“The No. 1 Need that Poor People Have is a Way to Make More Cash”


  Moving water is easier with the 20-gallon rolling drum.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. D3)  . . . , the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, . . . , is honoring inventors dedicated to “the other 90 percent,” particularly the billions of people living on less than $2 a day.

Their creations, on display in the museum garden until Sept. 23, have a sort of forehead-thumping “Why didn’t someone think of that before?” quality.

. . .

Interestingly, most of the designers who spoke at the opening of the exhibition spurned the idea of charity.

“The No. 1 need that poor people have is a way to make more cash,” said Martin Fisher, an engineer who founded KickStart, an organization that says it has helped 230,000 people escape poverty.  It sells human-powered pumps costing $35 to $95.

Pumping water can help a farmer grow grain in the dry season, when it fetches triple the normal price.  Dr. Fisher described customers who had skipped meals for weeks to buy a pump and then earned $1,000 the next year selling vegetables.


For the full story, see: 

DONALD G. McNEIL Jr.  "Design That Solves Problems for the World’s Poor."  The New York Times  (Tues., May 29, 2007):  D3.

(Note:  ellipses added.)


FilterForDrinkingWater.jpg TechnologiesForPoor.jpg   The photo on the left shows a woman safely drinking bacteria-laden water through a filter.  The photo on the right shows a "pot-in-pot cooler" that evaporates water from wet sand between the pots, in order to cool what is in the inner pot.  Source of photos:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.


William F. Buckley, Jr. Will Be Missed

BuckleyWilliam.jpg“William F. Buckley Jr. in 2004.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT obituary cited below.
I write on Weds., Feb. 27th, at about 1:30 PM. As I ate an early lunch a couple of hours ago, I was listening to U.S. Senate speeches on C-SPAN. After a good speech on Iraq by Senator Lindsey Graham, Senator Joe Lieberman appeared and interupted the proceedings, asking the Senate’s indulgence for him to speak for 10 minutes on a special topic.
He announced that William F. Buckley, Jr. had passed away today (2/27/08); and then he delivered a heartfelt, sometimes humorous, and wholly appropriate tribute to Buckley.
I have mentioned a couple of my favorite Buckley stories in an earlier entry.
Lieberman emphasized that Buckley cared about ideas, and that is most important to emphasize. Listening to Buckley speak was entertaining, and educational.
Strange what we remember–when I think of Buckley, the following episode always comes to mind.
Sometime while I was an undergraduate at Wabash (1971-1974), my mentor Ben Rogge arranged to have his friend Bill Buckley give a speech on campus. Ths speech was paid for by another of Rogge’s friends, Pierre Goodrich, the founder of Liberty Fund.
After the speech there was to be a special reception for members of the John Van Sickle Club, the small libertarian club on campus, of which I was a member.
The speech was well-attended, and some non-members of the Club got wind of the reception and tried to gain admittance. They were turned away, and were miffed, and complained.
The issue made it into the college newspaper, and I wrote a letter to the editor defending the John Van Sickle Club, using one of Rogge’s favorite sayings: “he who pays the piper, calls the tune.”
Some of the details are fuzzy, but I ended up in Rogge’s office, and heard from him that he was not happy with my letter. He felt that Goodrich might be embarrassed by the campus turmoil on the issue.
I remember feeling devasted that Rogge was annoyed with me. I apologized profusely (although I still think I had a point). Rogge must have seen my cresfallen appearance, because he changed his tone and ended the conversation by saying that I shouldn’t worry about it, because Goodrich probably would never see the newspaper article and letters, anyway.

The online version of the New York Times obituary for Buckley is at:
DOUGLAS MARTIN. “William F. Buckley Jr. Is Dead at 82.” The New York Times (Weds., February 27, 2008): ?.

Big is Not Always Better


It is an enduring puzzle why the West has been so much more succesful than China in achieving economic growth over the past several centuries.  The puzzle arises because there is considerable evidence of early Chinese acheivements in technology.

One example would be the exploratory voyages of Zheng He.  The Chinese ships were much, much larger than those of Christopher Columbus.  But as Clayton Christensen has shown in a more modern context, size does not always matter as much as nimbleness and motivation. 

