright-continent/9780547678313#



(p. 21) Africa's gains have come not because of Western largess or painful structural adjustment programs set out by the likes of the International Monetary Fund, Olopade argues, nor are they the work of governments. They are largely the fruit of Africans' efforts to help themselves, through creative means that sometimes involve breaking the rules.


. . .


She excavates a hopeful narrative about a continent on the rise, "a libertarian celebration of hustling, hacking and free-form development."

The best solutions, according to Olopade, are local, developed by people closest to the problem, not bureaucrats in Washington or Brussels: the South African gynecologist who operates out of two shipping containers stacked together, the Kenyan family who take over an abandoned plot of land to grow vegetables to eat and sell.

Central to Olopade's thesis is the concept of kanju, a term that describes "the specific creativity born from African difficulty." It is the rule-bending ethos that makes it possible to get things done in the face of headaches like crumbling infrastructure, corrupt bureaucracy and tightfisted banks unwilling to make loans to people without political connections.

Many countries have these kinds of hacks and workarounds. In India, the term is jugaad, and it has had its moment in the sun as a business school concept. India runs on this informal hacking of the system that makes life and business ­possible.



For the full review, see:

LYDIA POLGREEN. "Home Improvement." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., APRIL 13, 2014): 21.

(Note: ellipsis added; italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date APRIL 11, 2014, and has the title "Home Improvement; 'The Bright Continent,' by Dayo Olopade.")


The book under review is:

Olopade, Dayo. The Bright Continent: Breaking Rules and Making Change in Modern Africa. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co., 2014.






May 22, 2014

In France "'Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité' Means that What's Yours Should Be Mine"



SantacruzGuillaumeFrenchEntrepreneurInLondon2014-04-27.jpgGuillaume Santacruz is among many French entrepreneurs now using London as their base. He said of his native France, "The economy is not going well, and if you want to get ahead or run your own business, the environment is not good." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. 1) Guillaume Santacruz, an aspiring French entrepreneur, brushed the rain from his black sweater and skinny jeans and headed down to a cavernous basement inside Campus London, a seven-story hive run by Google in the city's East End.


. . .


A year earlier, Mr. Santacruz, who has two degrees in finance, was living in Paris near the Place de la Madeleine, working in a boutique finance firm. He had taken that job after his attempt to start a business in Marseille foundered under a pile of government regulations and a seemingly endless parade of taxes. The episode left him wary of starting any new projects in France. Yet he still hungered to be his own boss.

He decided that he would try again. Just not in his own country.

"A lot of people are like, 'Why would you ever leave France?' " Mr. Santacruz said. "I'll tell you. France has a lot of problems. There's a feeling of gloom that seems to be growing deeper. The economy is not going well, and if you want to get ahead or run your own business, the environment is not good."


. . .


(p. 5) "Making it" is almost never easy, but Mr. Santacruz found the French bureaucracy to be an unbridgeable moat around his ambitions. Having received his master's in finance at the University of Nottingham in England, he returned to France to work with a friend's father to open dental clinics in Marseille. "But the French administration turned it into a herculean effort," he said.

A one-month wait for a license turned into three months, then six. They tried simplifying the corporate structure but were stymied by regulatory hurdles. Hiring was delayed, partly because of social taxes that companies pay on salaries. In France, the share of nonwage costs for employers to fund unemployment benefits, education, health care and pensions is more than 33 percent. In Britain, it is around 20 percent.

"Every week, more tax letters would come," Mr. Santacruz recalled.


. . .


Diane Segalen, an executive recruiter for many of France's biggest companies who recently moved most of her practice, Segalen & Associés, to London from Paris, says the competitiveness gap is easy to see just by reading the newspapers. "In Britain, you read about all the deals going on here," Ms. Segalen said. "In the French papers, you read about taxes, more taxes, economic problems and the state's involvement in everything."


. . .


"It is a French cultural characteristic that goes back to almost the revolution and Robespierre, where there's a deep-rooted feeling that you don't show that you make money," Ms. Segalen, the recruiter, said. "There is this sense that 'liberté, égalité, fraternité' means that what's yours should be mine. It's more like, if someone has something I can't have, I'd rather deprive this person from having it than trying to work hard to get it myself. That's a very French state of mind. But it's a race to the bottom."



For the full story, see:

LIZ ALDERMAN. "Au Revoir, Entrepreneurs." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., MARCH 23, 2014): 1 & 5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 22, 2014.)




SegalenDianeFrenchEntrepreneurInLondon2014-04-27.jpg 'Diane Segalen moved most of her executive recruiting practice to London from Paris. In France, she says, "there is this sense that 'liberté, égalité, fraternité' means that what's yours should be mine."" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.






May 21, 2014

Edison Genuinely Believed that AC Was More Dangerous than DC



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

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



Source:

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

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






May 18, 2014

Russia and China Redistributed Wealth "to Disastrous Effect"



SmithShane2014-04-26.jpg







Shane Smith, entrepreneur behind VICE media company. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.












(p. 10) You believe that young people worldwide are disenfranchised. Do you think popular uprisings will fix things? No. I'm actually worried, because I believe that it's going to get worse. Look, economic disparity is bad. But we've already tried having governments redistribute wealth. We tried it in Russia and China to disastrous effect.

