“Western Union Bullied the Makers of Public Policy into Serving Private Capital”

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Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.

(p. A13) Until now there has been no full-scale, modern company history. Joshua D. Wolff’s “Western Union and the Creation of the American Corporate Order, 1845-1893” ably fills the bill, offering an exhaustive and yet fascinating account.
. . .
If people today remember anything about Western Union, it is that its coast-to-coast line put the Pony Express out of business and that its leaders didn’t see the telephone coming. Mr. Wolff tells us that neither claim is exactly true. It was Hiram Sibley, Western Union’s first president, who went out on his own, when his board balked, to form a separate company and build the transcontinental telegraph in 1861; he made his fortune by eventually selling it to Western Union. And the company was very aware of Alexander Graham Bell’s invention, patented in 1876, but history had supposedly shown that it wasn’t necessary to control a patent to win the technology war. The company’s third president, William Orton, was sure that Bell and his “toy” would not get the better of Western Union: “We would come along and take it away from him.” They didn’t.
. . .
Mr. Wolff contends that the company’s practices set the template for today’s “corporate triumphalism,” not least in the way Western Union bullied the makers of public policy into serving private capital. Perhaps, but telecom competition today is so ferocious and differently arranged from that of the late 19th century that a “triumphant” company today may be toast tomorrow–think of BlackBerry–and can’t purchase help with anything like Western’s Union’s brazenness and scope. Western Union had friends in Congress, the regulatory bureaucracy and the press. Members of the company’s board of directors chaired both the 1872 Republican and Democratic national conventions. It seemed that, whatever the battles in business, politics, technology or the courts, the company’s shareholders won.

For the full review, see:
STUART FERGUSON. “Bookshelf; The Octopus of the Wires.” The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Dec. 23, 2013): A13.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 22, 2013, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; Book Review: ‘Western Union and the Creation of the American Corporate Order, 1845-1893,’ by Joshua D. Wolff.”)

Book under review:
Wolff, Joshua D. Western Union and the Creation of the American Corporate Order, 1845-1893. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

Wind Power Fined $1 Million for Killing Birds

GoldenEagleOverWindTurbine2013-12-29.jpg “A golden eagle flies over a wind turbine on Duke Energy’s wind farm in Converse County, Wyo.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A17) The Justice Department announced late . . . [in the week of Nov. 17-23] that a subsidiary of Duke Energy has agreed to pay $1 million for killing golden eagles and other federally protected birds at two of the company’s wind projects in Wyoming. The guilty plea was a long-overdue victory for the rule of law and a sign that green energy might be going out of vogue.

As Justice noted in its news release, this is the first time a case has been brought against a wind company for violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The 1918 law makes it a federal crime to kill any bird of more than 1,000 different species. Over the past few decades, federal authorities have brought hundreds of cases against oil and gas companies for killing birds, while the wind industry has enjoyed a de facto exemption. By bringing criminal charges against Duke for killing 14 golden eagles and 149 other protected birds, Justice has ended the legal double standard on enforcement.

For the full commentary, see:
ROBERT BRYCE. “Wind Power Is Brought to Justice; Duke Energy’s guilty plea for killing protected birds is an ominous sign for renewable energy.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Nov. 29, 2013): A17.
(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed words, added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Nov. 28, 2013.)

Concentrating on One Task Results in Better Thinking

NassCliffordObit2013-11-10.jpg “Clifford Nass studied how new technology affected people.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT obituary quoted and cited below.

Nass focused on how interruptions from technology would reduce a person’s ability to think well. But doesn’t his research also imply that interruptions from other causes, including those from co-workers in open “collaborative” office designs, would likewise reduce a person’s ability to think well?

(p. 27) Clifford Nass, a Stanford professor whose pioneering research into how humans interact with technology found that the increasingly screen-saturated, multitasking modern world was not nurturing the ability to concentrate, analyze or feel empathy, died on Nov. 2 near Lake Tahoe. He was 55.
. . .
One of his most publicized research projects was a 2009 study on multitasking.
. . .
“We all bet high multitaskers were going to be stars at something,” he said in an interview with the PBS program “Frontline.” “We were absolutely shocked. We all lost our bets. It turns out multitaskers are terrible at every aspect of multitasking. They’re terrible at ignoring irrelevant information; they’re terrible at keeping information in their head nicely and neatly organized; and they’re terrible at switching from one task to another.”
He added, “One would think that if people were bad at multitasking, they would stop. However, when we talk with the multitaskers, they seem to think they’re great at it and seem totally unfazed and totally able to do more and more and more.”
With children doing more multitasking and people asked to do more of it at work, he said, “We worry that it may be creating people who are unable to think well and clearly.”
. . .
Dr. Nass found that people who multitasked less frequently were actually better at it than those who did it frequently. He argued that heavy multitasking shortened attention spans and the ability to concentrate.