(And another part of the story involves culture and institutions.)



The most complete account of Christensen’s thinking, so far, is his book with Raynor:

Christensen, Clayton M., and Michael E. Raynor.  The Innovator’s Solution:  Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth.  Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2003.


(Note:  I am grateful to Prof. Yu-sheng Lin for first informing me of the large difference in size between the ships.  I am also grateful to Prof. Salim Rashid, and Liberty Fund’s Mr. Leonidas Zelmanovitz, for my having the opportunity to encounter Prof. Lin.)


“Public Works Will Just Keep Going Round and Round and Round”

SuisawaTakuoEnvironmentalist.jpg “Environmentalists like Takuo Sugisawa say that restoring bends to the Kushiro actually might cause more damage.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A4) KUSHIRO, Japan — In the early 1980s, engineers straightened out stretches of the Kushiro River, which had meandered some 100 miles under Hokkaido’s big sky here in northern Japan, flowing through green hill country and rural towns, winding through the nation’s largest wetland and this port city’s downtown before emptying into the Pacific Ocean.
Later in November, work is to start again. But this time bulldozers will be moving earth to put curves back in a stretch of the river that had been straightened out, restoring its original, sinuous, shape.
. . .
. . . Trust Sarun Kushiro, a private environmental group that was a member of the committee that endorsed the project but voted against it, said that the reshaping would have little positive effect and that the construction itself would harm the environment. Stanching the flow of sediments from farmland and forests upstream, at their source, is more important, it argued.
And in a case of the left hand’s not knowing what the right hand was stirring up, the Ministry of Agriculture had a project farther upriver that was sending mud and sand downstream, where Mr. Yoshimura’s ministry is to curve the river, said Takuo Sugisawa, 61, the trust’s secretary general. To rehabilitate farmland that had gradually become wetland, the ministry was draining existing land and moving earth there.
“The sediments flowing from upriver will quickly pile up where the river will be curved,” Mr. Sugisawa said, adding that they would eventually bury the Kushiro wetland. To prevent that, workers will eventually have to remove the sediments that are bound to pile up in the recurved stretch, he said.
“So in the name of river management alone, they will be able once again to create public works in the form of removing soil,” he said, walking along an asphalt road and across a bridge built to let trucks and bulldozers move earth for the curving project. “Public works will just keep going round and round and round.”

For the full story, see:
NORIMITSU ONISHI. “KUSHIRO JOURNAL; Forced to Run Straight, a River Must Now Twist.” The New York Times (Weds., November 7, 2007): A4.
(Note: ellipses added.)
KushiroRiverJapan.jpg A part of the Kushiro River where curves will be added back. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

Source of map: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

Regular Employees Migrate to Pink’s “Free Agent Nation”


   “Luis H. Rodriguez, an I.B.M. executive, with his children, Alec, 5, and Evia, 2, often works from his home or on the road.”  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


Daniel Pink in his Free Agent Nation argued that a growing number of American workers would want the control, challenge and freedom of working for themselves as entrepreneurs, or “free agents.”  To attract workers who have the option of being free agents, it is plausible that employers increasingly will have to offer jobs that provide workers with greater autonomy.  The article quoted below, suggests that this may in fact be happening, at least in information technology firms. 


(p. A1)  SOMERS, N.Y. — It’s every worker’s dream: take as much vacation time as you want, on short notice, and don’t worry about your boss calling you on it. Cut out early, make it a long weekend, string two weeks together — as you like. No need to call in sick on a Friday so you can disappear for a fishing trip. Just go; nobody’s keeping track. 

That is essentially what goes on at I.B.M., one of the cornerstones of corporate America, where each of the 355,000 workers is entitled to three or more weeks of vacation. The company does not keep track of who takes how much time or when, does not dole out choice vacation times by seniority and does not let people carry days off from year to year.

Instead, for the past few years, employees at all levels have made informal arrangements with their direct supervisors, guided mainly by their ability to get their work done on time. Many people post their vacation plans on electronic calendars that colleagues can view online, and they leave word about how they can be reached in a pinch.

