“The Ideological Insistence on Renewables and an Irrational Fear of Nuclear Power”

(p. A25) Berkeley, Calif. — CALIFORNIA has a reputation as a leader in battling climate change, and so when Pacific Gas & Electric and environmental groups announced a plan last week to close the state’s last nuclear plant, Diablo Canyon, and replace much of the electricity it generates with power from renewable resources, the deal was widely applauded.
It shouldn’t have been. If the proposal is approved by the state’s Public Utilities Commission, California’s carbon dioxide emissions will either increase or decline far less than if Diablo Canyon’s two reactors, which generated about 9 percent of the state’s electricity last year, remained in operation. If this deal goes through, California will become a model of how not to deal with climate change.
. . .
Nearly every time a nuclear plant has been closed, its energy production has been replaced almost entirely with fossil fuels, including in California. In 2012, when the San Onofre nuclear plant closed, natural gas became the main replacement power source, creating emissions of carbon dioxide equivalent to putting two million cars on the road.
. . .
Even if by some miracle California did manage to replace 100 percent of Diablo Canyon’s output with renewables, why would a state ostensibly concerned with climate change turn away from its largest single source of clean energy? The answer, as is perhaps obvious, is the ideological insistence on renewables and an irrational fear of nuclear power.
The only countries that have successfully moved from fossil fuels to low-carbon power have done so with the help of nuclear energy. And the backlash against antinuclear policies is growing. Increasingly, scientists and conservationists in the United States are speaking out in defense of nuclear power.
If California indeed closes Diablo Canyon, emissions will either rise or fail to fall as quickly as they could, and the antinuclear agenda will be exposed as anathema to climate protection.

For the full commentary, see:
MICHAEL SHELLENBERGER. “How Not to Deal With Climate Change.” The New York Times (Thurs., June 30, 2016): A25.
(Note: ellipses added.)

Laws to Protect “Endangered” Species “Lag Far Behind Scientific Research”

(p. A19) The first large study of North American wolf genomes has found that there is only one species on the continent: the gray wolf. Two other purported species, the Eastern wolf and the red wolf, are mixes of gray wolf and coyote DNA, the scientists behind the study concluded.
The finding, announced Wednesday, highlights the shortcomings of laws intended to protect endangered species, as such laws lag far behind scientific research into the evolution of species.
The gray wolf and red wolf were listed as endangered in the lower 48 states under the Endangered Species Act in the 1970s and remain protected today, to the periodic consternation of ranchers and agricultural interests.

For the full story, see:
Zimmer, Carl. “The One and Only Wolf Species of North America.” The New York Times (Thurs., JULY 28, 2016): A19.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JULY 27, 2016, and has the title “MATTER; DNA Study Reveals the One and Only Wolf Species in North America.”)

Murders Up More than 10% in U.S. in 2015

(p. A1) Murders in the U.S. jumped 10.8% in 2015, according to figures released Monday by the Federal Bureau of Investigation–a sharp increase that could fuel concerns that the nation’s two-decade trend of falling crime may be ending.
The figures had been expected to rise, after preliminary data released earlier this year indicated violent crime and murders were climbing. But the double-digit increase in murders dwarfed any of the past 20 years, in which the biggest one-year jump was 3.7% in 2005.

For the full story, see:
DEVLIN BARRETT. “Increase in Murders Sharpest in Decades.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Sept. 27, 2016): A1-A2.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 26, 2016, and has the title “U.S. Murders Increased 10.8% in 2015.”)

