Insull Took 50% Pay Cut to Get Chief Executive Position

(p. 262) Insull’s story is characterized by boldness of action that exceeded anything Edison had tried. When he had left Edison’s side, he had been determined to find a chief executive position. In 1892, he passed up an offer to be a vice president in Henry Villard’s North American Company in order to become president of Edison Chicago, a small electrical power utility that could pay him only half of what he had made in New York. He also had to move to Chicago, a place that seemed to a New Yorker like a “frontier town.”

Source:
Stross, Randall E. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.

The Noise of Open-Office Plans Destroys Concentration

CubedBK2014-05-28.jpg

Source of book image: DWIGHT GARNER. “Books of The Times; The Office Space We Love to Hate.” The New York Times (Fri., APRIL 25, 2014): C21 & C31.

(p. C3) Open-office plans–then as now–mean noise, both visual and aural. People used to private offices couldn’t concentrate because of all the chatter and typing. For all the supposed egalitarianism of the office landscape, managers usually allotted themselves more space than junior staff, and the creative use of screens and extra plants often let them carve out ad hoc private offices for themselves. By the 1970s, European workers’ councils had rejected open-office plans, insisting that employees across the continent be granted private offices.
In the U.S., however, the open-plan remained unchallenged–until Propst. He concluded that office workers needed autonomy and independence–and therefore offered a flexible, three-walled design that could be reshaped to any given need.
. . .
Many workers I’ve spoken to in open offices find concentration and privacy elusive–and often miss their cubicles.

For the full commentary, see:
NIKIL SAVAL. “When Office Cubicles Looked Like Progress.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 10, 2014): C3.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 9, 2014, and has the title “A Brief History of the Dreaded Office Cubicle.”)

For more of Saval’s observations on the cubicle, see:
Saval, Nikil. Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace. New York: Doubleday, 2014.

Global Warming Tipping Point Models Are “Overblown”

(p. C3) Climate models for north Africa often come to contradictory conclusions. Nonetheless, mainstream science holds that global warming will typically make wet places wetter and dry places drier–and at a rapid clip. That is because increased greenhouse gases trigger feedback mechanisms that push the climate system beyond various “tipping points.” In north Africa, this view suggests an expanding Sahara, the potential displacement of millions of people on the great desert’s borders and increased conflict over scarce resources.
One scientist, however, is challenging this dire view, with evidence chiefly drawn from the Sahara’s prehistoric past. Stefan Kröpelin, a geologist at the University of Cologne, has collected samples of ancient pollen and other material that suggest that the earlier episode of natural climate change, which created the Sahara, happened gradually over millennia–not over a mere century or two, as the prevailing view holds. That is why, he says, the various “tipping point” scenarios for the future of the Sahara are overblown.
The 62-year-old Dr. Kröpelin, one of the pre-eminent explorers of the Sahara, has traveled into its forbidding interior for more than four decades. Along the way he has endured weeklong dust storms, a car chase by armed troops and a parasitic disease, bilharzia, that nearly killed him.
. . .
. . . Dr. Kröpelin’s analysis of the Lake Yoa samples suggests that there was no tipping point and that the change was gradual. He says that his argument is also supported by archaeological evidence. Digs in the Sahara, conducted by various archaeologists over the years, indicate that the people of the region migrated south over millennia, not just in a few desperate decades. “Humans are very sensitive climate indicators because we can’t live without water,” he says. If the Sahara had turned to desert quickly, the human migration pattern “would have been completely different.”

For the full commentary, see:
Naik, Gautam. “Climate Clues in the Sahara’s Past; A Geologist’s Findings in Africa Challenge the Way Scientists Think about the Threat of Desertification.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., May 31, 2014): C3.
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 30, 2014, and has the title “How Will Climate Change Affect the Sahara?; A geologist’s findings in Africa challenge the way scientists think about the threat of desertification.”)

One of the more recent Kröpelin papers arguing against the tipping point account is:
Francus, Pierre, Hans von Suchodoletz, Michael Dietze, Reik V. Donner, Frédéric Bouchard, Ann-Julie Roy, Maureen Fagot, Dirk Verschuren, Stefan Kröpelin, and Daniel Ariztegui. “Varved Sediments of Lake Yoa (Ounianga Kebir, Chad) Reveal Progressive Drying of the Sahara During the Last 6100 Years.” Sedimentology 60, no. 4 (June 2013): 911-34.

Instead of 50 Silicon Valleys, Andreessen Sees 50 Kinds of Silicon Valley

AndreessenMarcCofounderNetscape2014-05-31.jpg “Marc Andreessen, co-founder of the first major web browser, Netscape, has a record for knowing what’s coming next with technology.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. B8) Mr. Andreessen said new valleys will eventually emerge. But they won’t be Silicon Valley copycats.

