“Students Love It When We Share What We’re Passionate About”

(p. F5) NEW LONDON, Conn. — Between forkfuls of pad Thai, chicken and tofu, 20 Connecticut College faculty members listened as Michael Reder talked about teaching.
“The research shows that students love it when we share what we’re passionate about,” said the animated Mr. Reder, whose enthusiasm for teaching is infectious. “Students often say they want to be a name and known to the faculty. But what’s interesting is how much they also want to know about you. They want to hear about what you do and why you do it.”

For the full story, see:
JOHN HANC. “Professors as Teachers.” The New York Times (Thurs., JUNE 23, 2016): F5.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date JUNE 22, 2016, and has the title “Teaching Professors to Become Better Teachers.”)

New Technology Reveals Huge Helium Supplies

(p. A8) Helium’s role in superconductivity and other applications has grown so much that there have been occasional shortages. The gas forms in nature through radioactive decay of uranium and thorium, but exceedingly slowly; in practical terms, all the helium we will ever have already exists. And because it does not react with anything and is light, it can easily escape to the atmosphere.
. . .
But now scientists have figured out a way to explore specifically for helium. Using their techniques, they say, they have found a significant reserve of the gas in Tanzania that could help ease concerns about supplies.
. . .
Working with scientists from the University of Oxford and a small Norwegian start-up company called Helium One, the researchers prospected in a part of Tanzania where studies from the 1960s suggested helium might be seeping from the ground. The area is within the East African Rift, a region where one of Earth’s tectonic plates is splitting. The rifting has created many volcanoes.
Dr. Gluyas said the gas discovered in Tanzania may be as much as 10 percent helium, a huge proportion compared with most other sources. The researchers say the reservoir might contain as much as 54 billion cubic feet of the gas, or more than twice the amount currently in the Federal Helium Reserve, near Amarillo, Tex., which supplies about 40 percent of the helium used in the United States and is being drawn down.
The next step would be for Helium One or one of the major helium suppliers around the world to exploit the find.

For the full story, see:
HENRY FOUNTAIN. “A New Way to Search Out Elusive Helium.” The New York Times (Weds., JUNE 29, 2016): A8.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date JUNE 28, 2016, and has the title “Scientists Devise New Way to Find an Elusive Element: Helium.”)

“Entrepreneurs Can Appear in the Most Unpromising Environments”

(p. A11) Adam Fifield’s entertaining biography of the little-recognized Grant shows that entrepreneurs can appear in the most unpromising environments–such as within the dysfunctional bureaucracy of the United Nations.
. . .
While top-down planning is usually misguided in aid (and most everywhere else), it turned out to be suitable for the particular challenge of vaccinations. Unfortunately, the aid establishment learned the wrong lessons from Grant’s career. Instead of seeing him as an entrepreneur who saw a very specific unrealized opportunity to spread vaccination and oral rehydration salts, they viewed his success as vindicating top-down planning in general.
. . .
Those who came after Grant . . . seem to have developed even more of the paternalistic savior complex than he had–his counterparts today are the likes of Bono, Jeffrey Sachs and Bill Gates. But the condescending image of a powerful white male as the savior of helpless nonwhite children is thankfully a lot less acceptable today than it was in Grant’s time. Since 2000 we have witnessed the mainly homegrown economic growth of low- and middle-income countries surpassing that of rich countries–plus many other positive long-term trends from democratization to the explosion of cellphones. Aid alone cannot explain these large triumphs in poor countries. There is still room for humanitarian entrepreneurs like Grant to find new breakthroughs, but we can appreciate much more today that the poor are their own best saviors.​

For the full review, see:
WILLIAM EASTERLY. “BOOKSHELF; The Father of Millions; The Unicef breakthrough on vaccinations and oral rehydration salts is still cited today as one of the few successes in foreign aid.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Oct. 16, 2015): A11.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 15, 2015.)

The book under review, is:
Fifield, Adam. A Mighty Purpose: How Jim Grant Sold the World on Saving Its Children. New York: Other Press, 2015.

