A Path to Bringing Back the Extinct Woolly Mammoth

(p. D3) For the first time in 43,000 years, a woolly mammoth has breathed again on earth.
Well, not the mammoth itself but its hemoglobin, the stuff in red blood cells that takes on oxygen in the lungs and offloads it in the tissues. By reconstructing the mammoth’s hemoglobin, a team led by Kevin L. Campbell of the University of Manitoba in Canada has discovered how the once-tropical species adapted to living in arctic temperatures.
Dr. Campbell’s work raises a somewhat astonishing possibility: that much of the physiology of extinct animals may one day be recoverable from the DNA extracted from their remains.
. . .
Two years ago, scientists at Penn State University sequenced a large part of the mammoth’s genome from a clump of hair. They published the sequence along with the arresting suggestion that for just $10 million it might be possible to complete the sequence and use it to generate a living mammoth.
The suggestion was not as wild as it might seem, given that the idea came from George Church, a leading genome technologist at the Harvard Medical School. The mammoth’s genome differs at about 400,000 sites from that of the African elephant. Dr. Church has been developing a method for altering 50,000 sites at a time, though he is not at present applying it to mammoths. In converting four sites on the elephant genome to the mammoth version, Dr. Campbell has resurrected at least one tiny part of the mammoth.

For the full story, see:
NICHOLAS WADE. “Mammoth Hemoglobin Offers More Clues to Its Arctic Evolution.” The New York Times (Tues., May 4, 2010): D3.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the article has the date May 3, 2010.)

“Better Coffee Rockefeller’s Money Can’t Buy”

BlackPageMortonAndHusbandWilliamBlack2013-08-04.jpg

“Page Morton Black, a cabaret singer, and William Black, the founder of the Chock Full o’Nuts company, in the early 1960s.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A17) For Gothamites of a certain vintage, it was . . . a part of life . . . — a jaunty little waltz, its lyrics connoting warmth, fiscal security and celestial reward:

Chock Full o’Nuts is that heavenly coffee,

Heavenly coffee, heavenly coffee.
Chock Full o’Nuts is that heavenly coffee,
Better coffee a millionaire’s money can’t buy.

Page Morton Black, the cabaret singer whose sprightly rendition of that song in radio and television ads was indelibly engraved on New Yorkers’ brains at midcentury, died on Sunday [July 21, 2013] at her home in the Premium Point enclave of New Rochelle, N.Y. She was 97.
. . .
Mrs. Black, the widow of William Black, the founder of the Chock Full o’Nuts company, curtailed her singing career after their marriage. But her voice lived on in the jingle, which was broadcast for more than 20 years.
. . .
The jingle’s original last line, “Better coffee Rockefeller’s money can’t buy,” was changed in 1957, after John D. Rockefeller Jr. and his family complained.
. . .
Chock Full o’Nuts, now owned by Massimo Zanetti Beverage USA, has revived the jingle, in a new arrangement, for its contemporary ads. The lyrics have been adjusted for inflation, with “billionaire” replacing “millionaire” in the last line.

For the full obituary, see:
MARGALIT FOX. “Page Morton Black, 97; Sang Heavenly Jingle.” The New York Times (Tues., July 23, 2013): B3.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added; jingle italicized and indented in print version of obituary, by not online version.)
(Note: the online version of the obituary has the title “Page Morton Black, Who Sang Heavenly Jingle, Dies at 97.”)

“We Just Begged and Borrowed” for Equipment

(p. 32) Google was handling as many as 10,000 queries a day. At times it was consuming half of Stanford’s Internet capacity. Its appetite for equipment and bandwidth was voracious. “We just begged and borrowed,” says Page. “There were tons of computers around, and we managed to get some.” Page’s dorm room was essentially Google’s operations center, with a motley assortment of computers from various manufacturers stuffed into a homemade version of a server rack– a storage cabinet made of Legos. Larry and Sergey would hang around the loading dock to see who on campus was getting computers– companies like Intel and Sun gave lots of free machines to Stanford to curry favor with employees of the future– (p. 33) and then the pair would ask the recipients if they could share some of the bounty.
That still wasn’t enough. To store the millions of pages they had crawled, the pair had to buy their own high-capacity disk drives. Page, who had a talent for squeezing the most out of a buck, found a place that sold refurbished disks at prices so low– a tenth of the original cost– that something was clearly wrong with them. “I did the research and figured out that they were okay as long as you replaced the [disk] operating system,” he says. “We got 120 drives, about nine gigs each. So it was about a terabyte of space.” It was an approach that Google would later adopt in building infrastructure at low cost.
Larry and Sergey would be sitting by the monitor, watching the queries– at peak times, there would be a new one every second– and it would be clear that they’d need even more equipment. What next? they’d ask themselves. Maybe this is real.

