More Job Security as Factory Work Requires More Technical Skills

(p. A3) A yearslong decline in the number of layoffs is providing a renewed level of job security to factory workers, who had seen their ranks thin since the late 1970s.
. . .
“We’ve become much more careful about letting people go,” said David Nicholson, chief executive of PVS Chemicals Inc., a Detroit manufacturer with 850 employees. “Most manufacturing jobs today are technology jobs. It takes a long time to train someone for that role, so you’re reluctant to let them go for what could be a short-term slowdown.”

For the full story, see:
Eric Morath. “Job Security Is a New Perk of Factory Employment.” The Wall Street Journals (Wednesday, July 11, 2018): A3.
(Notes: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 10, 2018, and has the title “Factory Workers’ New Perk: Job Security.”)

Disneyland Opened in “Confusion,” “Disorder,” and “Chaos”

(p. B11) On the mid-July day in 1955 when Disneyland opened in Anaheim, Calif., confusion reigned. More people stormed its grounds than expected, rides broke down, food and beverage supplies ran short, and a plumbers’ strike limited the number of working water fountains.
Out in the park that afternoon, amid the disorder, was Marty Sklar, a 21-year-old college junior who was editing the theme park’s 10-cent newspaper. At one point Fess Parker, in full costume as Disney’s television and big-screen Davy Crockett, complete with coonskin cap, approached him on horseback.
Spotting Mr. Sklar’s name tag, Mr. Parker called out for help.
“Marty,” he said, “get me out of here before this horse hurts someone!”
Disneyland recovered well from the early chaos. And Mr. Sklar went on to spend more than a half-century at the Walt Disney Company, as a close aide to Walt Disney himself and eventually as the principal creative executive of the company’s Imagineering unit, made up of the innovators who blend their imaginations and their technical expertise in devising every element of the company’s theme parks.
. . .
He soon became Mr. Disney’s chief ghostwriter for publicity materials, dedications, souvenir guides, speeches, slogans, presentations and short films, like the one that helped the company win approval to build Walt Disney World and Epcot in central Florida. He also collaborated with Walt and his brother, Roy, on Disney’s annual reports.
“It was pretty heady stuff for someone just closing in on his 30th birthday and only six or seven years out of college,” Mr. Sklar wrote in his autobiography, “Dream It! Do It: My Half-Century Creating Disney’s Magic Kingdoms” (2013).

For the full obituary, see:
Richard Sandomir. “Marty Sklar Dies at 83; Became Trusted Aide And Executive at Disney.” The New York Times (Friday, Aug. 4, 2017): B11.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Aug. 3, 2017, and has the title “Marty Sklar, Longtime Disney Aide and Executive, Dies at 83.”)

Sklar’s autobiography, mentioned above, is:
Sklar, Martin. Dream It! Do It!: My Half-Century Creating Disney’s Magic Kingdoms. Glendale, CA: Disney Editions, 2013.

Floating Nuclear Power Plants May Be Cheaper, Greener, and Safer

(p. B5) MURMANSK, Russia — Along the shore of Kola Bay in the far northwest of Russia lie bases for the country’s nuclear submarines and icebreakers. Low, rocky hills descend to an industrial waterfront of docks, cranes and railway tracks. Out on the bay, submarines have for decades stalked the azure waters, traveling between their port and the ocean depths.
Here, Russia is conducting an experiment with nuclear power, one that backers say is a leading-edge feat of engineering but that critics call reckless.
The country is unveiling a floating nuclear power plant.
Tied to a wharf in the city of Murmansk, the Akademik Lomonosov rocks gently in the waves. The buoyant facility, made of two miniature reactors of a type used previously on submarines, is for now the only one of its kind.
Moscow, while leading the trend, is far from alone in seeing potential in floating nuclear plants. Two state-backed companies in China are building such facilities, (p. B5) and American scientists have drawn up plans of their own. Proponents say they are cheaper, greener and, perhaps counterintuitively, safer. They envision a future when nuclear power stations bob off the coasts of major cities around the world.
“They are light-years ahead of us,” Jacopo Buongiorno, a professor of nuclear engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said of the Russian floating power program.
Rosatom, the Russian state nuclear company, has exported nuclear technology for years, selling plants in China, India and a host of developing nations. But smaller reactors effectively placed on floats can be assembled more quickly, be put in a wider range of locations and respond more nimbly to fluctuating supply on power grids that increasingly rely on wind and solar.
The Russian design involves using submarine-style reactors loaded onto vessels, with a hatch near the bow to plug them into local electrical grids. The reactors will generate a combined 70 megawatts of electricity, or enough to power about 70,000 typical American homes. Rosatom plans to serially produce such floating nuclear plants, and is exploring various business plans, including retaining ownership of the reactors while selling the electricity they generate.

