Is “The Replicator” the Personal Fabricator of Gershenfeld’s Dreams?

Replicator3Dprinter2012-01-28.jpgThe Replicator 3-D printer. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

Back in 2005 technology “visionary” Neil Gershenfeld predicted the soon to be seen day when personal fabricators would follow the path of computers which progressed from mainframes costing millions to mini-computers costing hundreds of thousands to personal computers costing a couple of thousand. Well apparently that day is here.
Now we will see if the implications are as far-reaching as Gershenfeld predicted.

(p. B7) By now you may have heard about the Replicator, a $1,750 3-D printer made by the Brooklyn start-up MakerBot, due next month. If not, the significance of the Replicator is that it is the first 3-D printer to break the $2,000 barrier. Here’s more about what the Replicator can and can’t do.

Q. What does a 3-D printer use?
A: Spools of coiled A.B.S. (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) plastic that costs about $45 each per kilogram. This is the same materials that is used to make Lego blocks. It is strong, safe and comes in many colors. One spool can make about 176 chess pieces.

For the full story, see:
WARREN BUCKLEITNER. “Gadgetwise; A 3-D Printer for Under $2,000: What Can It Do?” The New York Times (Thurs., January 26, 2012): B7.
(Note: bold in original.)
(Note: the online version of the article was dated January 23, 2012, and had the title “3-D Printing for the Masses: MakerBot’s Replicator.” The online version differs in several places from the print version. Where they differ, I quote the print version.)

The Gershenfeld book discussed above is:
Gershenfeld, Neil. Fab: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop–from Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication. New York: Basic Books, 2005.

Creative Destruction Creates as Many New Jobs as It Destroys

(p. 113) It was Joseph Schumpeter who pointed out that the competition which keeps a businessman awake at night is not that from his rivals cutting prices, but that of entrepreneurs making (p. 114) his product obsolete. As Kodak and Fuji slugged it out for dominance in the 35mm film industry in the 1990s, digital photography began to extinguish the entire market for analogue film – as analogue records and analogue video cassettes had gone before. Creative destruction, Schumpeter called it. His point was that there is just as much creation going on as destruction – that the growth of digital photography would create as many jobs in the long run as were lost in analogue, or that the savings pocketed by a Wal-Mart customer are soon spent on other things, leading to the opening of new stores to service those new demands. In America, roughly 15 per cent of jobs are destroyed every year; and roughly 15 per cent created.

Ridley, Matt. The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. New York: Harper, 2010.

First Human Tools 1.76 Million Years Ago


“A study dates human tools like this ax to 1.76 million years ago.”

(p. A8) A new geological study, being reported Thursday in the journal Nature, showed that tools from a site near Lake Turkana in Kenya were made about 1.76 million years ago, the earliest of their ilk found so far. Previous dates were estimates ranging from 1.4 million to 1.6 million years ago.

Although no erectus fossils were found with the Turkana tools, a skull of that species was excavated last year in the same sediment level across the lake. This suggests that Homo erectus was responsible for these particular tools, which were made with what scientists refer to as Acheulean technology. The term connotes the type of oval and pear-shaped hand axes and other implements that were a specialty of early humans.

For the full story, see:
JOHN NOBLE WILFORD. “Earliest Signs of Advanced Tools Found.” The New York Times (Thurs., September 1, 2011): A8.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the article was dated August 31, 2011.)

More Options Can Result in Focus on Quality Instead of Choice Paralysis

(p. C4) Much of the research on decision-making focuses on the “choice paralysis” commonly thought to result from having too many options. But new research suggests that instead of being a debilitating factor, having many options actually sharpens our focus on quality.

For the full summary, see:
DAVID DISALVO. “Commerce; Choosing the Very Best.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., August 20, 2011): C4.

The paper summarized is:
Bertini, Marco, Luc Wathieu, and Sheena S. Sethi-Iyengar. “The Discriminating Consumer: Product Proliferation and Willingness to Pay for Quality.” SSRN eLibrary (2010).

Intuit Aimed to End Hassle and Was Mainly Self-Financed at Start


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

(p. B4) WSJ: Before building Intuit, you worked at large firms like Procter & Gamble Co. and Bain & Co. What prompted you to leave Corporate America and start your own business?

Mr. Cook: My wife complained about doing the bills. It was a hassle. I had been trained at P&G to find a problem that everybody has and that you could solve with technology. And this struck me as a classic entrepreneurial opportunity. Nobody likes to pay bills. There were about 20-plus personal-finance software products already on the market.
. . .
WSJ: How much start-up capital did have to work with?
Mr. Cook: We raised between $500,000 and $600,000. It came from my savings and my retirement plan that I cashed out. I also borrowed money from my parents. Lines of credit were another big source of capital. The banks were lending to me and my wife as a couple, not the business. We tried venture capital and that failed. We talked to about two dozen venture-capital firms and they all shut us down. We did get two angels to invest, but they put in only $151,000, total.

