How to Win the Nobel Prize with Dyslexia

GreiderCarolDyslexicNobelPrizeWinner2013-08-10.jpg “HER TURN; Dr. Carol W. Greider is a researcher at Johns Hopkins.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT interview quoted and cited below.

(p. D1) Q. Did you always want to be a biologist?

A. My parents were scientists. But I wasn’t the sort of child who did science fairs. One of the things I was thinking about today is that as a kid I had dyslexia. I had a lot of trouble in school and was put into remedial classes. I thought that I was stupid.
Q. That must have hurt.
A. Sure. Yes. It was hard to overcome (p. D3) that. I kept thinking of ways to compensate. I learned to memorize things very well because I just couldn’t spell words. So later when I got to take classes like chemistry and anatomy where I had to memorize things, it turned out I was very good at that.
I never planned a career. I had these blinders on that got me through a lot of things that might have been obstacles. I just went forward. It’s a skill that I had early on that must have been adaptive. I enjoyed biology in high school and that brought me to a research lab at U.C. Santa Barbara. I loved doing experiments and I had fun with them. I realized this kind of problem-solving fit my intellectual style. So in order to continue having fun, I decided to go to graduate school at Berkeley. It was there that I went to Liz Blackburn’s lab, where telomeres were being studied.

For the full interview, see:
CLAUDIA DREIFUS. “A CONVERSATION WITH CAROL W. GREIDER; On Winning a Nobel Prize in Science.” The New York Times (Tues., October 13, 2009): D1 & D3.
(Note: bold in original; questions capitalized as in print version.)
(Note: the online version of the interview has the date October 12, 2009.)

Yahoo Valued “Marketing Gimmicks” More than Search Speed

(p. 44) Google had struck a deal to handle all the search traffic of Yahoo, one of the biggest portals on the web.
The deal–announced on June 26, 2000–was a frustrating development to the head of Yahoo’s search team, Udi Manber. He had been arguing that Yahoo should develop its own search product (at the time, it was licensing technology from Inktomi), but his bosses weren’t interested. Yahoo’s executives, led by a VC-approved CEO named Timothy Koogle (described in a BusinessWeek cover story as “The Grown-up Voice of Reason at Yahoo”), instead were devoting their attention to branding–marketing gimmicks such as putting the purple corporate logo on the Zamboni machine that swept the ice between periods of San Jose Sharks hockey games. “I had six people working on my search team,” Manber said. “I couldn’t get the seventh. This was a company that had thousands of people. I could not get the seventh.” Since Yahoo wasn’t going to develop its own search, Manber had the task of finding the best one to license.

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

In Conflict Between Ecologist and Economist, the Economist Won

EhrlichSimonCaricature2013-08-31.jpg Paul Ehrlich (left) and Julian Simon (right). Source of caricature: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.

(p. C6) . . . in 1980 Simon made Mr. Ehrlich a bet. If Mr. Ehrlich’s predictions about overpopulation and the depletion of resources were correct, Simon said, then over the next decade the prices of commodities would rise as they became more scarce. Simon contended that, because markets spur innovation and create efficiencies, commodity prices would fall. He proposed that each party put up $1,000 to purchase a basket of five commodities. If the prices of these went down, Mr. Ehrlich would pay Simon the difference between the 1980 and 1990 prices. If the prices went up, Simon would pay. This meant that Mr. Ehrlich’s exposure was limited while Simon’s was theoretically infinite.
. . .
In October 1990, Mr. Ehrlich mailed a check for $576.07 to Simon.
. . .
Mr. Ehrlich was more than a sore loser. In 1995, he told this paper: “If Simon disappeared from the face of the Earth, that would be great for humanity.” (Simon would die in 1998.)
. . .
Mr. Sabin’s portrait of Mr. Ehrlich suggests that he is among the more pernicious figures in the last century of American public life. As Mr. Sabin shows, he pushed an authoritarian vision of America, proposing “luxury taxes” on items such as diapers and bottles and refusing to rule out the use of coercive force in order to prevent Americans from having children. In many ways, Mr. Ehrlich was an early instigator of the worst aspects of America’s culture wars. This picture is all the more damning because Mr. Sabin paints it not with malice but with sympathy. A history professor at Yale, Mr. Sabin shares Mr. Ehrlich’s devotion to environmentalism. Yet this affinity doesn’t prevent Mr. Sabin from being clear-eyed.
At heart, “The Bet” is about not just a conflict of men; it is about a conflict of disciplines, pitting ecologists against economists. Mr. Sabin cautiously posits that neither side has been completely vindicated by the events of the past 40 years. But this may be charity on his part: While not everything Simon predicted has come to pass, in the main he has been vindicated.
. . .
Mr. Ehrlich may have been defeated in the wager, but he has continued to flourish in the public realm. The great mystery left unsolved by “The Bet” is why Paul Ehrlich and his confederates have paid so small a price for their mistakes. And perhaps even been rewarded for them. In 1990, just as Mr. Ehrlich was mailing his check to Simon, the MacArthur Foundation awarded him one of its “genius” grants. And 20 years later his partner in the wager, John Holdren, was appointed by President Obama to be director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

For the full review, see:
JONATHAN V. LAST. “A Prediction that Bombed; Paul Ehrlich predicted an imminent population catastrophe; Julian Simon wagered he was wrong.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., August 31, 2013): C6.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date August 30, 2013, and has the title “Book Review: ‘The Bet’ by Paul Sabin; Paul Ehrlich predicted an imminent population catastrophe–Julian Simon wagered he was wrong.”)