Majerus Did Not Need a Randomized Trial to Know that Aspirin Prevents Heart Attacks

(p. A21) Philip W. Majerus, a biochemist who was credited as being the first to theorize that taking small doses of aspirin regularly can prevent heart attacks and strokes in vulnerable patients, died last Wednesday [June 8, 2016] at his home in St. Louis. . . .
. . .
Even before his findings were confirmed in a study by other researchers a decade later, Dr. Majerus was taking aspirin daily.
“I was already convinced that aspirin prevented heart attacks,” he recalled in the journal Advances in Biological Regulation in 2014. “I was unwilling to be randomized into a trial where I might end up with the placebo. I refused to participate.”
Dr. Majerus recommended that “all adults should take an aspirin daily unless they are among the few percent of the population that cannot tolerate the drug.” The cardiovascular benefit of aspirin was fully achieved by 50 to 75 milligrams daily, he said, and “there is no evidence that branded aspirin, which is much more expensive, is in any way superior to the generic version.”
Later studies found that for people in their 50s who are vulnerable to heart disease, taking daily doses of aspirin reduces the risk of heart disease.
. . .
Investigating how aspirin inhibited clotting, Dr. Majerus concluded that the medicine modified an enzyme that leads to the formation of a platelet-made molecule that constricts blood vessels and aggregates platelets. The pills’ effect lasts for the platelets’ life span, typically about two weeks.
“Phil Majerus, more than any other individual, has produced the most original body of work on biochemistry of platelets as it relates to thrombosis,” Prof. Joseph L. Goldstein, a Nobel laureate at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, said when the Bristol-Myers Squibb Award was announced.

For the full obituary, see:
SAM ROBERTS. “Dr. Philip Majerus, Who Recognized Heart Benefits of Aspirin, Is Dead at 79.” The New York Times (Weds., JUNE 15, 2016): A23.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)
(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date JUNE 14, 2016, and has the title “Dr. Philip Majerus, Who Discerned Aspirin’s Heart Benefits, Dies at 79.”)

Universities Limit Free Speech

(p. F10) Ask Andrea M. Quenette if she thinks that colleges and universities are doing a good job refereeing the debate over free speech, and she’ll respond with an emphatic ‘no.’
“Schools are not doing enough to protect free speech,” Ms. Quenette, a communications professor at the University of Kansas, said in an email. “Specifically, they are protecting the speech of some, those whom they fear or those voices which are loudest, but they are not protecting the speech of those whose voices are easier to silence. Generally, these quieter voices are those of faculty and staff who should rightfully fear for their jobs should they use unpopular, but legally protected, words.”
. . .
According to a poll recently released by the Gallup Organization, 78 percent of 3,072 students from 32 four-year private and public colleges believed their campuses should strive to create an open environment where they would be exposed to a range of speech and views. Twenty-two percent noted that “colleges should prohibit biased or offensive speech in the furtherance of a positive learning environment.” But 69 percent favored limitations on speech when it came to language that was deliberately upsetting to some groups.
An October 2015 survey of 800 students nationwide, sponsored by the William F. Buckley, Jr. Program at Yale, reported that 63 percent favored requiring professors to use “trigger warnings” to alert students to subject matter that might be unsettling. By a 51 percent to 36 percent margin, students also supported speech codes to regulate speech for students and faculty.

For the full story, see:
ABBY ELLIN. “Studies in Free Speech.” The New York Times (Thurs., JUNE 23, 2016): F10.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date JUNE 22, 2016, and has the title “Studies in the First Amendment, Playing Out on Campus.”)

