Esther Dyson Sees a Lot of Silicon Valley as Just Motivated to Make Money

(p. C11) The U.S. Commerce Department recently said that it plans to relinquish its oversight of Icann, handing that task to an international body of some kind. The details are still being worked out, but Ms. Dyson hopes that governments won’t be the new regulators. . . .
For now, she thinks there are many Silicon Valley Internet companies with inflated market values. “There is the desire to make money that motivates a lot of that in Silicon Valley, and yes, I think it’s totally a bubble,” she says. “It’s not like the last bubble in that there are a lot of real companies there [now], but there are a lot of unreal companies and…many of them will disappear.” She thinks too many people are starting similar companies. “You have people being CEOs of teeny little things who would be much better as marketing managers of someone else’s company,” she says.
And though her work often takes her to California, she’s happy to stay in New York. These days, she finds Silicon Valley “very fashionable,” she says, “and I don’t really like fashion.”

For the full interview, see:
ALEXANDRA WOLFE, interviewer. “WEEKEND CONFIDENTIAL; Esther Dyson’s Healthy Investments; The investor is hoping to produce better health through technology with a new nonprofit.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 3, 2014): C11.
(Note: first ellipsis added; second ellipsis in original.)
(Note: the online version of the interview has the date May 2, 2014, and has the title “WEEKEND CONFIDENTIAL; Esther Dyson’s Healthy Investments; The investor is hoping to produce better health through technology with a new nonprofit.”)

Einthoven Tried to Share Prize Money with His Assistant

(p. 194) One event that occurred after Einthoven received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1924 speaks volumes about his integrity. In the construction of his string galvanometer and laboratory experiments over many years, Einthoven was rather clumsy with his hands and relied very much on the collaboration of his chief assistant K. F. L. van der Woerdt. Years later, when he received the $40,000 in Nobel Prize money, Einthoven wished to share it with his assistant but soon learned that the man had died. He sought out the man’s two surviving sisters, who were living in genteel poverty in a kind of almshouse. He journeyed there by train and gave them half of the award money.

Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

When Pirates Were More Enlightened than Most Governments

(p. A11) While slaves were oppressed by the social order, Mr. Rediker argues, pirates on the high seas were remaking it. An estimated 2,500 buccaneers prowled the Atlantic and the Caribbean at any given time during the first half of the 18th century. The great majority were former merchant seamen, or deserters from the Royal Navy. They were aged between 14 and 50, though most were in their 20s. Married men were not welcome for fear that they might desert and compromise an entire pirate crew.
Here, Mr. Rediker suggests, egalitarianism was being practiced at sea half a century before it became a catch-cry of the French Revolution. And, he adds, there was a striking uniformity of rules and customs on all pirate vessels. At the start of each voyage, or whenever a new captain was chosen, a wide-ranging social compact would be drawn up listing rights and responsibilities. The articles would allocate authority, deal with the distribution of plunder, and set the rules of punishment to enforce discipline. Booty was usually allocated according to skills and duties–the captain might be given two shares; gunners, boatswains, mates, carpenters and medics one and a half shares; and the rest of the crew a share each. In times of battle, the crew gave the captain unquestioned authority whether fighting, chasing or being chased. What perhaps set the pirates most apart from their former colleagues in the Merchant Navy and the Royal Navy was punishment. The lash, for example, was rarely used. Fighting was not allowed on board and disputes between crew had to be settled ashore by sword or pistol. This brought an unusual degree of harmony to the pirate ship. Incorrigible trouble makers were unceremoniously dumped and left behind on deserted islands. Vengeance was also freely taken upon captives, and woe betide any ship’s captain who had tyrannized and abused his crew.

For the full review, see:
MICHAEL FATHERS. “BOOKSHELF; Motley Crew at the Helm; Egalitarianism was being acted out at sea by pirates half a century before it became a catch-cry of the French Revolution. The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Aug. 22, 2014): A11.
(Note: ellipsis in original.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 21, 2014, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; Book Review: ‘Outlaws of the Atlantic’ by Marcus Rediker; Egalitarianism was being acted out at sea by pirates half a century before it became a catch-cry of the French Revolution.”)

Book under review:
Rediker, Marcus. Outlaws of the Atlantic: Sailors, Pirates, and Motley Crews in the Age of Sail. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2014.