News Corp. bought a 5 percent stake in Vice, and now James Murdoch is on the board. Why did you sell to them? I've said that I want to be the next MTV, the next CNN, the next ESPN. Cue everyone rolling their eyes. MTV went to Viacom, ESPN went to Disney and Hearst, CNN went to Time Warner. Why? Because to build a global media brand, it's almost impossible to do it alone. James has been involved in one of the largest media companies in the world since he was in short pants.

Do you ever fear that Vice will become legacy media itself? It's our time now. Then, I don't know, it'll be holograms next, and some kid will come up and eat our lunch.



For the full interview, see:

Staley, Willy, interviewer. " 'Have We Unleashed a Monster?': The Vice C.E.O. Shane Smith on His New Kind of News." The New York Times Magazine (Sun., MARCH 23, 2014): 12.

(Note: ellipsis added; bold in original.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date MARCH 21, 2014, and has the title "Vice's Shane Smith: 'Have We Unleashed a Monster?'.")






May 17, 2014

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



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


Source:

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






May 14, 2014

Delta Overcomes Obstacles that Ground Other Airlines



DeltaOvercomesObstaclesToKeepFlyingGraphic.jpgSource of graphic: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


Cancellations due to mechanical failures, piliot illness and government regulations are often announced as though they were acts of God, outside the possible control of airlines, for which the airline is blameless. But airlines can take actions, and improve processes, to reduce the frequency and consequences of such cancellations. In airlines, and in other firms, there is not a sharp line between what can and what cannot be under the firm's control.


(p. D3) Atlanta

The crew of Delta Air Lines Flight 55 last Thursday couldn't legally fly from Lagos, Nigeria, to Atlanta unless they waited a day due to new limits on how much pilots can fly in a rolling 28-day period. The trip would have to be canceled.

Instead, Delta headquarters told the captain to fly to San Juan, Puerto Rico, which they could reach within their duty limits. There, two new pilots would be waiting to take the Boeing 767 on to Atlanta. The plane arrived in San Juan at 2:44 a.m., quickly took on fuel and pilots, and landed in Atlanta only 40 minutes late.

The episode, unorthodox in the airline industry, illustrates the fanaticism Delta now has for avoiding cancellations. Last year, Delta canceled just 0.3% of its flights, according to flight-tracking service FlightStats.com. That was twice as good as the next-best airlines, Southwest and Alaska, and five times better than the industry average of 1.7%.


. . .


Managers in Delta operations centers move planes, crews and parts around hourly trying to avoid canceling flights. How well an airline maintains its fleet and how smartly it stashes spare parts and planes at airports affect whether your flight goes or not.

Delta thinks it has come up with new analytical software and instruments that can help monitor the health of airplanes and predict which parts will soon fail. Empty planes are ferried to replace crippled jets rather than waiting for overnight repairs.

Mechanics developed a vibration monitor to install on cooling fans for cockpit instruments. A plane can't be sent out on a new trip with a broken fan.

Now when vibration starts to increase, indicating that a bearing may be wearing down and getting close to failing, a new fan is swapped in. The wobbly fan goes to the shop for new bearings. That has reduced canceled flights.

So has spending $2 million to have spare starters for Boeing 767 engines at all 767 stations abroad. Starters last about five years. While each plane has two and both engines can be started with one, you can't send a plane out on a long trip over oceans with only one working.



For the full story, see:

SCOTT MCCARTNEY. "THE MIDDLE SEAT; A World Where Flights Aren't Canceled; How Smartly an Airline Stashes Spare Parts and Planes at Airports Affects Whether or Not Your Flight Takes Off." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., April 3, 2014): D3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated April 2, 2014, and has the title "THE MIDDLE SEAT; A World Where Flights Aren't Canceled; Inside Delta's new strategies to avoid stranding fliers.")






May 13, 2014

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



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

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

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

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



Source:

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






May 12, 2014

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



ExtemeMedicineBK2014-04-25.jpg

















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



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


. . .


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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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


The book under review is:

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






May 9, 2014

Managing Engaged Edison Only Half as Much as Inventing



(p. 146) In 1885, three years after the start of service at Pearl Street, a director of the company who chose to remain anonymous complained to the Philadelphia Press that Edison insisted on taking an active part in the management of the company "although he is not a bit of a business man." He gave an example of Edison's poor judgment: Edison had proposed installing a new cable in Manhattan that would cost nearly $30,000 a mile, oblivious to the fact that Western Union had one with similar capacity in operation that had only cost $500 a mile. "If he would leave it to practical business men to make money out of it and stick to his inventions," the director said, "the company would in time become very rich."

For Edison, "sticking to his inventions" full-time would mean relinquishing control of Edison Electric, which was anathema. Managing his company did not engage him half as much as creating it, but he could not bring himself to let go of the captain's chair. Edison's intellectual interests, however, wandered from one minor project to the next. He had always done best when attempting something both entirely new and gargantuan in scale, but in the mid-1880s he could not find a suitable project.



Source:

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

(Note: italics in original.)






May 5, 2014

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



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


Source:

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






May 4, 2014

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



KnowledgeAndPowerBK2014-04-24.jpg











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







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


. . .


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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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


The book under review is:

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






May 1, 2014

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



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

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



Source:

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

(Note: ellipsis added; italics in original.)






