“A Libertarian Celebration of Hustling, Hacking and Free-Form Development”


Source of book image: http://www.hmhco.com/shop/books/the-bright-continent/9780547678313#

(p. 21) Africa’s gains have come not because of Western largess or painful structural adjustment programs set out by the likes of the International Monetary Fund, Olopade argues, nor are they the work of governments. They are largely the fruit of Africans’ efforts to help themselves, through creative means that sometimes involve breaking the rules.
. . .
She excavates a hopeful narrative about a continent on the rise, “a libertarian celebration of hustling, hacking and free-form development.”
The best solutions, according to Olopade, are local, developed by people closest to the problem, not bureaucrats in Washington or Brussels: the South African gynecologist who operates out of two shipping containers stacked together, the Kenyan family who take over an abandoned plot of land to grow vegetables to eat and sell.
Central to Olopade’s thesis is the concept of kanju, a term that describes “the specific creativity born from African difficulty.” It is the rule-bending ethos that makes it possible to get things done in the face of headaches like crumbling infrastructure, corrupt bureaucracy and tightfisted banks unwilling to make loans to people without political connections.
Many countries have these kinds of hacks and workarounds. In India, the term is jugaad, and it has had its moment in the sun as a business school concept. India runs on this informal hacking of the system that makes life and business ­possible.

For the full review, see:
LYDIA POLGREEN. “Home Improvement.” The New York Times Book Review (Sun., APRIL 13, 2014): 21.
(Note: ellipsis added; italics in original.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date APRIL 11, 2014, and has the title “Home Improvement; ‘The Bright Continent,’ by Dayo Olopade.”)

The book under review is:
Olopade, Dayo. The Bright Continent: Breaking Rules and Making Change in Modern Africa. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co., 2014.

30,000 Year Old Virus Revived from Permafrost

(p. D5) From Siberian permafrost more than 30,000 years old, [French and Russian researchers] have revived a virus that’s new to science.
“To pull out a virus that’s 30,000 years old and actually grow it, that’s pretty impressive,” said Scott O. Rogers of Bowling Green State University who was not involved in the research. “This goes well beyond what anyone else has done.”
. . .
Measuring 1.5 micrometers long, the viruses are 25 percent bigger than any virus previously found.
. . .
“Sixty percent of its gene content doesn’t resemble anything on earth,” Dr. Abergel said. She and her colleagues suspect that pithoviruses may be parasitic survivors of life forms that were very common early in the history of life.
. . .
“Its potential implications for evolutionary theory and health are quite astonishing,” said Eske Willerslev, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Copenhagen.

For the full story, see:
Carl Zimmer. “Out of Siberian Ice, a Virus Revived.” The New York Times (Tues., MARCH 4, 2014): D5.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed words, added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 3, 2014.)

In France “‘Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité’ Means that What’s Yours Should Be Mine”

