For Some Purposes Leapfrogged Technologies Remain Better

CassetteRIPtombstone.jpg “Hachette’s audio department recently held a “funeral” for cassette tapes; an invitation is above.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

The article quoted below mentions a feature of new “leapfrog” technologies that has received too little attention. The new product, overall, for most purposes, or for most important purposes, is better than the old product, but it may be that the new product lacks some features that the old product had, that had value. It is a step forward in most respects, but not in all respects.
I salute the observation in the last quoted paragraph below. When I am listening to a book, while walking Willy, some UPS truck often passes me, noisily making a sentence of two inaudible. If I’m listening to a cassette, I can back up a few sentences. If I’m listening to a CD, I have to back up at least a few minutes, and often many minutes (depending on how short the tracks are on the CD).
I remember an early word processor (can’t remember its name, maybe it was Wordmarc), that allowed you to type in the page number of a long document and then go directly to that page. I am currently writing a book using Microsoft Word. And in the vast majority of respects it is better than the word processor of yore. But every time I have to scroll and scroll and scroll, to get to a page, when I already know exactly which page I want, I irrationally curse Bill Gates.

Addendum posted 10/10/08:
Since this post was created on July 30, 2008, I have discovered that Word 2007 has the feature that I missed from Wordmarc, and I also learned that if I had invested more time in Word 2003, I might have discovered that by drilling down to an obscure option menu, it too could have been customized to have had the feature. (In Wordmarc the feature was real obvious.)

(p. C7) There was a funeral the other day in the Midtown offices of Hachette, the book publisher, to mourn the passing of what it called a “dear friend.” Nobody had actually died, except for a piece of technology, the cassette tape.

While the cassette was dumped long ago by the music industry, it has lived on among publishers of audio books. Many people prefer cassettes because they make it easy to pick up in the same place where the listener left off, or to rewind in case a certain sentence is missed. For Hachette, however, demand had slowed so much that it released its last book on cassette in June, with “Sail,” a novel by James Patterson and Howard Roughan.
The funeral at Hachette — an office party in the audio-book department — mirrored the broader demise of cassettes, which gave vinyl a run for its money before being eclipsed by the compact disc. (The CD, too, is in rapid decline, thanks to Internet music stores, but that is a different story.)
. . .
Cassette tapes’ tendency to hiss — and to melt in the summer and snap in the winter — turns off audiophiles. But for audio books, the cassette is an oddly elegant medium: you can eject it from your car, carry it home and stick it in a boombox, and it will pick up in the same place, an analog feat beyond the ability of the CD.

For the full story, see:
ANDREW ADAM NEWMAN. “Say So Long to an Old Companion: Cassette Tapes.” The New York Times (Mon., July 28, 2008): C7.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

SNL CSPAN Pelosi, Frank Bailout Skit

SNLcspanBailout2008-10-04.jpg Source: screen capture from the NBC video clip mentioned, and linked to below.

Most Saturday Night Live (SNL) skits support liberal causes and politicians, and are critical of those with sympathies for free markets.
There was a wonderful, rare exception aired as the second skit on the 10/04/08 show. The skit pokes fun at the Democrats for their responsibility in creating the mortgage meltdown crisis. Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank are shown expressing sympathy for various miscreants who expect the taxpayer to bail them out of their financial responsibilites.
(An interesting sidenote is that NBC pulled the clip from their web site for a about a full day, even though they left up other clips from the same show. Some bloggers suggested that employees of NBC had political motivations for their act of quasi-censorshp.)

The skit was entitled “C-span Bailout” and as of 10/08/08, could be found at:

Steve Jobs Shows Schumpeter Was Wrong About Bureaucratization of the Entrepreneurial Function

JobsSteveGauntAppearance.jpg “Steven P. Jobs during a conference in June in San Francisco.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article cited below.