For the full obituary, see:
WILLIAM YARDLEY. “Clifford Nass, Who Warned of a Data Deluge, Dies at 55.” The New York Times, First Section (Sun., November 11, 2013): 27.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date November 6, 2013.)

The famous study on multitasking that Nass authored is:
Ophir, Eyal, Clifford Nass, and Anthony D. Wagner. “Cognitive Control in Media Multitaskers.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) 106, no. 37 (September 15, 2009): 15583-87.

Carnegie Objected to $2 a Year Fee to Use Private Library

(p. 44) The story of Andy Carnegie defeating the villainous adults played well in his Autobiography and the biographies that drew from it, but there is another side to the tale which we should not neglect. The Anderson Library was not a free public library, funded by the city, but a subscription library, which relied in great part on the support of its patrons.* Although “working boys” should, as he had argued, have been allowed to borrow books without paying the two-dollar subscription fee, Andy Carnegie, six months from his eighteenth birthday, was hardly a “working boy.” He held a man’s job and received a man’s pay of twenty-five dollars a month. Was it unreasonable for the librarians to ask him to contribute a two-dollar annual subscription fee to keep the library from having to close its doors for the third time in its young history?
Andy thought so. With a talent for cloaking self-interest in larger humanitarian concerns, he made a premature case for free public libraries.

Source:
Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.
(Note: italics in original.)
(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw’s book are the same.)

“Myth that Most C.E.O.’s Are Extroverts”

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“”It’s a myth that most C.E.O.’s are extroverts,” says Dwight Merriman, chairman and co-founder of MongoDB, an open-source document database. He has overcome his own earlier shyness, he says, and relies on enthusiasm for his work.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT interview quoted and cited below.

(p. B2) Q. I take it you’re an introvert.

A. I am.
Q. You were C.E.O. of MongoDB for five years before becoming chairman, and a big part of that job no doubt required you to spend a lot of time with people and give a lot of talks. How did you handle that?
A. I think 95 percent of the time you can get past that with just sheer brute force. I remember public-speaking class in college. I really didn’t want to do it. But today, when I give talks to 1,000 people, I’m not nervous at all. I think you get used to it. You just have to force yourself out of your comfort zone.
And it’s a myth that most C.E.O.’s are extroverts. Many are, but probably no more than the general population. I do what works for me, which is being enthusiastic and passionate about what we’re doing. You’ve just got to find what works for you.

For the full interview, see:
ADAM BRYANT. “CORNER OFFICE: Dwight Merriman; Being an Effective Leader Without Being an Extrovert.” The New York Times (Fri., November 1, 2013): B2.
(Note: bold and italics in original.)
(Note: the online version of the interview has the date October 31, 2013, and has the title “CORNER OFFICE; Dwight Merriman of MongoDB on Leading by Enthusiasm.”)

Innovators Agree: Whiteboard Is Fast, Easy to Use and Big

(p. B1) . . . Evernote, like pretty much every tech company I’ve ever visited, is in thrall to the whiteboard. Indeed, as technologically backward as they may seem, whiteboards are to Silicon Valley what legal pads are to lawyers, what Excel is to accountants, or what long sleeves are to magicians.
They’re an all-purpose tool of innovation, often the first place a product or company’s vision is dreamed up and designed, and a constant huddling point for future refinement. And though many digital technologies have attempted to unseat the whiteboard, the humble pre-electronic surface can’t be beat.
The whiteboard has three chief virtues: It’s fast. It’s easy to use. And it’s big. “We’re often doing something I call ‘designing in the hallway,’ ” said Jamie Hull, the product manager for Evernote’s iOS apps. “When a new problem or request comes up, the fastest thing you can do is pull two or three people aside, go to the nearest wall, and figure it out.”
Unlike a computer or phone, the whiteboard is always on, always fully charged, and it doesn’t require that people download, install, and launch software to begin using it.

For the full commentary, see:
FARHAD MANJOO. “HIGH DEFINITION; High Tech’s Secret Weapon: The Whiteboard.” The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Oct. 31, 2013): B1-B2.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Oct. 30, 2013. The online version combined paragraphs 1 and 2 above and 3 and 4 above. I have returned them to the form they had in the print version.)

Politically Correct Artisanal Locally Sourced Combat Video Game

CallOfDutyGhostsFemaleAvatar2013-11-06.jpgCall of Duty: Ghosts Female avatars have been added, and so has an “extinction” mode involving fighting aliens, in this game for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii U and PC.” Source of caption and image: online version of the NYT review quoted and cited below.

From a review of the video game “Call of Duty: Ghosts”:

(p. C5) “. . . the South Americans torture a character using artisanal, locally sourced interrogation techniques supposedly (and naturally) used by Amazonian tribes.”

For the full review, see:
CHRIS SUELLENTROP. “VIDEO GAME REVIEW; A Fantastical Shootout, Moving Across Space and Time.” The New York Times (Weds., November 6, 2013): C5.
(Note: ellipsis added; bold in caption in original of both print and online versions.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 5, 2013.)