“It’s like when you went to college and you didn’t have high school teachers nagging you anymore,” said Mark L. Hanny, I.B.M.’s vice president of independent software vendor alliances. “Employees like that we put more accountability on them.”

. . .

(p. 18)   Aided by broadband connections, cellphones and video conferencing software, 40 percent of I.B.M.’s employees have no dedicated offices, working instead at home, at a client’s site, or at one of the company’s hundreds of “e-mobility centers” around the world, where workers drop in to use phones, Internet connections and other resources.

. . .

Luis H. Rodriguez, the director of market management in I.B.M.’s software group, said he visits his office here in Somers about once a week, working the rest of the time on the road or at his home in Ridgefield, Conn., where he sat one recent afternoon at the kitchen table with his laptop open.

He said that in six years at I.B.M. he can recall only one time when he asked a co-worker not to take a long weekend off — when their group was about to buy another company — and that calling colleagues or checking e-mail while visiting relatives in Texas or Illinois is a fair trade for being able to work from home so he can spend more time with his children, Alec, 5, and Evia, 2.

. . .

“If you look at the organizations that have done more radical things, they tend to be technology companies with salaried people,” where flexibility in job performance “is embedded into the culture of the place,” noted Max Caldwell, a managing principal in the work force effectiveness area at Towers Perrin, a human resources consultant.

Indeed, I.B.M.’s Mr. Calo said that the flexibility has helped the company compete with the more freewheeling atmosphere at start-up rivals in the technology world that have lured away some of its talent over the years.


For the full story, see:

KEN BELSON.  “At I.B.M., a Vacation Anytime, Or Maybe No Vacation at All.”   The New York Times  (Fri., August 31, 2007):  A1 & A18.

(Note:  ellipses added.)


The reference for the Pink book, is:

Pink, Daniel H.  Free Agent Nation:  How America’s New Independent Workers Are Transforming the Way We Live.  New York: Warner Business Books, 2001.


Innovative New Products Often Expensive at First, But Price Soon Falls

AdoptionInnovationsGraph.gif Source of graph: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 14) To understand why consumption is a better guideline of economic prosperity than income, it helps to consider how our lives have changed. Nearly all American families now have refrigerators, stoves, color TVs, telephones and radios. Air-conditioners, cars, VCRs or DVD players, microwave ovens, washing machines, clothes dryers and cellphones have reached more than 80 percent of households.
As the second chart, on the spread of consumption, shows, this wasn’t always so. The conveniences we take for granted today usually began as niche products only a few wealthy families could afford. In time, ownership spread through the levels of income distribution as rising wages and falling prices made them affordable in the currency that matters most — the amount of time one had to put in at work to gain the necessary purchasing power.
At the average wage, a VCR fell from 365 hours in 1972 to a mere two hours today. A cellphone dropped from 456 hours in 1984 to four hours. A personal computer, jazzed up with thousands of times the computing power of the 1984 I.B.M., declined from 435 hours to 25 hours. Even cars are taking a smaller toll on our bank accounts: in the past decade, the work-time price of a mid-size Ford sedan declined by 6 percent.

For the full commentary, see:
W. MICHAEL COX and RICHARD ALM. “You Are What You Spend.” The New York Times Company, Week in Review section (Sun., February 10, 2008): 14.

Private Airlines “Are Pulling Along a Slow-Moving Government Agency”


     "Delta Air Lines uses G.P.S. technology to reduce the time its planes spend on the runway."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. 


(p. C1)  WASHINGTON, Sept. 4 — At Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Delta Air Lines said its jets take off an average of 10 minutes after pushing back from the gate — three minutes faster than in previous years.

Using new technology, planes take off following a narrow route, so that that jets right behind them taking different routes do not have to wait as long. That makes the system move a bit faster.

“The pilots say, ‘Wow, this is kind of neat,’ ” said Joseph C. Kolshak, executive vice president for operations at Delta.

Delta, and also Alaska Airlines and U.P.S., is demonstrating pieces of the possible future of the nation’s air traffic system, hinting at what aviation might be like — if the airlines and the federal government can get the details worked out.