For the full interview, see:
SARAH E. NEEDLEMAN. “HOW I BUILT IT; For Intuit Co-Founder, the Numbers Add Up” The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., AUGUST 18, 2011): B4.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

Paleolithic Homo Sapiens Engaged in Long Distance Trade

(p. 71) At Mezherich, in what is now Ukraine, 18,000 years ago, jewellery made of shells from the Black Sea and amber from the Baltic implied trade over hundreds of miles.
This is in striking contrast to the Neanderthals, whose stone tools were virtually always made from raw material available within an hour’s walk of where the tool was used.

Ridley, Matt. The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. New York: Harper, 2010.

Vaclav Havel Fought for Freedom

HavelVaclavMourningWenceslasSquare2012-01-21.jpg“Mourning; Thousands gathered on Sunday in Wenceslas Square in Prague, some under a Czech national flag, to marke the death of Vaclav Havel.” Source of caption: print version of the NYT obituary quoted and cited below. Source of photo: [The photo appeared on p. A10 of the print version of the obituary, but was not included with the online version.]

(p. A1) Vaclav Havel, the Czech writer and dissident whose eloquent dissections of Communist rule helped to destroy it in revolutions that brought down the Berlin Wall and swept Mr. Havel himself into power, died on Sunday. He was 75.
. . .
A shy yet resilient, unfailingly polite but dogged man who articulated the power of the powerless, Mr. Havel spent five years in and out of Communist prisons, lived for two decades under close secret-police surveillance and endured the suppression of his plays and essays. He served 14 years as president, wrote 19 plays, inspired a film and a rap song and remained one of his generation’s most seductively nonconformist writers.
All the while, Mr. Havel came to personify the soul of the Czech nation.
His moral authority and his moving use of the Czech language cast him as the dominant figure during Prague street demonstrations in 1989 and as the chief behind-the-scenes negotiator who brought about the end of more than 40 years of Communist rule and the peaceful transfer of power known as the Velvet Revolution, a revolt so smooth that it took just weeks to complete, (p. A10) without a single shot fired.
. . .
He never stopped preaching that the fight for political freedom needed to outlive the end of the cold war. He praised the American invasion of Iraq for deposing a dictator, Saddam Hussein.
He continued to worry about what he called “the old European disease” — “the tendency to make compromises with evil, to close one’s eyes to dictatorship, to practice a politics of appeasement.”

For the full obituary, see:
DAN BILEFSKY and JANE PERLEZ. “VACLAV HAVEL, 1936-2011; Czechs’ Dissident Conscience, Turned President.” The New York Times (Mon., December 19, 2011): A1 & A10.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the obituary is dated December 18, 2011, and had the title “VACLAV HAVEL, 1936-2011; Vaclav Havel, Former Czech President, Dies at 75.”)

Personal Risk Lovers Make Better CEOs?

(p. C4) Chief executives with a penchant for personal risk-taking are also corporate risk-takers who take on more debt, aggressively pursue mergers and acquisitions, and make bold equity plays. But, in general, they are also more effective leaders who create more value in their organizations than their less risk-loving counterparts. And they do so, the researchers add, without additional incentives; they imprint their risk-loving natures on their companies because it’s simply who they are.

For the full summary, see:
DAVID DISALVO. “Management; For Effective CEOs, Look Up.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., August 20, 2011): C4.

The article summarized is:
Cain, Matthew D., and Stephen B. McKeon. “Cleared for Takeoff? CEO Personal Risk-Taking and Corporate Policies.” SSRN eLibrary (2011).

California Vegan Defends Freedom to Choose McDonald’s

WarehamEllsworthVegan2012-01-21.jpg “Ellsworth Wareham, 97, in Loma Linda, Calif. Mr. Wareham was a heart surgeon who stopped working only two years ago. He is a vegan, but says choice is part of the “great American system.”” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A15) . . . last week, when the City Council approved Loma Linda’s first McDonald’s restaurant, many residents bemoaned the decision, worrying that the officials were jeopardizing the city’s reputation as a paragon of healthy lifestyles.
. . .
. . . , Dr. Rigsby [said] . . . he would support having a citywide vote on whether fast-food outlets should be banned entirely from the city. “If this is something that people are really opposed to, that’s how we should deal with it.”
What would happen during such a vote is anyone’s guess. Ellsworth Wareham, who stopped working as a heart surgeon only two years ago, at 95, is often used as an example of someone with more energy than someone half his age. Dr. Wareham attributes his health at least partly to the fact that he has been a vegan for the last 30 or 40 years (he does not remember precisely).
Eating at home, he said, is the best way to ensure that one is eating healthy food. He is certainly not about to let the impending arrival of McDonald’s raise his blood pressure.
“I don’t subscribe to the menu that these dear people put out, but let’s face it, the average eating place serves food that is, let us say, a little bit of a higher quality, but the end result is the same — it’s unhealthy,” he said.
“They can put it right next to the church as far as I am concerned,” Dr. Wareham added. “If they choose to eat that way, I’m not going to stop them. That’s the great American system.”