Those Who See, and Fill, Big Unmet Needs Are Often “Weirdos”

(p. A11) . . . “A Truck Full of Money” provides a portrait of a strange, troubled man who happens to be one of the smartest minds in the Route 128 tech corridor.
. . .
The book is being marketed as inspirational, but I found it to be the opposite. No one could read it and become Paul English, or want to. Most tech startups think too small, but the few people with the vision to identify big unmet needs seem to be, for whatever reason, weirdos. The split-second fare comparison that Kayak did is something no human being could do–it requires super-computing–and it has an enormous value, since 8% of the U.S. economy is travel. But once you’ve solved a problem like that, what do you do next?
Paul English hasn’t figured that out, so this book sort of peters out–he may do his once-in-a-lifetime charity project, or he may follow through on Blade–and he has retreated back into the familiar, running a company called Lola that is sort of the opposite of Kayak: It gives you live access to travel concierges. But how could Mr. Kidder’s ending be anything but inconclusive? Mr. English is just 53. Undoubtedly he has another billion-dollar idea nestled in that overactive brainpan, but his investors have to make a leap of faith–that they’ve bet on the right weirdo. God bless these genius geeks, who make our economy leaner by constantly finding more efficient ways to do old things. And God bless the pharmaceutical industry, which protects and preserves them.​

For the full review, see:
JOHN BLOOM. “BOOKSHELF; The Man Who Built Kayak; During one episode of hypomania, Paul English bid $500,000 on an abandoned lighthouse. Recently, he decided to become an Uber driver.” The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Sept. 27, 2016): A11.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sept. 26, 2016.)

The book under review, is:
Kidder, Tracy. A Truck Full of Money: One Man’s Quest to Recover from Great Success. New York: Random House, 2016.

Making Technologies Useful to End Users Can Be Hard

Sharma’s theory sounds somewhat similar to that of Bhidé in his The Venturesome Economy.

(p. B4) Anshu​ Sharma,​ a venture capitalist at Storm Ventures, thinks he knows why so many companies that should have all the resources and brainpower required to build the next big thing so often fail to. He calls his thesis the “stack fallacy,” and though he sketched its outline in a recent essay, I found it so compelling that I thought it worth a more thorough exploration of the implications of his theory. What follows is the result of that conversation.

“Stack fallacy is the mistaken belief that it is trivial to build the layer above yours,” Mr. Sharma wrote. And as someone who worked at both Oracle and Salesforce, his exhibit A is these two companies. To Oracle, which is primarily a database company, Salesforce is just a “hosted database app,” he wrote. and yet despite spending millions on it, Oracle has been unable to beat Salesforce in Salesforce’s core competency, notably customer-relations management software.
It helps to understand that in tech, the “stack” is the layer cake of technology, one level of abstraction sitting atop the next, that ultimately delivers a product or service to the user. On the Internet, for example, there is a stack of technologies stretching from the server through the operating system running on it through a cloud abstraction layer and then the apps running atop that, until you reach the user. Even the electricity grid required to power the data center in which the server lives could be considered part of the technology “stack” of, say, your favorite email service.
. . .
The reason that companies fail when they try to move up the stack is simple, argues Mr. Sharma: They don’t have firsthand empathy for what customers of the product one level above theirs in the stack actually want. Database engineers at Oracle don’t know what supply-chain managers at Fortune 500 companies want out of an enterprise resource-planning system like SAP, but that hasn’t stopped Oracle from trying to compete in that space.

For the full commentary, see:
CHRISTOPHER MIMS. “Why Companies Are Being Disrupted.” The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Jan. 25, 2016): B4.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the title “Why Big Companies Keep Getting Disrupted.” The last sentence quoted above appears in the online, but not the print, version of the article.)

Sharma’s blog essay mentioned above, is:
Sharma, Anshu. “Why Big Companies Keep Failing: The Stack Fallacy.” On Crunch Network blog, Posted Jan. 18, 2016.

The Bhidé book that I mention way above, is:
Bhidé, Amar. The Venturesome Economy: How Innovation Sustains Prosperity in a More Connected World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008.

A briefer version of Bhidé’s theory can be found in:
Bhidé, Amar. “The Venturesome Economy: How Innovation Sustains Prosperity in a More Connected World.” Journal of Applied Corporate Finance 21, no. 1 (Winter 2009): 8-23.