Sometimes Schumpeter suggested that in mature capitalism, it would be possible for some aspects of entrepreneurship to be made routine enough to be performed by corporate bureaucracies.
The creative innovations of Steve Jobs, and the stock market reaction to rumors of his ill-health, illustrate that individual entrepreneurs still matter.

(p. B2) During Apple’s earnings conference call Monday, Chief Financial Officer Peter Oppenheimer declined to answer an analyst’s question about Mr. Jobs’s health, calling it “a private matter.” Apple’s demurral raised new concerns among investors, who have been worried about Mr. Jobs’s health since a 2004 bout with pancreatic cancer.

Their fears flared earlier this year, when Mr. Jobs appeared gaunt at a public appearance; the company at the time blamed “a common bug.” The fears were stoked anew this week with a report in the New York Post that the CEO is unwell. Now, said one Apple fund investor, “everyone’s worried.”
Apple shares fell as low as $146.53 earlier Tuesday following the company’s lackluster outlook for the current quarter. Some analysts suggested that concerns about Mr. Jobs’s health were also weighing on the stock, which closed at $162.02, down $4.27, in 4 p.m. Nasdaq Stock Market trading.
. . .
The dearth of information has led investors to do their own digging over the years. In 2004, one hedge fund hired private investigators to tail Mr. Jobs to hospital appointments in the hopes of figuring out how sick he was, said a portfolio manager at the fund. Eventually, he said, Mr. Jobs “seemed to catch on,” and became harder to track.
More recently, hedge-fund managers said Tuesday, fund managers have talked of asking doctors to closely analyze pictures of Mr. Jobs to monitor changes in his physical appearance, and have been talking about once again hiring investigators to find out Mr. Jobs’s prognosis.

For the full story, see:
BEN CHARNY and JUSTIN SCHECK. “Worries Over Jobs’s Health Weighs on the Stock.” The Wall Street Journal (Weds., July 23, 2008): B2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

Another relevant WSJ article is: “GE Deal Is Looking Bright; Abu Dhabi Capital Accord Yields Potential Benefits For Both Participants; Boardroom Health.” The Wall Street Journal (Weds., July 23, 2008): C18.
(Note: The online version of the title of this second WSJ article is: “GE’s Imagination at Work Challenged at Home, Company Strikes Gusher With Abu Dhabi Linkup.” )

The NYT article is:
JOHN MARKOFF. “Talk of Chief’s Health Weighs on Apple’s Share Price.”
The New York Times (Weds., July 23, 2008): C5.

In fairness to Schumpeter, his position on this issue was frequently conflicted, as has been shown and discussed in:
Langlois, Richard N. “Schumpeter and the Obsolescence of the Entrepreneur.” Advances in Austrian Economics 6 (2003): 287-302.

Schumpeter Poem on People Wanting to Be in Control of Their Lives

A few lines from an unpublished Schumpeter poem (written September 6, 1941) that McCraw quotes at length:

(p. 400) To live the lives which are our own
To manage our affairs
That’s what the people wanted

McCraw, Thomas K. Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2007.

The Fragility of Freedom


Source of book image on the left:           

Source of book image on the right:

Several recent books support a common conclusion that freedom is fragile, and its preservation can sometimes depend on the courage of a few individuals. I recently heard discussions on C-SPAN of a couple of books (images above) on WW2 that emphasize this point. Hitler might very well have succeeded in the long-term conquest of continental Europe, and even Great Britain, if Churchill and a few others had not taken a stand.
Earlier, also on C-SPAN, I heard John Ferling make a similar point with regard to the American Revolution. (See the images of his two relevant books below.) Were it not for the actions of George Washington, and a few others, the revolution very well might have failed.
One can view this as a bad news, good news, story. In earlier entries on the blog, I have quoted articles suggesting that the French are especially bothered by how “precarious” life can be. Well, the bad news is, that on this, the French may be right.
But, on the other hand, the stories of Churchill, and Washington, also tell us that with some courage and determination and wisdom, individuals can sometimes make a big difference in how stories end. That is the good news.
(And yes, Nassim, luck matters too.)