April 28, 2014

Research on Dogs that Benefits Both Humans and Dogs



MooreEricaExaminesAkyra2014-04-24.jpg "Erica Moore examined Akyra, a shih tzu, in August before the dog was enrolled in Penn Vet's canine mammary tumor program. She had surgery there." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. D6) Akyra's mammary glands were riddled with tumors, including one the size of a golf ball. She would be hard to place in a home, and the medical care she needed would be expensive. The tumors could be cancerous.

"When my husband called and said they were going to leave one of the dogs behind because she had mammary tumors, I said, 'No, you're not!' " said Bekye Eckert, 49, a dog lover who lives outside Baltimore and has cared for several animals with mammary cancer.

Ms. Eckert arranged for Akyra to be enrolled in an innovative program at the University of Pennsylvania, where veterinary oncologists are learning about the progression of human breast cancer by treating mammary tumors in shelter dogs.


. . .


Generally, two sets of tumor samples are taken from each dog, one for the pathology lab and one for Dr. Troyanskaya to use for molecular analysis. Astrid, for example, had tumors in seven mammary glands that were mostly benign. The largest proved to be malignant.

Such a large set of samples is a gold mine for Dr. Troyanskaya, who is looking for changes in the expression of a specific gene or group of genes, or pathways linking groups of genes as the tumor becomes malignant.


. . .


In the meantime, stray dogs are getting free cancer treatment that makes it easier to find them permanent homes, and they are promised care for any recurrence. More than 100 dogs have been through the program; several have been adopted by women who also survived breast cancer.

For Akyra, there was good news. She had surgery in August, and veterinarians removed the large tumor and three smaller lesions. The pathology report gave her a clean bill of health: None were cancerous. She was adopted by Beth Gardner, a relocation consultant in Devon, Pa.



For the full story, see:

RONI CARYN RABIN. "By Treating Dogs, Answers About Breast Cancer." The New York Times (Tues., April 1, 2014): D6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date MARCH 31, 2014, and has the title "From Dogs, Answers About Breast Cancer.")






April 23, 2014

Edison Was Too Frugal to Buy a Yacht



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


Source:

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

(Note: ellipsis added.)






April 21, 2014

Where Ideas Go to Launch Versus Where Ideas Go to Die



(p. 1) PALO ALTO, Calif. -- THE most striking thing about visiting Silicon Valley these days is how many creative ideas you can hear in just 48 hours.


. . .


Curt Carlson, the chief executive of SRI International, which invented Siri for your iPhone, recalls how one leading innovator (p. 11) just told him that something would never happen and "then I pick up the paper and it just did."

What they all have in common is they wake up every day and ask: "What are the biggest trends in the world, and how do I best invent/reinvent my business to thrive from them?" They're fixated on creating abundance, not redividing scarcity, and they respect no limits on imagination. No idea here is "off the table."


. . .


What a contrast. Silicon Valley: where ideas come to launch. Washington, D.C., where ideas go to die. Silicon Valley: where there are no limits on your imagination and failure in the service of experimentation is a virtue. Washington: where the "imagination" to try something new is now a treatable mental illness covered by Obamacare and failure in the service of experimentation is a crime. Silicon Valley: smart as we can be. Washington: dumb as we wanna be.



For the full commentary, see:

Thomas L. Friedman. "Start-Up America: Our Best Hope." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., FEB. 16, 2014): 1 & 11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date FEB. 15, 2014.)






April 19, 2014

Gas Company Literally Tried to Short-Circuit Edison's Lights



(p. 104) The willingness of Edison to turn his laboratory into a public theater had succeeded, only too well. When he appeared, a shout, "There is Edison!" rang out, causing a surge of bodies in his direction. One report claimed that the crowds "more than once threatened to break down the timbers of the building," a statement that may not have been hyperbole; the lab assistants were convinced that collapse was possible and hurried outside, bolstering the floor supports below with telegraph poles and lumber. Where the realm of science ended and that of entertainment began could no longer be distinguished, judging by the printed condemnation of the behavior of a minority of the visitors who "cared nothing for science, who regarded the laboratory as they would a circus."

In the laboratory itself, the lights were arranged on a table to resemble a miniature layout of Menlo Park, and Edison had assigned assistants on all four sides to look out for sabotage. Their vigilance was needed that day, as one man was caught applying a jumper wire that ran under his clothes and down both sleeves, deliberately short-circuiting four of the lights. He turned out to be an electrician employed by the Baltimore Gas Company and was marched out, with language ringing in his ears "that made the recording angels jump for their typewriters," Edison later recalled.



Source:

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






April 18, 2014

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



HarrimanVSHillBK2014-04-09.jpg












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






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


. . .


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

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


. . .


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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The book under review is:

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






April 13, 2014

Solitary Swimming Helps Creativity and Problem-Solving



(p. 5) Ms. Nyad has spent a lifetime in the water, chasing an elusive mark in marathon swimming, and she has written about the exhilarating out-of-body experience she has when powering through long distances. The medium makes it necessary to unplug; the blunting of the senses by water encourages internal retreat. Though we don't all reach nirvana when we swim, swimming may well be that last refuge from connectivity -- and, for some, the only way to find the solitary self.


. . .