Censored and Walled-Off Internet Hurts Chinese Start-Ups

(p. B1) Two decades after Beijing began walling off its homegrown internet from the rest of the planet, the digital world has split between China and everybody else. That has prevented American technology companies like Facebook and Uber, which recently agreed to sell its China operations, from independently being able to tap the Chinese market.
For China’s web companies, the divide may have even more significant implications.
It has penned in the country’s biggest and most innovative internet companies. Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent have grown to be some of the world’s largest internet companies, but they rely almost entirely on domestic businesses. Their ventures abroad have been mostly desultory, and prognostications that they will challenge American giants internationally have (p. B2) not materialized.
. . .
In many ways, the split is like 19th century railroads in the United States, when rails of different sizes hindered a train’s ability to go from one place to another.
“The barrier to entering the U.S. or China market is becoming higher and higher,” said Kai-fu Lee, a venture investor from Taiwan and former head of Google China.
The difficulties that China’s internet companies face in expanding their success abroad are epitomized by WeChat, the messaging app owned by Tencent.
. . .
Critics pointed to Tencent’s lack of distinctive marketing, a record of censorship and surveillance in China and its late arrival to foreign markets. Yet the biggest problem was that outside of China, WeChat was just not the same. Within China, WeChat can be used to do almost everything, like pay bills, hail a taxi, book a doctor’s appointment, share photos and chat. Yet its ability to do that is dependent on other Chinese internet services that are limited outside the country.

For the full story, see:
PAUL MOZUR. “Internet’s Great Wall.” The New York Times (Weds., AUG. 10, 2016): B1-B2.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date AUG. 9, 2016, and has the title “Chinese Tech Firms Forced to Choose Market: Home or Everywhere Else.”)

Modern Technology Adds to Knowledge of Culture and Religion

(p. A6) Nearly half a century ago, archaeologists found a charred ancient scroll in the ark of a synagogue on the western shore of the Dead Sea.
The lump of carbonized parchment could not be opened or read. Its curators did nothing but conserve it, hoping that new technology might one day emerge to make the scroll legible.
Just such a technology has now been perfected by computer scientists at the University of Kentucky. Working with biblical scholars in Jerusalem, they have used a computer to unfurl a digital image of the scroll.
It turns out to hold a fragment identical to the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible and, at nearly 2,000 years old, is the earliest instance of the text.
The writing retrieved by the computer from the digital image of the unopened scroll is amazingly clear and legible, in contrast to the scroll’s blackened and beaten-up exterior. “Never in our wildest dreams did we think anything would come of it,” said Pnina Shor, the head of the Dead Sea Scrolls Project at the Israel Antiquities Authority.
Scholars say this remarkable new technique may make it possible to read other scrolls too brittle to be unrolled.
. . .
The experts say this new method may make it possible to read other ancient scrolls, including several Dead Sea scrolls and about 300 carbonized ones from Herculaneum, which were destroyed by the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79.
. . .
The feat of recovering the text was made possible by software programs developed by W. Brent Seales, a computer scientist at the University of Kentucky. Inspired by the hope of reading the many charred and unopenable scrolls found at Herculaneum, near Pompeii in Italy, Dr. Seales has been working for the last 13 years on ways to read the text inside an ancient scroll.
. . .
He succeeded in 2009 in working out the physical structure of the ruffled layers of papyrus in a Herculaneum scroll.
He has since developed a method, called virtual unwrapping, to model the surface of an ancient scroll in the form of a mesh of tiny triangles. Each triangle can be resized by the computer until the virtual surface makes the best fit to the internal structure of the scroll, as revealed by the scanning method. The blobs of ink are assigned to their right place on the structure, and the computer then unfolds the whole 3-D structure into a 2-D sheet.

For the full story, see:
NICHOLAS WADE. “Technology Unlocks Secrets of a Biblical Scroll.” The New York Times (Thurs., SEPT. 22, 2016): A6.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date SEPT. 21, 2016, and has the title “Modern Technology Unlocks Secrets of a Damaged Biblical Scroll.”)