All three airlines use refinements based on the constellation of G.P.S., or global positioning system, satellites. Many of these save at most a few minutes. But in a crowded system plagued by delays, that may be enough to help smooth out bottlenecks.

The carriers’ use of satellite navigation and other tools and techniques represents a step toward replacing a 50-year-old system of radar and radio beacons.

In the process, they are pulling along a slow-moving government agency, the Federal Aviation Administration, that is eager for better air traffic control systems but short on money and the authority to put changes in place.

It is a revolution in technology, but also in politics. Previously, the F.A.A. usually bought new systems on the ground and told airlines to equip themselves to use them; now the airlines are taking the initiative to outfit their planes, with safety regulation from the F.A.A.

Airlines are even developing their own approach patterns for airports, which has almost always been a government job.

U.P.S. Airlines, working with Aviation Communications and Surveillance Systems, based in Phoenix, is developing a landing pattern based on separating planes by time, not distance, so they land at the briefest safe interval.

“We’re going to create the future, because we think we know (p. C5) where it’s going to go,” said Karen Lee, director of operations at U.P.S. This is in contrast to the traditional way of doing business, typified by “the F.A.A. tells us what the roadmap is,” she said, then “we’ll start building the stuff to do it.”


For the full story, see:

MATTHEW L. WALD.  "For Airlines, Hands-On Air Traffic Control."  The New York Times  (Weds., September 5, 2007):  C1 & C5. 


UPSplaneGPSdevice.jpg    "A device that U.P.S. installed in the cockpit of one of its cargo planes to display traffic information."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.


“Sometimes It Pays to Read the Old Literature”

(p. A1) Researchers in New York believe they have solved one of the great mysteries of the flu: Why does the infection spread primarily in the winter months?

The answer, they say, has to do with the virus itself. It is more stable and stays in the air longer when air is cold and dry, the exact conditions for much of the flu season.

. . .

(p. A22) To his surprise, Dr. Palese stumbled upon a solution that appeared to be a good second best.

Reading a paper published in 1919 in the Journal of the American Medical Association on the flu epidemic at Camp Cody in New Mexico, he came upon a key passage: “It is interesting to note that very soon after the epidemic of influenza reached this camp, our laboratory guinea pigs began to die.” At first, the study’s authors wrote, they thought the animals had died from food poisoning. But, they continued, “a necropsy on a dead pig revealed unmistakable signs of pneumonia.”

Dr. Palese bought some guinea pigs and exposed them to the flu virus. Just as the paper suggested, they got the flu and spread it among themselves. So Dr. Palese and his colleagues began their experiments.

. . .

As for Dr. Palese, he was glad he spotted the journal article that mentioned guinea pigs.

“Sometimes it pays to read the old literature,” he said.


For the full story, see:

GINA KOLATA. “Study Shows Why the Flu Likes Winter.” The New York Times (Weds., December 5, 2007): A1 & A22.

(Note:  ellipses added.)


Fraternal Odd Fellows Helped Each Other Without Depending on the Government


   The officers’ banquet of the annual convention of the Sovereign Grand Lodge of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.  Source of the photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


Before the New Deal and the Great Society, voluntary mutual assistance organizations provided insurance and help in the face of life’s setbacks.  One such fraternal orgainization was the Odd Fellows. 


(p. 12)  Since his installation as top Odd Fellow, Mr. Robbins has warned that this order, dedicated to caring for the widowed, the orphaned and the needy, is in a “state of crisis.” Members are dying by the thousands, local lodges are closing by the dozens, and actual participation among the 289,000 members is dropping. If the people sitting before him do not heed his call to replenish the ranks, they will be the Odd Men and Women Out — defunct, extinct, done.

“Unless we can do something to turn the membership losses into significant gains in the next couple of years,” he says later, “we may be at a point where we can’t recover.”

Once we were a nation of joiners, and so many joined the Odd Fellows, a fraternal organization whose name stems from an English journalist’s observation in 1745. He found it “odd” to see “fellows,” rather than the aristocracy, helping widows, orphans and one another. The name stuck, oddly.