For better or worse, the mind wanders: We are left alone with our thoughts, wherever they may take us. A lot of creative thinking happens when we're not actively aware of it. A recent Carnegie Mellon study shows that to make good decisions, our brains need every bit of that room to meander. Other research has found that problem-solving tends to come most easily when our minds are unfocused, and while we're exercising. The neurologist Oliver Sacks has written books in his head while swimming. "Theories and stories would construct themselves in my mind as I swam to and fro, or round and round Lake Jeff," he writes in the essay "Water Babies." Five hundred lengths in a pool were never boring or monotonous; instead, Dr. Sacks writes, "swimming gave me a sort of joy, a sense of well-being so extreme that it became at times a sort of ecstasy." The body is engaged in full physical movement, but the mind itself floats, untethered. Beyond this, he adds, "there is all the symbolism of swimming -- its imaginative resonances, its mythic potentials."

Dr. Sacks describes a sublime state that is accessible to all, from his father, with his "great whalelike bulk," who swam daily and elegantly until 94 years of age, to the very young.   . . .


. . .


I asked Dara Torres, who has logged countless training hours for her five Olympics, what she thinks about when she's swimming. "I'm always doing five things at once," she told me by phone (at the time, she was driving a car). "So when I get in the water, I think about all the things that I have to do. But sometimes I go into a state -- I don't really think about anything." The important thing, she says, is that the time is yours. "You can use it for anything. It depends where your head is at -- it's a reflection of where you are."

The reflection of where you are: in essence, a status update to you, and only you. The experience is egalitarian. You don't have to be a great swimmer to appreciate the benefits of sensory solitude and the equilibrium the water can bring.



For the full commentary, see:

Justin Gillis. "BY DEGREES; Freezing Out the Bigger Picture." The New York Times (Tues., FEB. 11, 2014): D3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date FEB. 10, 2014.)






April 4, 2014

Gary Becker's Grandson Ponders Opportunity Cost of College



HarboeLouisYoungTechEntrepreneur2014-03-30.jpg



"Louis Harboe with his parents, Frederik Harboe and Catherine Becker. Louis, now 18, got his first freelance tech job at age 12. Last year, he attended the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.




(p. 1) Ryan was headed to South by Southwest Interactive, the technology conference in Austin. There, he planned to talk up an app that he and a friend had built. Called Finish, it aimed to help people stop procrastinating, and was just off its high in the No. 1 spot in the productivity category in the Apple App store.


. . .


Ryan is now 17, a senior at Boulder High. He is among the many entrepreneurially minded, technologically skilled teenagers who are striving to do serious business. Their work is enabled by low-cost or free tools to make apps or to design games, and they are encouraged by tech companies and grown-ups in the field who urge them, sometimes with financial support, to accelerate their transition into "the real world." This surge in youthful innovation and entrepreneurship looks "unprecedented," said Gary Becker, a University of Chicago economist and a Nobel laureate.

Dr. Becker is assessing this subject from a particularly intimate vantage point. His grandson, Louis Harboe, 18, is a friend of (p. 6) Ryan's, a technological teenager who makes Ryan look like a late bloomer. Louis, pronounced Louie, got his first freelance gig at the age of 12, designing the interface for an iPhone game. At 16, Louis, who lives with his parents in Chicago, took a summer design internship at Square, an online and mobile payment company in San Francisco, earning $1,000 a week plus a $1,000 housing stipend.

Ryan and Louis, who met online in the informal network of young developers, are hanging out this weekend in Austin at South by Southwest. They are also waiting to hear from the colleges to which they applied last fall -- part of the parallel universe they also live in, the traditional one with grades and SATs and teenage responsibilities. But unlike their peers for whom college is the singular focus, they have pondered whether to go at all. It's a good kind of problem, the kind faced by great high-school athletes or child actors who can try going pro, along with all the risk that entails.

Dr. Becker, who studies microeconomics and education, has been telling his grandson: "Go to college. Go to college." College, he says, is the clear step to economic success. "The evidence is overwhelming."

But the "do it now" idea, evangelized on a digital pulpit, can feel more immediate than academic empiricism. "College is not a prerequisite," said Jess Teutonico, who runs TEDxTeen, a version of the TED talks and conferences for youth, where Ryan spoke a few weeks ago. "These kids are motivated to take over the world," she said. "They need it fast. They need it now."



For the full story, see:

MATT RICHTEL. "The Youngest Technorati." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Fri., MARCH 9, 2014): 1 & 6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 8, 2014.)






April 2, 2014

In Hard Times Entrepreneurs Need Advice on How to Fire



TheHardThingAboutHardThingsBK2014-03-30.jpg












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






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

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


. . .


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

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


. . .


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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The book under review is:

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






March 31, 2014

Better Policies Explain Why Poland Prospers More than Ukraine



RushchyshynYaroslavUkraineEntrepreneur2014-03-30.jpg "Yaroslav Rushchyshyn, a garment manufacturer, wants to end penalties when his company reports a financial loss." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. B1) LVIV, Ukraine -- Every kind of business in this restless pro-European stronghold near the border with Poland has an idea about how to make Ukraine like its more prosperous neighbor.

For Yaroslav Rushchyshyn, founder of a garment manufacturer, it is abolishing bizarre regulations that have had inspectors threatening fines for his handling of fabric remnants and for reporting financial losses.

For Andrew Pavliv, who runs a technology company, it is modernizing a rigid education system to help nurture entrepreneurs.

For Natalia Smutok, an executive at a company that makes color charts for paint and cosmetics, it meant starting an antibribery campaign, even though she is 36 weeks pregnant.


. . .