SantacruzGuillaumeFrenchEntrepreneurInLondon2014-04-27.jpgGuillaume Santacruz is among many French entrepreneurs now using London as their base. He said of his native France, “The economy is not going well, and if you want to get ahead or run your own business, the environment is not good.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 1) Guillaume Santacruz, an aspiring French entrepreneur, brushed the rain from his black sweater and skinny jeans and headed down to a cavernous basement inside Campus London, a seven-story hive run by Google in the city’s East End.
. . .
A year earlier, Mr. Santacruz, who has two degrees in finance, was living in Paris near the Place de la Madeleine, working in a boutique finance firm. He had taken that job after his attempt to start a business in Marseille foundered under a pile of government regulations and a seemingly endless parade of taxes. The episode left him wary of starting any new projects in France. Yet he still hungered to be his own boss.
He decided that he would try again. Just not in his own country.
“A lot of people are like, ‘Why would you ever leave France?’ ” Mr. Santacruz said. “I’ll tell you. France has a lot of problems. There’s a feeling of gloom that seems to be growing deeper. The economy is not going well, and if you want to get ahead or run your own business, the environment is not good.”
. . .
(p. 5) “Making it” is almost never easy, but Mr. Santacruz found the French bureaucracy to be an unbridgeable moat around his ambitions. Having received his master’s in finance at the University of Nottingham in England, he returned to France to work with a friend’s father to open dental clinics in Marseille. “But the French administration turned it into a herculean effort,” he said.
A one-month wait for a license turned into three months, then six. They tried simplifying the corporate structure but were stymied by regulatory hurdles. Hiring was delayed, partly because of social taxes that companies pay on salaries. In France, the share of nonwage costs for employers to fund unemployment benefits, education, health care and pensions is more than 33 percent. In Britain, it is around 20 percent.
“Every week, more tax letters would come,” Mr. Santacruz recalled.
. . .
Diane Segalen, an executive recruiter for many of France’s biggest companies who recently moved most of her practice, Segalen & Associés, to London from Paris, says the competitiveness gap is easy to see just by reading the newspapers. “In Britain, you read about all the deals going on here,” Ms. Segalen said. “In the French papers, you read about taxes, more taxes, economic problems and the state’s involvement in everything.”
. . .
“It is a French cultural characteristic that goes back to almost the revolution and Robespierre, where there’s a deep-rooted feeling that you don’t show that you make money,” Ms. Segalen, the recruiter, said. “There is this sense that ‘liberté, égalité, fraternité’ means that what’s yours should be mine. It’s more like, if someone has something I can’t have, I’d rather deprive this person from having it than trying to work hard to get it myself. That’s a very French state of mind. But it’s a race to the bottom.”

For the full story, see:
LIZ ALDERMAN. “Au Revoir, Entrepreneurs.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., MARCH 23, 2014): 1 & 5.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 22, 2014.)

SegalenDianeFrenchEntrepreneurInLondon2014-04-27.jpg ‘Diane Segalen moved most of her executive recruiting practice to London from Paris. In France, she says, “there is this sense that ‘liberté, égalité, fraternité’ means that what’s yours should be mine.”” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

Edison Genuinely Believed that AC Was More Dangerous than DC

(p. 174) In Edison’s view, . . . , Westinghouse did not pose a serious threat in the power-and-light business because he used the relatively more dangerous alternating current, certain to kill one of his own customers within six months.
Edison’s conviction that direct current was less dangerous than alternating current was based on hunch, however, not empirical scientific research. He, like others at the time, focused solely on voltage (the force that pushes electricity through a wire) without paying attention to amperage (the rate of flow of electricity), and thought it would be best to stay at 1,200 volts or less. Even he was not certain that his own system was completely safe–after all, he had elected to place wires in underground conduits, which was more expensive than stringing wires overhead but reduced the likelihood of electrical current touching a passerby. Burying the wires could not give him complete peace of mind, however. Privately, he told Edward Johnson that “we must look out for crosses [i.e., short-circuited wires] for if we ever kill a customer it would be a bad blow to the business.”

Stross, Randall E. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.
(Note: ellipsis added, bracketed words in original.)

G.D.P. Is a Useful, But Biased Downward, Measure of Growth


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

(p. 6) Dr. Coyle concludes that while imperfect, the G.D.P. is good enough as a measure of how fast the economy is growing and better than any alternative. It is closely correlated with things that do contribute to happiness. (Nobody is happy in a recession.)

“We should not be in a rush to ditch G.D.P.,” Dr. Coyle writes. “Yet it is a measure of the economy best suited to an earlier era.”
For one thing, it fails to count the value of the staggering growth in consumer choice. Where once we had three television networks, we now have 1,000 channels; greater choice equals greater freedom, she declares. It does poorly in measuring the Internet economy, in which so many benefits — like Google searches — are offered free. It badly lags behind the headlong pace of innovation and creativity. It struggles with the true value of a host of products or services that didn’t exist before. To the degree that it misses those new benefits to consumers, it understates the pace of economic growth.