Source:
Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.
(Note: italics in original.)

FDR and LaGuardia Legacy for NYC: Feds Fund Foolish Projects?

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Source of book image: http://si.wsj.net/public/resources/images/OB-XZ916_bkrvam_DV_20130627152210.jpg

(p. 16) Fiorello La Guardia is regularly ranked not only as the greatest mayor of New York City, but as the greatest mayor of any city in all of American history. His pugnacious charisma, managerial competence and expansive vision still set a near-impossible standard for any candidate for municipal office.

But, as Mason B. Williams’s fascinating new book “City of Ambition: FDR, La Guardia, and the Making of Modern New York” reminds us, La Guardia’s success rested to a large degree on Franklin Roose­velt’s decision to “channel the resources of the federal government through the agencies of America’s cities and counties.”
The questions raised by the New Deal’s role in the development of New York remain relevant. President Obama champions infrastructure spending, but does that spending create local value? Should Washington support cities, like Detroit, that cannot support themselves? Does the power created by an expansive public sector lead to unacceptable abuse?
. . .
Williams tells the story of La Guardia and Roosevelt with insight and elegance, but his book doesn’t address the deeper controversies around that partnership. Did La Guardia’s New Deal spending saddle New York with obligations too expensive to maintain in the long run? Did a car-heavy construction strategy eventually enable an exodus from the city? La Guardia built much that still has value, but did the precedent of federal funding make foolish projects more likely?
Still, Williams’s aim is to write history, not policy analysis, and he succeeds impressively at that. America’s cities are the country’s true economic heartland, and much of our most important past is urban. “City of Ambition” helps us to understand that past.

For the full review, see:
EDWARD L. GLAESER. “Fiorello!; LaGuardia’s Outsize Personality Contributed to His Success, But So Did His Partnership with Franklin D. Roosevelt.” The New York Times Book Review (Sun., July 18, 2013): 16.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 18, 2013, and the title “Fiorello!; ‘City of Ambition,’ by Mason B. Williams.”)

The book under review, is:
Williams, Mason B. City of Ambition: FDR, La Guardia, and the Making of Modern New York. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2013.

In Greece, Votes Are Traded for Government Jobs

(p. A4) Some members of Parliament have lobbied for fishing licenses for the owners of pleasure boats in the Aegean islands. Others have asked for government jobs for award-winning athletes or members of dismantled state agencies. One sought to exempt theaters and cinemas from a controversial property tax. Another to reduce fines for the owners of illegally built homes in parts of northern Greece. The list goes on.
In all, more than 90 such budget-busting proposals have been floated as lawmakers scramble to push through last-minute amendments to bills otherwise intended to meet the demands of creditors who want Greece to liberalize its job market, cut red tape and shrink state payrolls.
. . .
But the proliferation of items threatens to delay that step, as lawmakers go to the trough one last time. Greece’s practice of trading favors — often government jobs — for political support is as old as its 400 years of Ottoman rule, when the system evolved. The word for it, “rousfeti,” which means favor, has its roots in the Turkish word for bribe.
. . .
“In Greece, the cross is sold in exchange for a government job,” said one of them, Theodoros Pangalos, the outspoken deputy prime minister and seasoned Socialist, referring to the X that voters make on the ballot.
“No one has dared touch this system to date,” Mr. Pangalos, who will not seek re-election, said this month in an interview with the French-German television channel Arte. “But it is time for it to change.”

For the full story, see:
NIKI KITSANTONIS. “Despite Warning, Old Handouts Die Hard for Greek Politicians Facing Voters Soon.” The New York Times (Tues., April 10, 2012): A4.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the article has the date April 9, 2012.)