(p. B10) Victor Halchynsky, a former journalist who is now a spokesman for the Ukrainian unit of a Polish bank, said the divergence of the two countries was a source of frustration.

"It's painful because we know it's only happened because of policy," he said, adding that while both countries had started the reform process, Poland "finished it."

Ukraine has been held back by a number of policies. Steep energy subsidies have kept consumption high and left the country dependent on Russian gas, draining state coffers. Mr. Pavliv said the state university system, which he called "pure, pure Soviet," was too inflexible to set up a training program for project managers, or to allow executives without specific certifications to teach courses. An agriculture industry once a Soviet breadbasket has been hurt by antiquated rules, including restrictions on land sales. Aggressive tax police have been used to shake down businesses.



For the full story, see:

DANNY HAKIM. "A Blueprint for Ukraine." The New York Times (Fri., MARCH 14, 2014): B1 & B10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 13, 2014.)



PavlivAndrewTechEntrepreneur2014-03-30.jpg "Andrew Pavliv, who runs a technology company, wants to help turn Lviv into a little Ukrainian Silicon Valley." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.






March 27, 2014

Edison Helped Us See the Light



WizardOfMenloParkBK2014-03-24.jpg









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









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

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


The Stross book is:

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






March 23, 2014

Disabled Workers Are More Likely to Be Free Agent Entrepreneurs



HartfordKevinEntrepreneurWhoStutters2014-03-10.jpg "Kevin Hartford, right, and a colleague at his factory. He started his business after employers failed to hire him." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



HR departments have incentives to avoid hiring risky employees. But a determined high-risk employee can hire themselves by becoming a free agent entrepreneur. If we want to truly help the disabled, we should remove obstacles to entrepreneurship, such as burdensome regulations and high taxation.


(p. B4) Mr. Hartford, the father of two sons, thrived as a business consultant in his 20s and 30s. He was used to flying first class, staying at swank hotels and advising CEOs. Then the consulting firm unraveled in the mid-1990s. When he began looking for a new job, a stuttering problem--something he had always considered manageable--put off potential employers.

"I applied for job after job after job," says Mr. Hartford, now 58. "I was one of two finalists; I was one of three finalists. But I never got the job."

In the end, Mr. Hartford concluded that his only shot at a satisfying job was to create a company. He is now president and co-owner of Alle-Kiski Industries, which makes parts, such as exhaust pipes for train locomotives and prototype truck wheels, for larger manufacturers, including Alcoa Inc. and General Electric Co.

Like many before him, Mr. Hartford discovered that one option for people who don't fit into large organizations is to start a small one. That is particularly true for people with disabilities. About 11% of disabled workers are self-employed, compared with 6.5% of those with no disabilities, according to Labor Department data.


. . .


The business has grown to 38 employees from a dozen when Messrs. Hartford and Newell started in 2005. They own more than $2 million of equipment used to drill, groove and otherwise shape metal, arrayed in a 27,000-square-foot factory with an American flag hanging from one of the beams. Last year's sales of $6 million were the highest yet, Mr. Hartford says, and the company is building a 4,000-square-foot addition to house more equipment.



For the full story, see:

JAMES R. HAGERTY. "Entrepreneur Let No Impediment Stop Him; Out-of-Work Consultant Started His Own Company After Discovering His Stutter Put Off Employers." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Jan. 16, 2014): B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Jan. 15, 2014.)






March 22, 2014

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




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


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


Source:

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

(Note: ellipsis in original.)

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






March 18, 2014

Nasaw Claims Carnegie Believed in Importance of Basic Scientific Research




But notice that the two main examples of what Carnegie himself chose to fund (the Wilson Observatory and the yacht to collect geophysical data), were empirically oriented, not theoretically oriented.


(p. 480) Carnegie was, as Harvard President James Bryant Conant would comment in 1935 on the centenary of his birth, "more than a generation ahead of most business men of this country [in understanding] the importance of science to industry." He recognized far better than his peers how vital basic scientific research was to the applied research that industry fed off. George Ellery Hale, an astronomer and astrophysicist, later to be the chief architect of the National Research Council, was astounded when he learned of Carnegie's commitment to pure research. "The provision of a large endowment solely for scientific research seemed almost too good to be true.... Knowing as I did the difficulties of obtaining money for this purpose and (p. 481) devoted as I was to research rather than teaching, I could appreciate some of the possibilities of such an endowment." Hale applied for funds to build an observatory on Mount Wilson in California, and got what he asked for. It would take until 1909 to build and install a 60-inch reflecting telescope in the observatory; in 1917, a second 100-inch telescope, the largest in the world, was added.

The Mount Wilson Observatory-- and the work of its astronomers and astrophysicists-- was only one of the projects funded in the early years of the new institution. Another, of which Carnegie was equally proud, was the outfitting of the Carnegie, an oceangoing yacht with auxiliary engine, built of wood and bronze so that it could collect geophysical data without the errors inflicted on compass readings by iron and steel. The ship was launched in 1909; by 1911, Carnegie could claim that the scientists on board had already been able to correct several significant errors on navigational maps.



Source:

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

(Note: ellipsis, and italics, in original.)

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






March 16, 2014

Many Important Medical Articles Cannot Be Replicated




The standard scientific method is more fallible, and less logically rigorous, than is generally admitted. One implication is to strengthen the case for allowing patients considerable freedom in choosing their own treatments.