The book discussed above is:
Sabin, Paul. The Bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and Our Gamble over Earth’s Future. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2013.


Source of book image:

Venezuelan Socialists Seize Private Toilet Paper

(p. A6) CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Police in Venezuela say they have seized nearly 2,500 rolls of toilet paper in an overnight raid of a clandestine warehouse storing scarce goods.
. . .
The socialist government says the shortages are part of a plot by opponents to destabilize the country. Economists blame the government’s price and currency controls.

For the full story, see:
AP. “World; Police Seize 2,500 Rolls of Toilet Paper.” Omaha World-Herald (Fri., May 31, 2013): 6A.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

“The Ecosystem Is More Intact than You Might Have Feared”

SantaMartaSabrewingRareBirdFearedExtinct2013-08-10.jpg “The first-ever photograph of the Santa Marta sabrewing.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

Michael Parr, quoted in the entry below, is Vice President of Planning and Program Development of the American Bird Conservancy as of 8/10/13 (as listed on: ).

(p. D3) Rare birds in isolated habitats can be a recipe for extinction, and while there had been a few unconfirmed sightings of the sabrewing in recent years, the bird’s existence had not been documented for decades. Until March 24, that is, when a researcher studying migratory birds, Laura C├írdenas, caught one in a mist net, banded it and took its picture before releasing it. It’s the first photograph ever of a Santa Marta sabrewing.
“She had a little bit of luck,” Mr. Parr said. “The bird just flew into the net, completely by chance.”
. . .
The sighting shows that “the ecosystem is more intact than you might have feared,” he added.

For the full story, see:
HENRY FOUNTAIN. “OBSERVATORY; Rare Bird, Alive and Well and Living in Colombia.” The New York Times (Tues., April 13, 2010): D3.
(Note: the online version of the article has the date April 12, 2010.)

Redundancy Allowed Google to Function with Cheap and Failure-Prone Hard Drives

(p. 42) . . . as the web kept growing, Google added more machines–by the end of 1999, there were eighty machines involved in the crawl (out of a total of almost three thousand Google computers at that time)–and the likelihood that something would break increased dramatically. Especially since Google made a point of buying what its engineers referred to as “el cheapo” equipment. Instead of commercial units that carefully processed and checked information, Google would buy discounted consumer models without built-in processes to protect the integrity of data.
As a stopgap measure, the engineers had implemented a scheme where the indexing data was stored on different hard drives. If a machine went bad, everyone’s pager would start buzzing, even if it was the middle of the night, and they’d barrel into the office immediately to stop the crawl, copy the data, and change the configuration files. “This happened every few days, and it basically stopped everything and was very painful,” says Sanjay Ghemawat, one of the DEC research wizards who had joined Google.
. . .
(p. 43) The experience led to an ambitious revamp of the way the entire Google infrastructure dealt with files. “I always had wanted to build a file system, and it was pretty clear that this was something we were going to have to do,” says Ghemawat, who led the team. Though there had previously been systems that handled information distributed over multiple files, Google’s could handle bigger data loads and was more nimble at running full speed in the face of disk crashes– which it had to be because, with Google’s philosophy of buying supercheap components, failure was the norm. “The main idea was that we wanted the file system to automate dealing with failures, and to do that, the file system would keep multiple copies and it would make new copies when some copy failed,” says Ghemawat.

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

Jeb Bush Reads Clayton Christensen on His Kindle


Jeb Bush. Source of caricature: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

Clayton Christensen is a kindred spirit: he cares about making the world a better place through innovation in free markets. He research is almost always thought-provoking, and sometimes highly illuminating. So it speaks well of Jeb Bush that he has the good judgement to be reading one of Christensen’s books on education.

(p. A11) Currently [Bush is] reading “Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns” — on his Kindle electronic reader.

For the full interview, see:
FRED BARNES. “THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW with JEB BUSH; Republicans Must Be a National Party Florida’s former governor on immigration, school choice, and the GOP’s limited-government foundation.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., February 14, 2009): A11.
(Note: words in brackets added.)

The Christensen book mentioned on education, is:
Christensen, Clayton M., Curtis W. Johnson, and Michael B. Horn. Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. New York: NY: McGraw-Hill, 2008.
(Note: a revised edition of the book appeared in 2011.)

“Inflexible Labor Laws” Lead Indian Firms “to Substitute Machines for Unskilled Labor”

(p. A19) . . . , India is failing to make full use of the estimated one million low-skilled workers who enter the job market every month.
Manufacturing requires transparent rules and reliable infrastructure. India is deficient in both. High-profile scandals over the allocation of mobile broadband spectrum, coal and land have undermined confidence in the government. If land cannot be easily acquired and coal supplies easily guaranteed, the private sector will shy away from investing in the power grid. Irregular electricity holds back investments in factories.
India’s panoply of regulations, including inflexible labor laws, discourages companies from expanding. As they grow, large Indian businesses prefer to substitute machines for unskilled labor.

For the full commentary, see:
ARVIND SUBRAMANIAN. “Why India’s Economy Is Stumbling.” The New York Times (Sat., August 31, 2013): A19.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date August 30, 2013.)