Over the past couple of years, venture firms have invested in start-ups in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and all over China. Los Angeles, for example, is home to Snapchat, Tinder, Whisper, Oculus VR and Beats, some of the big tech stories of the year. Mr. Andreessen said another hot place is Atlanta, the home of Georgia Tech.
But he offers a caveat.
“My personal view is that Silicon Valley will continue to take a disproportionate share of the No. 1 positions in great new markets, and I think that’s just a reflection that the fact that the valley works as well as it does,” Mr. Andreessen said.
There is a caveat to his caveat.
In Mr. Andreessen’s view, there shouldn’t be 50 Silicon Valleys. Instead, there should be 50 different kinds of Silicon Valley. For example, there could be Biotech Valley, a Stem Cell Valley, a 3-D Printing Valley or a Drone Valley. As he noted, there are huge regulatory hurdles in many of these fields. If a city wanted to spur innovation around drones, for instance, it might have to remove any local legal barriers to flying unmanned aircraft.

For the full interview, see:
NICK BILTON. “DISRUPTIONS; Forecasting the Next Big Moves in Tech.” The New York Times (Mon., MAY 19, 2014): B8.
(Note: the online version of the interview has the date MAY 18, 2014, and has the title “DISRUPTIONS; Marc Andreessen on the Future of Silicon Valley(s), and the Next Big Technology.” )

Edison Thought His Money Did More Good by Funding Inventions than by Funding Philanthropy

(p. 263) When asked in 1911 to donate to a building drive for a YMCA in Port Huron, a boyhood home, Edison responded with a small pledge and provided an explanation of why he would not provide more: “I can use surplus money to greater advantage for all the people in conducting experiments.”

Source:
Stross, Randall E. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.

Occupational Licensing Hurts Poor and Restricts Innovation and Worker Mobility

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Source of book image: http://www.upjohn.org/sites/default/files/bookcovers/soor_0.JPG

(p. A31) In the 1970s, about 10 percent of individuals who worked had to have licenses, but by 2008, almost 30 percent of the work force needed them.

With this explosion of licensing laws has come a national patchwork of stealth regulation that has, among other things, restricted labor markets, innovation and worker mobility.
. . .
Occupational licensing, moreover, does nothing to close the inequality gap in the United States. For consumers, there is likely to be a redistribution effect in the “wrong” direction, as higher income consumers have more choice among higher quality purveyors of a service and lower income individuals are left with fewer affordable service options.
. . . , government-issued licenses largely protect occupations from competition. Conservatives often see members of the regulated occupation supporting licensing laws under claims of “public health and safety.” However, these laws do much more to stop competition and less to enhance the quality of the service.
Also, all consumers do not demand the same level of quality. If licensure “improves quality” by restricting entry into the profession, then some consumers will be forced to pay for more “quality” than they want or need. Not everyone wants a board-licensed hairdresser.

For the full commentary, see:
MORRIS M. KLEINER. “Why License a Florist?” The New York Times (Thurs., MAY 29, 2014): A31.
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date MAY 28, 2014.)

Kleiner’s most recent book on occupational licensing is:
Kleiner, Morris M. Stages of Occupational Regulation: Analysis of Case Studies. Kalamazoo, Michigan: W.E. Upjohn Institute, 2013.

Lower Yields from Organic Farming Means More Land Must Be Used to Grow Food

(p. A13) . . . , as agricultural scientist Steve Savage has documented on the Sustainablog website, wide-scale composting generates significant amounts of greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide. Compost may also deposit pathogenic bacteria on or in food crops, which has led to more frequent occurrences of food poisoning in the U.S. and elsewhere.
Organic farming might work well for certain local environments on a small scale, but its farms produce far less food per unit of land and water than conventional ones. The low yields of organic agriculture–typically 20%-50% less than conventional agriculture–impose various stresses on farmland and especially on water consumption. A British meta-analysis published in the Journal of Environmental Management (2012) found that “ammonia emissions, nitrogen leaching and nitrous oxide emissions per product unit were higher from organic systems” than conventional farming systems, as were “land use, eutrophication potential and acidification potential per product unit.”
Lower crop yields are inevitable given organic farming’s systematic rejection of many advanced methods and technologies. If the scale of organic production were significantly increased, the lower yields would increase the pressure for the conversion of more land to farming and more water for irrigation, both of which are serious environmental issues.

For the full commentary, see:
HENRY I. MILLER. “Organic Farming Is Not Sustainable; More labor with lower yields is a luxury only rich populations can afford.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., May 16, 2014): A13.
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 15, 2014.)

The article documenting organic farming’s greater emissions per food unit, is:
Tuomisto, H. L., I. D. Hodge, P. Riordan, and D. W. Macdonald. “Does Organic Farming Reduce Environmental Impacts? – a Meta-Analysis of European Research.” Journal of Environmental Management 112 (2012): 309-20.