(p. D1) It has been jarring to learn in recent years that a reproducible result may actually be the rarest of birds. Replication, the ability of another lab to reproduce a finding, is the gold standard of science, reassurance that you have discovered something true. But that is getting harder all the time. With the most accessible truths already discovered, what remains are often subtle effects, some so delicate that they can be conjured up only under ideal circumstances, using highly specialized techniques.

Fears that this is resulting in some questionable findings began to emerge in 2005, when Dr. John P. A. Ioannidis, a kind of meta-scientist who researches research, wrote a paper pointedly titled "Why Most Published Research Findings Are False."


. . .


. . . he published another blockbuster, examining more than a decade's worth of highly regarded papers -- the effect of a daily aspirin on cardiac disease, for example, or the risks of hormone replacement therapy for older women. He found that a large proportion of the conclusions were undermined or contradicted by later studies.

His work was just the beginning. Concern about the problem has reached the point that the journal Nature has assembled an archive, filled with reports and analyses, called Challenges in Irreproducible Research.

Among them is a paper in which C. Glenn Begley, who is chief scientific officer at TetraLogic Pharmaceuticals, described an experience he had while at Amgen, another drug company. He and his colleagues could not replicate 47 of 53 landmark papers about cancer. Some of the results could not be reproduced even with the help of the original scientists working in their own labs.



For the full commentary, see:

GEORGE JOHNSON. "Raw Data; New Truths That Only One Can See." The New York Times (Tues., JAN. 21, 2014): D1 & D6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JAN. 20, 2014.)


The first Ioannidis article mentioned above is:

Ioannidis, John P. A. "Why Most Published Research Findings Are False." PLoS Medicine 2, no. 8 (August 2005): 696-701.


The second Ioannidis article mentioned above is:

Ioannidis, John P. A. "Contradicted and Initially Stronger Effects in Highly Cited Clinical Research." JAMA 294, no. 2 (July 13, 2005): 218-28.


The Begley article mentioned above is:

Begley, C. Glenn, and Lee M. Ellis. "Drug Development: Raise Standards for Preclinical Cancer Research." Nature 483, no. 7391 (March 29, 2012): 531-33.






March 14, 2014

Carnegie Was Depressed by Initial Inactivity of Retirement



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


. . .


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



Source:

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

(Note: ellipsis added, italics in original.)

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






March 12, 2014

Small Business Will Fire Workers When Minimum Wage Is Raised



(p. B4) . . . , Charlene Conway is watching her numbers. For 22 years, Ms. Conway and her husband have run Carousel Family Fun Centers in Fairhaven and Whitman, Mass. The business has annual revenue of less than $500,000 and depends exclusively on part-time minimum-wage earners, mostly teenagers, to handle tasks like running the snack bar and maintaining the games.

This year, Massachusetts is considering raising its minimum to $9 an hour, from $8. Should that happen, Ms. Conway said, she will probably need to reduce her staff of 20. Her employees currently make an average of $9 an hour, with managers earning from $10 to $15. Like Ms. Riley, Ms. Conway said that an increase in the minimum would force her to raise pay across the board.

And she, too, is reluctant to raise prices again. In 2011 and 2012, she increased her admission fees by a dollar -- they generally run from $5 to $10 now, based on age and time of day. Another increase, she said, would just make things worse: "We will price ourselves out of business."

In the past, when Massachusetts increased the state's minimum, Ms. Conway responded by increasing the minimum age of her workers to 16 from 14. "I'm not going to pay a 14-year-old $9 an hour with no experience, maturity or work ethic," she said. More recently, she has been hiring 18-year-olds with college experience. "What this does," she said, "is eliminate the opportunity for young people to get started in the work force."

Should minimum wage reach $10 an hour, Ms. Conway said she would reduce her staff to 10 employees and double up on work tasks. "This is a slippery slope that could absolutely cause me to shut down and force me into bankruptcy," she said.



For the full commentary, see:

STACY PERMAN. "SMALL BUSINESS; As Minimum Wages Rise, Businesses Grapple With Consequences." The New York Times (Thurs., Feb. 6, 2014): B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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






March 11, 2014

Khan's Cousins Liked Him Better on YouTube than in Person



KhanSalmanAtKhanAcademy2014-03-03.jpg "Salman Khan at the offices of Khan Academy, which reaches more than 10 million users. Bill Gates invested in the school." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. D5) In 2008, Salman Khan, then a young hedge-fund analyst with a master's in computer science from M.I.T., started the Khan Academy, offering free online courses mainly in the STEM subjects -- science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Today the free electronic schoolhouse reaches more than 10 million users around the world, with more than 5,000 courses, and the approach has been widely admired and copied. I spoke with Mr. Khan, 37, for more than two hours, in person and by telephone. What follows is a condensed and edited version of our conversations.


. . .


Did you have background as a math educator?

No, though I've had a passion for math my whole life. It got me to M.I.T. and enabled me to get multiple degrees in math and engineering. Long story shortened: Nadia got through what she thought she couldn't. Soon word got around the family that "free tutoring" was going on, and I found myself working on the phone with about 15 cousins.

To make it manageable, I hacked together a website where my cousins could go to practice problems and I could suggest things for them to work on. When I'd tutor them over the telephone, I'd use Yahoo Doodle, a program that was part of Yahoo Messenger, so they could visualize the calculations on their computers while we talked.