Computers and Humans as Complements Rather than Substitutes

(p. B1) “A lot of companies pushed hard on the idea that technology will solve every problem, and that we shouldn’t use humans,” said Paul English, the co-founder of a new online company called Lola Travel. (p. B10) “We think humans add value, so we’re trying to design technology to facilitate the human-to-human connection.”
. . .
“I tried to create the best travel website on the market,” he said. “But as good as we thought our tech was, there were many times where I thought I did a better job for people on the phone than our site could do.”
You’ve most likely experienced the headaches Mr. English is talking about. Think back to the last time you booked anything beyond a routine trip online. There’s a good chance you spent a lot more time and energy than you would have with a human. Sure, the Internet has obligingly stepped in to help; there are review sites, travel blogs, discussion forums and the hordes on social media to answer every possible travel question. But these resources only exacerbate the problem. They often turn what should be a fun activity into an hourslong research project.
. . .
In many cases, yes, but there remain vast realms of commerce in which guidance from a human expert works much better than a machine. Other than travel, consider the process of finding a handyman or plumber. The Internet has given us a wealth of data about these services. You could spend all day on Craigslist, Yelp or Angie’s List finding the best person for your job, which is precisely the problem.
“It’s going to be a long time until a computer can replace the estimating power of an experienced handyman,” said Doug Ludlow, the founder of the Happy Home Company, a one-year-old start-up that uses human experts to find the right person for your job. The company, which operates in the San Francisco Bay Area but plans to expand nationally, has contracts with a network of trusted service professionals in your area. To get some work done, you simply text your Happy Home manager with a description of the problem and maybe a few pictures.
“A quick glance from our handyman gives us an idea of who to send to your job, and what it will cost,” Mr. Ludlow said. The company handles payment processing, scheduling and any complaints if something goes wrong.
I recently used Happy Home to get a few home theater cables concealed in a wall. The experience was liberating — I found a handyman and a drywall specialist to do my job with little more than few texts, and no time spent scouring through web reviews.
It isn’t feasible to get humans involved in all of our purchases. Humans are costly and they’re limited in capacity. The great advantage of computers is that they “scale” — software can serve evermore customers for ever-lower prices.
But one of the ironies of the digital revolution is that it has also helped human expertise scale. Thanks to texting, human customer service agents can now serve multiple customers at a time. They can also access reams of data about your preferences, allowing them to quickly find answers for your questions.
As a result, for certain purchases, the cost of adding human expertise can be a trivial part of the overall transaction. Happy Home takes a cut of each service it sets up, but because it can squeeze out certain efficiencies from operating a network of service professionals, its prices match what you’d find looking for a handyman on your own. That’s true of human travel agencies, too — the commissions on travel are so good that Lola can afford to throw in human expertise almost as a kind of bonus.
The rise of computers is often portrayed as a great threat to all of our jobs. But these services sketch out a more optimistic scenario: That humans and machines will work together, and we, as customers, will be allowed, once more, to lazily beg for help.

For the full commentary, see:
Manjoo, Farhad. “State of the Art; The Machines Rose, but Now Start-Ups Add Human Touch.” The New York Times (Thurs., DEC. 17, 2015): B1 & B10.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date DEC. 16, 2015, and has the title “State of the Art; In a Self-Serve World, Start-Ups Find Value in Human Helpers.”)

Edgar Speyer Was Entrepreneur Who Created Innovative London Tube Infrastructure

(p. A13) Before World War I, Edgar Speyer headed the London branch of the German-based Speyer banking conglomerate. Among other things, he was a great lover of music. His mansion on Grosvenor Square was a cynosure for composers– Debussy, Elgar, Richard Strauss, Schoenberg–all of whom availed themselves of the luxuries of the house, playing or conducting their work in private performances. “We live even more elegantly than kings and emperors,” Grieg wrote, referring to the mansion’s suite of rooms for visitors.
Not all of Edgar Speyer’s interests were so ethereal. The British Speyer branch was a key source of railroad finance, and Edgar himself was best known for creating–in partnership with Charles Yerkes, a Chicago entrepreneur–the London tube system, with its innovative “deep-tube” design. Edgar persisted in expanding the system despite its precarious finances and for many years functioned as its chief executive.
. . .
The Speyer bank, Mr. Liebmann tells us, had roots going back to the 14th century, at the threshold of a long surge in international commerce. New forms of paper–bills of exchange, letters of credit and much else–allowed traders to leverage up their businesses quite remarkably. Over time, houses like those of Baring, Rothschild and Speyer shifted out of their traditional-goods trading for the higher volumes and higher fees available from trading just the paper claims. The Speyers were known as the leading investment and trading house in Frankfurt, Germany, usually ranked just behind the Rothschilds in the Jewish financial imperium.

For the full review, see:

CHARLES R. MORRIS. “BOOKSHELF; Second Only to the Rothschilds; Speyer banks funded the London underground, placed the first Union Civil War bonds in Europe and built the Madeira-Mamore railroad.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Jan. 26, 2016): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 25, 2016.)

The book under review, is:
Liebmann, George W. The Fall of the House of Speyer: The Story of a Banking Dynasty. London: I.B. Tauris & Co., 2015.