Books referred to:
Ferling, John. Almost a Miracle: The American Victory in the War of Independence. New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2007.
Ferling, John. A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic. 1st ed. New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2003.
Lukacs, John R. Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat: The Dire Warning: Churchill’s First Speech as Prime Minister. New York: Basic Books, 2008.
Olson, Lynne. Troublesome Young Men: The Rebels Who Brought Churchill to Power and Helped Save England. 1st ed. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007.



Source of book image on the left:           
Source of book image on the right:

McCain Supports Construction of Nuclear Power Plants

McCainNuclearFermi2Plant.jpg “Sen. John McCain, center, visits the Enrico Fermi nuclear plant in Michigan. From left: shift manager Phil Skarbek, CEO Anthony Earley, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich.” Source of caption and photo:

I believe that the market is the most efficient institution for deciding the best mix of technologies for providing energy. But I am ‘pro-nuclear’ in the sense that the government should reduce past regulatory barriers, that have unjustifiably increased the cost of nuclear power relative to other energy technologies.

(p. A16) NEWPORT, Mich. — Senator John McCain toured a nuclear power plant in Michigan on Tuesday to highlight his support for the construction of 45 new nuclear power generators by 2030, a position that he said distinguished him from his Democratic rival, Senator Barack Obama.

Mr. McCain, an Arizona Republican, portrayed his support of nuclear energy as part of an “all-of-the-above approach” to addressing the nation’s energy needs at a time of $4-a-gallon gasoline. He called it “safe, efficient, inexpensive and obviously a vital ingredient in the future of the economy of our nation and in our mission to eliminate over time our dependence on foreign oil.”
“If we really want to enable new technologies tomorrow like plug-in electric cars, we need electricity to plug into,” he said in a statement after touring the Fermi 2 nuclear plant, its twin cooling towers spewing vapors used as a backdrop. “We need to do all this and more.”
. . .
But market conditions have improved as demand for power has risen and the price of natural gas, a competing fuel, has jumped. Lately some environmental groups that had been critical of nuclear power have embraced it, seeing the technology as a way to meet the nation’s growing energy demands without contributing more heat-trapping gases.
In addressing the nation’s energy demands, Mr. Obama has focused on alternative energy sources like wind and solar, as well as conservation, which would apparently also be the main beneficiaries of the decade-long $150 billion government investment effort he promises if elected. He barely mentions nuclear power, usually just alluding to it in a sentence here or there.

For the full story, see:

MARY ANN GIORDANO and LARRY ROHTER. “McCain at Nuclear Plant Highlights Energy Issue.” The New York Times (Weds., August 5, 2008): A16.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

Making a Profit Selling Solid Houses to Citizens of New Orleans


“The Everhouse.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A9) Tomorrow, tens of thousands of people who lost their homes in Hurricane Katrina and are still living in federally owned trailers will be forced to find a new place to live. After nearly three years, the federal government’s temporary housing is coming to an end.

These folks are not going to have an easy time of it, because affordable housing in the Gulf Coast region is scarce. The problem has persisted despite billions in government aid – and the efforts of large private developers – because of a shortage of skilled laborers and sky-high insurance rates.

Yet now there is hope, in the person of John Sawyer. Not only does this 64-year-old Bostonian believe he can build houses people can afford to buy and insure; he says they will withstand the next big storm. And, by the way, he intends to makes a tidy profit.
. . .
The dwellings will arrive in the form of kits that can be assembled in as little as 14 days. With walls of reinforced concrete, there isn’t much wood, and so mold won’t pose a major problem if the houses are ever flooded. They can “take a bath” as the locals say. Everhouses also cost $68 a square foot, less than half the going rate for affordable housing in New Orleans.

The upshot of the house’s durability and cost is that it’s easy to insure.

For the full commentary, see:
JAKE HALPERN. “A Market Solution to Hurricane Risk.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 31, 2008): A9.
(Note: ellipsis added.)