George Mitchell, Father of Fracking, Took 20 Years to Make It Work

MitchellGeorgeFatherOfFracking2013-08-04.jpg

“George P. Mitchell with a statue of himself at The Woodlands in 2007.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ obituary quoted and cited below.

(p. B3) George P. Mitchell turned hydraulic fracturing from an experimental technique into an energy-industry mainstay, making it possible to pump oil and gas from once untappable rocks and unleashing an energy boom across the U.S.

Known as the father of fracking, Mr. Mitchell died Friday [July 26, 2013] at age 94 at his home in Galveston, Texas.
. . .
“George Mitchell, more than anyone else, is responsible for the most important energy innovation of the 21st century,” said Daniel Yergin, vice chairman of consulting firm IHS and a Pulitzer Prize winning author on energy.
. . .
His first efforts at fracking, in the late 1970s, were expensive, and at times investors and his board of directors questioned the spending. But by the late 1990s the company had figured out the right mix of techniques and materials to produce shale gas economically, and began to do so on a major scale.
Devon Energy Corp. bought Mr. Mitchell’s firm in 2002 for $3.1 billion, combined the hydraulic fracturing techniques with horizontal drilling, and helped launch the current surge in oil and gas production.

For the full obituary, see:
TOM FOWLER. “REMEMBRANCES; George P. Mitchell 1919-2013; ‘Father of Fracking’ Helped Unleash U.S. Energy Boom.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., July 27, 2013): B3.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)
(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date July 26, 2013, and has the title “REMEMBRANCES; ‘Father of Fracking’ Dies at 94; George P. Mitchell Helped Unleash U.S. Energy Boom.”)

Excite Rejected Google Because It Was too Good

(p. 28) Maybe the closest Page and Brin came to a deal was with Excite, a search-based company that had begun– just like Yahoo– with a bunch of sharp Stanford kids whose company was called Architext before the venture capitalists (VCs) got their hands on it and degeekified the name. Terry Winograd, Sergey’s adviser, accompanied them to a meeting with Vinod Khosla, the venture capitalist who had funded Excite.
. . .
(p. 29) Khosla made a tentative counteroffer of $ 750,000 total. But the deal never happened. Hassan recalls a key meeting that might have sunk it. Though Excite had been started by a group of Stanford geeks very much like Larry and Sergey, its venture capital funders had demanded they hire “adult supervision,” the condescending term used when brainy geeks are pushed aside as top executives and replaced by someone more experienced and mature, someone who could wear a suit without looking as though he were attending his Bar Mitzvah. The new CEO was George Bell, a former Times Mirror magazine executive. Years later, Hassan would still laugh when he described the meeting between the BackRub team and Bell. When the team got to Bell’s office, it fired up BackRub in one window and Excite in the other for a bake-off.
The first query they tested was “Internet.” According to Hassan, Excite’s first results were Chinese web pages where the English word “Internet” stood out among a jumble of Chinese characters. Then the team typed “Internet” into BackRub. The first two results delivered pages that told you how to use browsers. It was exactly the kind of helpful result that would most likely satisfy someone who made the query.
Bell was visibly upset. The Stanford product was too good. If Excite were to host a search engine that instantly gave people information they sought, he explained, the users would leave the site instantly. Since his ad revenue came from people staying on the site–” stickiness” was the most desired metric in websites at the time– using BackRub’s technology would be (p. 30) counterproductive. “He told us he wanted Excite’s search engine to be 80 percent as good as the other search engines,” says Hassan. And we were like, “Wow, these guys don’t know what they’re talking about.”
Hassan says that he urged Larry and Sergey right then, in early 1997, to leave Stanford and start a company. “Everybody else was doing it,” he says. “I saw Hotmail and Netscape doing really well. Money was flowing into the Valley. So I said to them, ‘The search engine is the idea. We should do this.’ They didn’t think so. Larry and Sergey were both very adamant that they could build this search engine at Stanford.”
“We weren’t … in an entrepreneurial frame of mind back then,” Sergey later said.

Source:
Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.
(Note: ellipsis between paragraphs added; ellipsis in last sentence, in original.)