For the full story, see:
Andrew E. Kramer. “Drifting toward the Future.” The New York Times (Monday, Aug. 27, 2018): B1 & B5.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 26, 2018, and has the title “The Nuclear Power Plant of the Future May Be Floating Near Russia.” The online version says that the title of the New York edition version was “Rocking the Nuclear Boat.”)

A.I. Frees Workers from Drudgery More Than It Eliminates Jobs

(p. B1) New software is automating mundane office tasks in operations like accounting, billing, payments and customer service. The programs can scan documents, enter numbers into spreadsheets, check the accuracy of customer records and make payments with a few automated computer keystrokes.
The technology is still in its infancy, but it will get better, learning as it goes. So far, often in pilot projects focused on menial tasks, artificial intelligence is freeing workers from drudgery far more often than it is eliminating jobs.
. . .
(p. B4) The recent research has examined jobs as bundles of tasks, some of which seem ripe for replacement and others not. So the technology’s immediate impact will resemble the experience to date with robotic software, changing work more than destroying jobs.

For the full story, see:
Lohr, Steve. “Menial Tasks Ease A.I.’s Way Into Workplace.” The New York Times (Monday, Aug. 6, 2018): B1 & B4.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 5, 2018, and has the title “‘The Beginning of a Wave’: A.I. Tiptoes Into the Workplace.”)

“Tesla Is His Baby”

(p. B5) “Tesla is his baby,” said Deepak Ahuja, Tesla’s chief financial officer. “He takes it extremely personally.”
. . .
In preparing the assembly lines, Mr. Musk became convinced that the process should be close to fully automated, using robots rather than humans whenever possible. Doing so, he believed, could make cars move through the factory at one meter per second, 10 to 20 times the speed of existing lines.
So Tesla built a factory with hundreds of robots, many programmed to perform tasks that humans could easily do. One robot, which Mr. Musk nicknamed the “flufferbot,” was designed to simply place a sound-dampening piece of fiberglass atop the battery pack.
But the flufferbot never really worked. It would fail to pick up the fiberglass, or put it in the wrong place, frequently delaying production. It was eventually replaced by factory workers.
Mr. Musk has accepted responsibility for some of these missteps, occasionally with humor. In late June, he wore a T-shirt depicting a robot that passes butter. It was an inside joke, lampooning the notion of technology for technology’s sake.
After the debacle, Mr. Musk tweeted: “Excessive automation at Tesla was a mistake. To be precise, my mistake. Humans are underrated.”
. . .
“He is absolutely working incredibly hard, but Elon has always worked incredibly hard,” said Mr. Ahuja, Tesla’s chief financial officer. “He’s very tough, too. He can eat glass.”
. . .
“I know that it has been a difficult year for him,” said Gwynne Shotwell, the SpaceX president and chief operating officer. “Not because he’s frowning or throwing things, but because I can tell he’s physically exhausted.”