In many communities, you can still find an old I.O.O.F. building, a place of some mystery, where the rituals would include acting out the story of the Good Samaritan. Members were to apply that story to real life by aiding their brothers and sisters, chipping in to pay burial costs, for example. You merely had to express belief in one Creator to be eligible; atheists and pantheists need not apply.

Odd Fellows tended to frown on alcohol, loved bestowing medals on one another, and reveled in seeing their sword-carrying, uniformed brothers, the chevaliers of the Patriarchs Militant, march in Main Street parades. In their small worlds, Odd Fellows mattered.

Then came social changes to dull the appeal of fraternal organizations. Tighter government regulations forced the Odd Fellows out of their signature cause, orphanages, while baby boomers found all the pomp and secrecy to be, um, silly.

. . .

A toast then, to all national leaders of the world, as is Odd Fellows custom. Another toast, to all fraternal leaders of the world. Dinner, remarks, benediction, recessional to the strains of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Odd Fellows and Rebekahs everywhere, good night.


For the full story, see: 

DAN BARRY.  "A Grand Gathering, but One With a Solemn Note."   The New York Times, Main Section  (Sunday, August 26, 2007):  12.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)


OddFellows2.jpg    "The Independent Order of Odd Fellows, dedicated to caring for the widowed, the orphaned and the needy, is in a “state of crisis.”"  Source of the photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.


Government Biologists Spend Big Bucks Protecting Wrong Fish


“Without DNA tests, the rare greenback cutthroat trout, left, and the Colorado River cutthroat fish are difficult to tell apart.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. 26) DENVER, Oct. 13 (AP) — State and federal biologists, who are smarting from research showing that they may have been protecting the wrong fish the past 20 years, are regrouping in their efforts to restore the rare greenback cutthroat trout to Colorado waters.

Tom Nesler, the state biologist, had hoped to see the fish removed from the endangered species list during his career. He concedes that might not happen if it turns out some of the greenback populations biologists thought they were saving are actually the similar but more common Colorado River cutthroat trout.

A three-year study led by University of Colorado researchers and published in August found that out of nine fish populations believed to be descendants of original greenbacks, five were actually Colorado River cutthroat trout.

The recovery effort was thought to be near its goal of establishing 20 self-sustaining greenback populations.

“Hey, science happens,” said Mr. Nesler with a shrug as he discussed the findings.

. . .

The Colorado Division of Wildlife has spent an average of $320,000 annually for the past five years to restore the greenback. Most of the money has come from state lottery revenue; no state tax dollars have been used.

. . .

“Science is not about proof and certainty,” he said, “it’s about testable hypotheses.”


For the full story, see:

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. “After Possible ‘Oops,’ a Trout Rescue Project Regroups.” The New York Times, First Section (Sun., October 14, 2007): 26.

(Note: ellipses added.)


High-Tech Meters Increase Parking Efficiency


MitscheleFredHighTechMeter.jpg    "Fred Mitschele with his high-tech meter."  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


Hight-tech parking meters like the ones described in the article quoted below, could be used to make real-time changes in parking prices.  Higher rates during busier periods, would assure available spaces, which would reduce wasted time searching for parking spaces, thereby reducing congestion, and pollution. 


(p. 14)  If drivers want to use cash, the meters, which connect to a wireless network, can send text messages to the drivers’ cellphones to remind them to add more money.

The meters also communicate with traffic officials who can track which meters are being used and which ones need to be ticketed and serviced. To ensure that drivers do not skip out without paying, sensors the size of hockey pucks buried in the asphalt detect when cars pull in. A camera inside the meter takes pictures of license plates to help with enforcement.

. . .

The meters are just one example of how telecommunications are increasingly being integrated into toll and fee collection. E-ZPass, for instance, relies on radio frequency tags, cameras and networks to transmit data.


For the full story, see: 

KEN BELSON.  "MOTORING; Wait a Minute. My Parking Meter Is Calling."  The New York Times, SportsSunday Section  (Sun., September 9, 2007):  14.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)