The Internet videos started two years later when a friend asked, "How are you scaling your lessons?" I said, "I'm not." He said, "Why don't you make some videos of the tutorials and post them on YouTube?" I said, "That's a horrible idea. YouTube is for cats playing piano."

Still, I gave it try. Soon my cousins said they liked me more on YouTube than in person. They were really saying that they found my explanations more valuable when they could have them on demand and where no one would judge them. And soon many people who were not my cousins were watching. By 2008, I was reaching tens of thousands every month.

Youtube is a search engine where producers can upload short videos at no cost. Would the Khan Academy have been possible without this technology?

No. Before YouTube, the cost of hosting streaming videos was incredibly expensive. I wouldn't have been able to afford the server space for that much video -- or traffic. That said, I was probably the 500th person to show up on YouTube with educational videos. Our success probably had to do with the technology being ready and the fact that my content resonated with users.



For the full interview, see:

CLAUDIA DREIFUS, interviewer. "A Conversation With Salman Khan; It All Started With a 12-Year-Old Cousin." The New York Times (Tues., JAN. 28, 2014): D5.

(Note: ellipsis added; bold in original; the first two paragraphs, and the bold questions, are Claudia Dreifus; the other paragraphs are Salman Khan.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date JAN. 27, 2014.)






March 10, 2014

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



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


Source:

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

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






February 28, 2014

Growth Slow Due to Policies Impeding Start-Ups



(p. A11) The most recent period of rapid productivity growth in the U.S.--and rapid economic growth--was in the 1980s and '90s and reflected the remarkable success of new businesses in information and communications technologies, including Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Intel and Google. These new companies not only created millions of jobs but transformed modern society, changing how much of the world produces, distributes and markets goods and services.

Rising living standards in the future will depend on the continued success of these businesses but also on the next generation of success stories. Getting the U.S. economy back on track will require a much higher annual rate of new business startups. Sadly, the annual rate of new business creation is about 28% lower today than it was in the 1980s, according to our analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau's Business Dynamics Statistics annual data series.

Why is the startup rate so low? The answer lies in Washington and the policies implemented in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis that were, ironically, intended to grow and stabilize the economy.    . . .

This explosion in federal regulation, intervention and subsidies has retarded productivity growth by protecting incumbents at the expense of more efficient producers, including startups. The number of pages in the Federal Code of Regulations peaked at nearly 175,000 in 2012, an increase of more than 7% in President Obama's first three years.



For the full commentary, see:

EDWARD C. PRESCOTT and LEE E. OHANIAN. "U.S. Productivity Growth Has Taken a Dive; It has averaged about 1.1% since 2011, less than half the historical rate since 1948. Here's how to increase it." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Feb. 4, 2014): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 3, 2014.)






February 20, 2014

The Young, with Managerial Experience, Are Most Likely to Become Entrepreneurs



(p. A13) In a current study analyzing the most recent Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) survey, my colleagues James Liang, Jackie Wang and I found that there is a strong correlation between youth and entrepreneurship. The GEM survey is an annual assessment of the "entrepreneurial activity, aspirations and attitudes" of thousands of individuals across 65 countries.

In our study of GEM data, which will be issued early next year, we found that young societies tend to generate more new businesses than older societies. Young people are more energetic and have many innovative ideas. But starting a successful business requires more than ideas. Business acumen is essential to the entrepreneur. Previous positions of responsibility in companies provide the skills needed to successfully start businesses, and young workers often do not hold those positions in aging societies, where managerial slots are clogged with older workers.

In earlier work (published in the Journal of Labor Economics, 2005), I found that Stanford MBAs who became entrepreneurs typically worked for others for five to 10 years before starting their own businesses. The GEM data reveal that in the U.S. the entrepreneurship rate peaks for individuals in their late 20s and stays high throughout the 30s. Those in their early 20s have new business ownership rates that are only two-thirds of peak rates. Those in their 50s start businesses at about half the rate of 30-year-olds.

Silicon Valley provides a case in point. Especially during the dot-com era, the Valley was filled with young people who had senior positions in startups. Some of the firms succeeded, but even those that failed provided their managers with valuable business lessons.

My co-author on the GEM study, James Liang, is an example. After spending his early years as a manager at the young and rapidly growing Oracle, he moved back to China to start Ctrip, one of the country's largest Internet travel sites.



For the full commentary, see:

EDWARD P. LAZEAR. "The Young, the Restless and Economic Growth; Countries with a younger population have far higher rates of entrepreneurship." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Dec. 23, 2013): A13.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 22, 2013.)


The Lazear paper mentioned above, is:

Lazear, Edward P. "Entrepreneurship." Journal of Labor Economics 23, no. 4 (October 2005): 649-80.






February 12, 2014

It Does Not Take a Government to Raise a Railroad



(p. A17) . . . , All Aboard Florida (the train will get a new name this year), is not designed to push political buttons. It won't go to Tampa. It will zip past several aggrieved towns on Florida's Treasure Coast without stopping.

Nor will the train qualify as "high speed," except on a stretch where it will hit 125 miles an hour. Instead of running on a dedicated line, the new service will mostly share existing track with slower freight trains operated by its sister company, the Florida East Coast Railway.