For the full story, see:
JENNIFER MEDINA. “LOMA LINDA JOURNAL; Fast-Food Outlet Stirs Concerns in a Mecca of Healthy Living.” The New York Times (Mon., December 19, 2011): A15.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the article is dated December 18, 2011.)

Hunter-Gatherers Suffered Violence, Famine and Disease–No Idyllic Golden Age

(p. 44) The warfare death rate of 0.5 per cent of the population per year that was typical of many hunter-gatherer societies would equate to two billion people dying during the twentieth century (instead of 100 million). At a cemetery uncovered at Jebel Sahaba, in Egypt, dating from 14,000 years ago, twenty-four of the fifty-nine bodies had died from unhealed wounds caused by spears, darts and arrows. Forty of these bodies were women or children. Women and children generally do not take part in warfare – but they are (p. 45) frequently the object of the fighting. To be abducted as a sexual prize and see your children killed was almost certainly not a rare female fate in hunter-gatherer society. After Jebel Sahaba, forget the Garden of Eden; think Mad Max.
It was not just warfare that limited population growth. Hunter-gatherers are often vulnerable to famines. Even when food is abundant, it might take so much travelling and trouble to collect enough food that women would not maintain a sufficient surplus to keep themselves fully fertile for more than a few prime years. Infanticide was a common resort in bad times. Nor was disease ever far away: gangrene, tetanus and many kinds of parasite would have been big killers. Did I mention slavery? Common in the Pacific north-west. Wife beating? Routine in Tierra del Fuego. The lack of soap, hot water, bread, books, films, metal, paper, cloth? When you meet one of those people who go so far as to say they would rather have lived in some supposedly more delightful past age, just remind them of the toilet facilities of the Pleistocene, the transport options of Roman emperors or the lice of Versailles.

Ridley, Matt. The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. New York: Harper, 2010.

“Just What Ailments Are Pylos Tablets Supposed to Alleviate?”


“Professor Bennett’s work opened a window to deciphering tablets written in Linear B, a Bronze Age Aegean script.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT obituary quoted and cited below.

(p. 22) Deciphering an ancient script is like cracking a secret code from the past, and the unraveling of Linear B is widely considered one of the most challenging archaeological decipherments of all time, if not the most challenging.
. . .
Linear B recorded the administrative workings of Mycenaean palatial centers on Crete and the Greek mainland 3,000 years ago: accounts of crops harvested, flocks tended, goods manufactured (including furniture, chariots and perfume), preparations for religious feasts and preparations for war.
It was deciphered at last in 1952, not by a scholar but by an obsessed amateur, a young English architect named Michael Ventris. The decipherment made him world famous before his death in an automobile accident in 1956.
As Mr. Ventris had acknowledged, he was deeply guided by Professor Bennett’s work, which helped impose much-needed order on the roiling mass of strange, ancient symbols.
In his seminal monograph “The Pylos Tablets” (1951), Professor Bennett published the first definitive list of the signs of Linear B. Compiling such a list is the essential first step in deciphering any unknown script, and it is no mean feat.
. . .
“We know how much Ventris admired Bennett, because he immediately adopted Bennett’s sign list of Linear B for his own work before the decipherment,” said Mr. Robinson, whose book “The Man Who Deciphered Linear B” (2002) is a biography of Mr. Ventris. “He openly said, ‘This is a wonderful piece of work.’ ”
. . .
As meticulous as Professor Bennett’s work was, it once engendered great confusion. In 1951, after he sent Mr. Ventris a copy of his monograph, a grateful Ventris went to the post office to pick it up. As Mr. Robinson’s biography recounts, a suspicious official, eyeing the package, asked him: “I see the contents are listed as Pylos Tablets. Now, just what ailments are pylos tablets supposed to alleviate?”

For the full obituary, see:
MARGALIT FOX. “Emmett L. Bennett Jr., Ancient Script Expert, Dies at 93.” The New York Times, First Section (Sun., January 1, 2012,): 22.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the obituary is dated December 31, 2011, and has the title: “Emmett L. Bennett Jr., Expert on Ancient Script, Dies at 93.”)

The book on the amateur, uncredentialed Ventris is:
Robinson, Andrew. The Man Who Deciphered Linear B: The Story of Michael Ventris. London, UK: Thames & Hudson, 2002.


“Emmett L. Bennett Jr.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT obituary quoted and cited above.