For the full review, see:
FRED ANDREWS. “Off the Shelf; An Economic Gauge, Imperfect but Vital.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., APRIL 6, 2014): 6.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date APRIL 5, 2014.)

The book under review is:
Coyle, Diane. GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2014.

Open Source Heartbleed Bug Sends Internet “into a Panic”

Opponents of patents often point to the open source movement as an alternative. The Heartbleed bug illustrates a big downside to open source:

(p. B1) The encryption flaw that punctured the heart of the Internet this week underscores a weakness in Internet security: A good chunk of it is managed by four European coders and a former military consultant in Maryland.

Most of the 11-member team are volunteers; only one works full time. Their budget is less than $1 million a year. The Heartbleed bug, revealed Monday, was the product of a fluke introduced by a young German researcher.
. . .
The OpenSSL Project was founded in 1998 to create a free set of encryption tools that has since been adopted by two-thirds of Web servers. Websites, network-equipment companies and governments use OpenSSL tools to protect personal and other sensitive information online.
So when researchers at Google Inc. and Codenomicon on Monday stated that Heartbleed could allow hackers to steal such data, the Internet went into a panic.
. . .
(p. B3) Earlier in the day, a German volunteer coder admitted that he had unintentionally introduced the bug on New Year’s Eve 2011 while working on bug fixes for OpenSSL. . . .
Errors in complex code are inevitable–Microsoft Corp., Apple Inc. and Google announce flaws monthly. But people close to OpenSSL, which relies in part on donations, say a lack of funding and manpower exacerbated the problem and allowed it to go unnoticed for two years.
. . .
The OpenSSL Project counts a sole full-time developer: Stephen Henson, a 46-year-old British cryptographer with a Ph.D. in mathematics. Two other U.K. residents and a developer in Germany fill out the project’s management team.
Associates describe Mr. Henson as brilliant but standoffish and overloaded with work.
. . .
Geoffrey Thorpe, an OpenSSL volunteer on the development team, said he has little time to spend on the project because of his day job at a hardware technology company.

For the full story, see:
DANNY YADRON. “Internet Security Relies on Very Few.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., April 12, 2014): B1 & B3.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story was updated April 11, 2014, and has the title “TECHNOLOGY; Heartbleed Bug’s ‘Voluntary’ Origins; Internet Security Relies on a Small Team of Coders, Most of Them Volunteers; Flaw Was a Fluke.”)

Russia and China Redistributed Wealth “to Disastrous Effect”


Shane Smith, entrepreneur behind VICE media company. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 10) You believe that young people worldwide are disenfranchised. Do you think popular uprisings will fix things? No. I’m actually worried, because I believe that it’s going to get worse. Look, economic disparity is bad. But we’ve already tried having governments redistribute wealth. We tried it in Russia and China to disastrous effect.

News Corp. bought a 5 percent stake in Vice, and now James Murdoch is on the board. Why did you sell to them? I’ve said that I want to be the next MTV, the next CNN, the next ESPN. Cue everyone rolling their eyes. MTV went to Viacom, ESPN went to Disney and Hearst, CNN went to Time Warner. Why? Because to build a global media brand, it’s almost impossible to do it alone. James has been involved in one of the largest media companies in the world since he was in short pants.
Do you ever fear that Vice will become legacy media itself? It’s our time now. Then, I don’t know, it’ll be holograms next, and some kid will come up and eat our lunch.

For the full interview, see:
Staley, Willy, interviewer. ” ‘Have We Unleashed a Monster?’: The Vice C.E.O. Shane Smith on His New Kind of News.” The New York Times Magazine (Sun., MARCH 23, 2014): 12.
(Note: ellipsis added; bold in original.)
(Note: the online version of the interview has the date MARCH 21, 2014, and has the title “Vice’s Shane Smith: ‘Have We Unleashed a Monster?’.”)