For the full story, see:
David Gelles. “In Elon Musk’s World, Brakes Are for Cars, Not C.E.O.s.” The New York Times (Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018): B1 & B5.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 28, 2018, and has the title “MARSEILLE DISPATCH; Yes, There Is a French McDonald’s That Is Beloved (by Its Staff).”)

“Progress Isn’t Made by Looking in the Rearview Mirror”

(p. A9) Even in death, Donald Panoz defied convention. His family reported that Mr. Panoz, 83 years old, died of pancreatic cancer Sept. 11 [2018] at his home in Duluth, Ga., after he “enjoyed his last cigarette.”
The red-haired entrepreneur, an apostle of Ayn Rand, founded Elan Corp., which developed technology used in nicotine skin patches used to wean people from cigarettes.
. . .
“I never become hostage to anything I do,” he told the Atlanta paper. “Progress isn’t made by looking in the rearview mirror.”
. . .
His partner in founding Mylan, Milan “Mike” Puskar, once summed up Mr. Panoz this way: “There’s nothing college could have taught him. Don has vision, and you can’t teach vision. He’s not a technical person, but he’s a master salesman. He always wanted to know: Why not?”
Donald Eugene Panoz (pronounced PAY-nose) was born Feb. 13, 1935, in Alliance, Ohio, and grew up in West Virginia and Pittsburgh.
. . .
Mr. Panoz . . . moved his family to Ireland in 1969 to set up Elan, whose research projects included delivery of medicine via skin patches. He chose Ireland partly because it offered lower taxes and less red tape. Elan initially was known for reformulating medicines developed by other companies and later pursued research on drugs for multiple sclerosis and other diseases.
. . .
His business successes, he told the Scotsman newspaper in 2002, were “just about being able to recognize an opportunity.” He added: “We’ve had plenty of failures, too. We just don’t talk about them. It’s best to leave them behind.”
. . .
In line with his libertarian leanings, Mr. Panoz gave out copies of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” to his children and many others.

For the full obituary, see:
James R. Hagerty. “‘Restless Entrepreneur Founded Elan and Mylan.” The New York Times (Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018): A9.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)
(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Sept. 28, 2018, and has the title “‘Don Panoz Hopped From Pharmaceuticals to Wine, Resorts and Race Cars; Entrepreneur helped found Mylan and built Elan before setting up a winery and resort in northern Georgia.” The passages above, after the word “mirror,” appear in the online, but not in the print, version of the obituary.)

The novel by Ayn Rand, mentioned above, is:
Rand, Ayn. Atlas Shrugged. New York: Random House, 1957.

Outsiders in France Defend McDonald’s

(p. A4) MARSEILLE, France — The nearly 20-year-old images have entered French folklore: peasants, farmers and ex-hippies dismantling a rural McDonald’s, panel by panel, in what became a symbol of France’s resistance to American fast food.
Today that aging newsreel is being played in sharp reverse. A group of workers and their union leaders in Marseille are fighting tooth-and-nail to save a McDonald’s from closing in a working-class, largely immigrant neighborhood. A so-called “Festival of Dignity” protest was recently organized by the McDonald’s employees in an effort to save their roughly 70 jobs.
Even though McDonald’s was once seen as a cultural menace to a glorious French tradition, the workers say this particular McDonald’s, in its quarter-century of existence, has played a vital role as a social integrator in one of France’s most troubled districts — providing employment and shielding local youth from pervasive drug-dealing, getting them out of jail and helping them stay out.
“Look, we’re not thugs here,” said Kamel Guemari, the restaurant’s assistant manager, who was hired at age 16 and is now 37. “We’re working. And we’re setting an example for the others. We’re playing a social role.”

For the full story, see:
Adam Nossiter. “MARSEILLE DISPATCH; French Workers Fight to Save a Beloved McDonald’s.” The New York Times (Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018): A4.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 5, 2018, and has the title “MARSEILLE DISPATCH; Yes, There Is a French McDonald’s That Is Beloved (by Its Staff).”)