But the sponsoring companies, all owned by the private-equity outfit Fortress Investment Group, appear to have done their sums. By minimizing stops, the line will be competitive with road and air in connecting the beaches, casinos and resorts of Miami and Fort Lauderdale with the big airport and theme-park destination of Orlando. Capturing a small percentage of the 50 million people who travel between these fleshpots, especially European visitors accustomed to intercity rail at home, would let the train cover its costs and then some.

But Fortress has a bigger fish in the pan. Its local operation, Florida East Coast Industries, is a lineal progeny of Henry Flagler, the 1890s entrepreneur who created modern Florida when he built a rail line to support his resort developments. Flagler's heirs are adopting the same model. A Grand Central-like complex will rise on the site of Miami's old train station. A similar but smaller edifice is planned for Fort Lauderdale.

The project is a vivid illustration of the factors that have to fall in place to make passenger rail viable nowadays. If the Florida venture succeeds, it would be the only intercity rail service anywhere in the world not dependent on government operating subsidies. It would be the first privately run intercity service in America since the birth of Amtrak in 1971.



For the full commentary, see:

HOLMAN W. JENKINS, JR. "BUSINESS WORLD; A Private Railroad Is Born; All Aboard Florida isn't looking for government operating subsidies." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Jan. 15, 2014): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 14, 2014.)






February 10, 2014

Carnegie Said "Socialism Is the Grandest Theory Ever Presented"




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


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

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

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



Source:

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

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

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






February 7, 2014

"Innovation" Word "Is Way Over-Used"



PeanutButterPopTarts2014-01-17.png Source of Pop-Tarts image: http://cdn.foodbeast.com.s3.amazonaws.com/content/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/poptarts.png



(p. B1) It measures nearly 3 inches by 5 inches, and it's made from enriched flour, corn syrup and creamy peanut butter.

This is Kellogg's Gone Nutty! peanut butter Pop-Tart. If you agree with Kellogg CEO John Bryant, it's one of the cereal company's important products of 2013. He went so far as to call it an innovation.

Listen to the chiefs of America's biggest companies, and you'll find the Gone Nutty! Pop-Tart has plenty of company. Most CEOs now spray the word "innovation" as if it were an air freshener. A little spritz can't hurt.

In the last three months, CEOs of S&P 500 companies have put the "innovation" word on Peony & Blush Suede perfume, premium potash and higher-alcohol Miller beer. "Innovation" also describes Dun & Bradstreet credit reports and PetSmart's temporary tattoos for pets.

Back in 2007, 99 companies in the S&P 500 mentioned innovation in their third-quarter conference calls, according to reviews of transcripts from Capital IQ. This year the number was 197.

When Boston Consulting Group asked 1,500 executives to rank their company innovation from 1-10, more than two-thirds rated themselves a seven or higher.

The word "is way overused," says International Paper CEO John Faraci.


. . .


(p. B8) As for the peanut butter Pop-Tarts, a Kellogg spokeswoman says that it had long been one of the most-requested new flavors.

"Development challenges and nut-allergy concerns stood in the way of launching this innovation. Since its launch, Pop-Tarts Gone Nutty has exceeded our expectations."

There's nothing wrong with keeping pace. It's what companies must do. But it's worth asking at your company, no matter what words the CEO uses: Where does survival end
and real innovation begin?



For the full commentary, see:

DENNIS K. BERMAN. "THE GAME; Is a Peanut Butter Pop-Tart an Innovation?" The Wall Street Journal (Weds., December 4, 2013): B1 & B8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date December 3, 2013.)






February 3, 2014

Trying to Inspire "Parents to Raise More Walts and Roys"



DisneyBirthplaceChicago2014-01-17.jpg











"A rendering of the Walt Disney Birthplace, a planned private museum in Chicago." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.




(p. C3) LOS ANGELES -- The on-again-off-again campaign to turn Walt Disney's Chicago birthplace into an attraction has taken an unexpected new turn. And two theme park ride designers who mostly work for Disney rivals are at the wheel.


. . .


"We don't want to disrupt the neighborhood with a big attraction," Mr. Young said. "But we're also not interested in just putting a plaque on a house." Ms. Benadon added: "Our dream is that this house becomes a place that inspires creativity. We want to inspire parents to raise more Walts and Roys."

The couple have worked on attractions like SeaWorld shows; Madagascar: A Crate Adventure, a water ride at Universal Studios Singapore; and theme parks in China that are seeking to compete with Shanghai Disneyland, which is under construction.


. . .


So far, . . . , they have not contacted the Walt Disney Company. "We wanted to do this ourselves," Ms. Benadon said.


. . .


But Ms. Benadon and Mr. Young do have one important ally: Roy P. Disney, whose grandfather, Roy O. Disney, and great-uncle, Walt, founded the company. "On behalf of the Disney family," Mr. Disney said in a statement, "we are so pleased to see Walt Disney's historic birthplace and family home being restored to its humble origins."



For the full story, see:

BROOKS BARNES. "A Chance to Step Into Disney's Childhood." The New York Times (Weds., December 4, 2013): C3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date December 3, 2013.)






February 2, 2014

Carnegie "Spoke Positively of Socialism"



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


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


Source:

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

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






February 1, 2014

Twitter Founders Were Outsiders and Unafraid of Risk



HatchingTwitterBK2014-01-18.jpg











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







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


. . .


The company was financed by Williams, who made a bundle selling Blogger to Google and was intent on proving h