Catering to Auto Dealers, State Governments Restrict Consumers Right to Buy Direct from Tesla

(p. 7B) Backed by dealership trade groups, several states, including Arizona, New Jersey, Maryland, Texas and Virginia, have banned or restricted Tesla from selling to the public.
The Iowa Department of Transportation asked Tesla to stop its West Des Moines test drives after being alerted to the event by the Iowa Automobile Dealers Association, said Paul Steier, director of the DOT’s Bureau of Investigation and Identity Protection.
. . .
State law requires auto dealers to be licensed, and by offering test drives, Tesla was acting as a dealer, Steier said. “You can’t just set up in a hotel parking lot and sell cars,” said Bruce Anderson, president of the Iowa Automobile Dealers Association. “This is a regulated industry.”

For the full story, see:
Joel Aschbrenner, The Des Moines Register. “With Farm Robotics, the Cows Decide When It’s Milking Time.” USA Today (Weds., September 26, 2014): 7B.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date September 25, 2014, and differs in some respects from the print version. In the quotes above, I have followed the print version.)

Robotic Milkers Are Less Costly, Easier to Manage and More Humane to Cows

(p. A1) EASTON, N.Y. — Something strange is happening at farms in upstate New York. The cows are milking themselves.
Desperate for reliable labor and buoyed by soaring prices, dairy operations across the state are charging into a brave new world of udder care: robotic milkers, which feed and milk cow after cow without the help of a single farmhand.
Scores of the machines have popped up across New York’s dairy belt and in other states in recent years, changing age-old patterns of daily farm life and reinvigorating the allure of agriculture for a younger, tech-savvy — and manure-averse — generation.
. . .
The cows seem to like it, too.
Robots allow the cows to set their own hours, lining up for automated milking five or six times a day — turning the predawn and late-afternoon sessions (p. A19) around which dairy farmers long built their lives into a thing of the past.
With transponders around their necks, the cows get individualized service. Lasers scan and map their underbellies, and a computer charts each animal’s “milking speed,” a critical factor in a 24-hour-a-day operation.
. . .
The Bordens and other farmers say a major force is cutting labor costs — health insurance, room and board, overtime, and workers’ compensation insurance — particularly when immigration reform is stalled in Washington and dependable help is hard to procure.
The machines also never complain about getting up early, working late or being kicked.
“It’s tough to find people to do it well and show up on time,” said Tim Kurtz, who installed four robotic milkers last year at his farm in Berks County, Pa. “And you don’t have to worry about that with a robot.”
The Bordens say the machines allow them to do more of what they love: caring for animals.
“I’d rather be a cow manager,” Tom Borden said, “than a people manager.”

For the full story, see:
JESSE McKINLEY. “With Farm Robotics, the Cows Decide When It’s Milking Time.” The New York Times (Weds., APRIL 23, 2014): A1 & A19.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 22, 2014.)

Major Cancer Drugs Have Come from Unexpected Sources

(p. 182) Starting in the last decades of the twentieth century, last decades of the twentieth century, sophisticated genetics and molecular biology have been aimed toward a more precise understanding of the cell’s mechanisms. Yet, even here, chance has continued to be a big factor. Surprising discoveries led to uncovering cancer-inducing genes (oncogenes) and tumor-suppressing genes, both of which are normal cellular genes that, when mutated, can induce a biological effect that predisposes the cell to cancer development. A search for blood substitutes led to anti-angiogenesis drugs. Veterinary medicine led to oncogenes and vaccine preparations to tumor-suppressor genes. In one of the greatest serendipitous discoveries of (p. 183) modern medicine, stem cells were stumbled upon during research on radiation effects on the blood.
Experience has clearly shown that major cancer drugs have been discovered by independent, thoughtful, and self-motivated researchers–the cancer war’s “guerrillas,” to use the reigning metaphor–from unexpected sources: from chemical warfare (nitrogen mustard), nutritional research (methotrexate), medicinal folklore (the vinca alkaloids), bacteriologic research (cisplatin), biochemistry research (sex hormones), blood storage research (angiogenic inhibitors), clinical observations (COX-2 inhibitors), and embryology (thalidomide).

Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

Affordable Care Act Reduces GDP, Employment and Labor Income

(p. A17) Whether the Affordable Care Act lives up to its name depends on how, or whether, you consider its consequences for the wider economy.
. . .
I estimate that the ACA’s long-term impact will include about 3% less weekly employment, 3% fewer aggregate work hours, 2% less GDP and 2% less labor income. These effects will be visible and obvious by 2017, if not before. The employment and hours estimates are based on the combined amount of the law’s new taxes and disincentives and on historical research on the aggregate effects of each dollar of taxation. The GDP and income estimates reflect lower amounts of labor as well as the law’s effects on the productivity of each hour of labor.
. . .
The Affordable Care Act is weakening the economy. And for the large number of families and individuals who continue to pay for their own health care, health care is now less affordable.

For the full commentary, see:
CASEY B. MULLIGAN. “OPINION; The Myth of ObamaCare’s Affordability; The law’s perverse incentives will have the nation working fewer hours, and working those hours less productively.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., SEPTEMBER 9, 2014): A17.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date SEPTEMBER 8, 2014.)

Mulligan’s research on the effects of Obamacare is detailed in his Kindle e-book:
Mulligan, Casey B. Side Effects: The Economic Consequences of the Health Reform. Flossmoor, IL: JMJ Economics, 2014.

Cat Stevens Protests New York Government Ban on Paperless Tickets

(p. C3) Yusuf, the singer until recently called Yusuf Islam, but better known as Cat Stevens for his 1970s hits like “Peace Train,” has canceled a concert at the Beacon Theater in frustration over New York state laws on ticket scalping.
. . .
“I have been a longtime supporter of paperless tickets to my shows worldwide and avoiding scalpers,” Yusuf wrote. “Unfortunately NY has a state law that requires all tickets sold for shows in NYC to be paper, enabling them to be bought and sold at inflated prices.”
After heavy lobbying by the ticketing industry, New York passed a law in 2010, which has since been renewed, requiring promoters to offer customers the option of transferrable tickets.

For the full story, see:
BEN SISARIO. “Cat Stevens Cancels Show and Cites Ticket Law.” The New York Times (Thurs., SEPTEMBER 25, 2014): C3.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPTEMBER 24, 2014, and has the title “Yusuf, the Former Cat Stevens, Cancels New York Concert.”)

Socialist Price Setting Causes Shortages of Corn Flour, Car Batteries and Toilet Paper

(p. B1) Venezuela’s prices on everything from butter to flat-screen TVs are set without warning by the government, which also caps corporate profits at 30%. Any profits evaporate quickly, however, because inflation is almost double that.
And expanded price controls imposed by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who succeeded late leftist firebrand Hugo Chávez in April 2013, have exacerbated shortages of basic items such as corn flour, car batteries and toilet paper, triggering violent street protests since early February.

For the full story, see:
MAXWELL MURPHY and KEJAL VYAS. “CFO JOURNAL; Currency Chaos in Venezuela Portends Write-Downs.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., May 27, 2014): B1 & B6.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 26, 2014.)

Cancer Gains Have Not Come from “Centralized Direction”

(p. 180) The truth remains that over the course of the twentieth century, the greatest gains in the battle against cancer came from independent research that was not under any sort of centralized direction and that did not have vast resources at its disposal. As we have seen, such research led to momentous chance discoveries in cancer chemotherapy and a greater understanding of the mechanisms of the disease that have resulted in exciting new therapeutic approaches.

Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

Robert Morris Financed the Revolutionary War, and Private Ventures, But Ended in Debtors’ Prison

(p. C7) The Philadelphia merchant banker Robert Morris, reputedly the richest man in Revolutionary America, performed prodigies in financing the war and then staving off the new country’s insolvency. He was bullish on America’s future, and when he returned to private life in 1784, he initiated a variety of ventures–a fleet of ships trading with China and India, multiple manufacturing enterprises, and, not least, vast assemblages of unimproved interior land–that eventually landed him in debtors’ prison. Ryan K. Smith offers a readable and enlightening portrait of this busy and turbulent life in “Robert Morris’s Folly.”

For the full review, see:
CHARLES R. MORRIS. “Financing the Founders; Morris built a French-style palace out of Pennsylvania logs in the hope that Marie Antoinette would visit.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., AUG. 30, 2014): C7.
(Note: the online version of the review has the date AUG. 29, 2014, and has the title “Book Review: ‘Robert Morris’s Folly’ by Ryan K. Smith; Robert Morris built a French-style palace out of Pennsylvania logs in the hope that Marie Antoinette would visit.”)

The book being reviewed is:
Smith, Ryan K. Robert Morris’s Folly: The Architectural and Financial Failures of an American Founder, The Lewis Walpole Series in Eighteenth-Century Culture and History. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014.