Patenting a Better Vacuum Tube as Semiconductors Emerge

After his disappointing improved-vacuum-tube invention (see below), Kates did not give up. He went on to make important contributions in coordinating traffic lights to ease traffic flows.

(p. A9) When he demonstrated a computer tic-tac-toe game called Bertie the Brain in 1950, Josef Kates thought he was on the verge of making a fortune. The game, introduced at the Canadian National Exhibition, featured streamlined vacuum tubes invented by the Austrian-born Dr. Kates, who came to Canada in the 1940s as a refugee from Nazism. He hoped the tubes would revolutionize computing.

His timing was off. The rise of semiconductors was about to render vacuum tubes obsolete as computer components. “I got the patent, but the patent was useless,” he said in an oral history. “Okay, so on goes the world.”

For the full obituary, see:

James R. Hagerty. “Refugee Crunched Data to Unsnarl Traffic Jams.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, July 28, 2018): A9.

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date July 27, 2018, and has the title “Josef Kates Found Ways to Unsnarl Traffic and Solve Business Problems With Computers.”)

75% “of All Wealth Is Created Anew in Each Generation”

(p. A17) Despite the liberal background of the author, however, “A Century of Wealth in America” offers comfort and support to those who favor less wealth taxation. A core element of Mr. Piketty’s indictment of contemporary wealth inequality was his claim that inheritance is the major source of wealth; he estimated that, given the slower economic growth that most economists anticipate in the future, inherited wealth would soon constitute 90% of wealth in economies such as that of the United States. But Mr. Wolff finds that, for modern America, wealth inheritance explains a much more modest share of private wealth: In 1989-2013, it was 23% on average. In other words, more than three-quarters of all wealth is created anew in each generation in the U.S. . . .

Even more surprising, inherited wealth is much more important in the lives of those who have relatively little wealth than it is in the lives of the super rich. For the top 1% of wealth holders from 1989 to 2013, inherited wealth accounted for only 17% of their assets. (The 1%, in this analysis, is an overwhelmingly self-made group.) By contrast, for those with assets of just $25,000-$50,000, inherited wealth accounted for 52% of their worth.

As a bizarre consequence of this pattern, African-Americans, who have low levels of net worth on average, are the social group for which inherited wealth represents the largest share of their net worth. Another odd implication is that inheritances tend to make overall wealth-holding more equal. Were inherited wealth to be completely abolished, the wealth of the poor would decline more than that of the rich. Inherited wealth is the great equalizer. Who knew?

. . .

. . . , Mr. Wolff calculates that the rich are not systematically generating higher returns on their assets than more modest wealth holders. The top 1% had a real return on net worth of around 3% over the 30 years from 1983 to 2013—the same return as the average wealth holder.

For the full review, see:

Gregory Clark. “BOOKSHELF; How the Richest Got That Way; In the U.S. more than three-quarters of all wealth is created anew in each generation, and the ‘1%’ is an overwhelmingly self-made group.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, December 12, 2017): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 11, 2017, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; Review: How the Richest Got That Way; In the U.S. more than three-quarters of all wealth is created anew in each generation, and the ‘1%’ is an overwhelmingly self-made group.”)

The book under review is:

Wolff, Edward N. A Century of Wealth in America. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2017.

Manic Energy from Bipolar Disorder May Enable “Heights of Success”

(p. A17) Dr. Ronald R. Fieve, who was a pioneer in the prescription of lithium to treat mania and other mood disorders — while avowing that some gifted individuals, like Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, might have benefited from being bipolar — died on Jan. 2 [2018] at his home in Palm Beach, Fla.

. . .

He cited estimates that as many as one in 15 people experienced a manic episode during their lifetimes, and that bipolar disorder — characterized by swings from elation, hyperactivity and a decreased need for sleep to incapacitating depression — was often misclassified as schizophrenia or other illnesses, or undiagnosed altogether.

He cautioned, however, that some highly creative, exuberant and energetic people have derived benefits from the condition because they have what he called “a hypomanic edge.”

“I have found that some of the most gifted individuals in our society suffer from this condition — including many outstanding writers, politicians, business executives and scientists — where tremendous amounts of manic energy have enabled them to achieve their heights of success,” Dr. Fieve told a symposium in 1973.

But without proper treatment, he said, those individuals afflicted with manic depression “more often than not either go too ‘high’ or suddenly crash into a devastating depression that we only hear about after a successful suicide.”

In contrast to antidepressant drugs or electroshock treatments, he said, regular doses of lithium carbonate appeared to stabilize mood swings without cramping creativity, memory or personality.

. . .

Before it was approved to treat depression, lithium was found in the late 1940s to be potentially unsafe as a salt substitute. But Dr. Fieve pointed out that lithium had been found in natural mineral waters prescribed by Greek and Roman physicians 1,500 years earlier to treat what were then called manic insanity and melancholia.

For the full obituary, see:

Sam Roberts. “Dr. Ronald Fieve, Pioneer In Lithium, Is Dead at 87.” The New York Times (Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018): A17.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Jan. 12, 2018, and has the title “Dr. Ronald Fieve, 87, Dies; Pioneered Lithium to Treat Mood Swings.”)

Plastic Bags Have Lower Carbon Footprint Than Paper or Cotton Bags

(p. B5) The backlash against single-use plastic has engulfed straws, bags and takeout containers, but the plastics industry is fighting back, arguing alternatives can be worse for the environment and disruptive for businesses.

. . .

Critics of bans say single-use plastic bags are often used several times, and that they can be recycled at many supermarkets.

The American Progressive Bag Alliance, a trade body for plastic-bag manufacturers, is battling proposed bag bans in states including Maine and New Jersey.

. . .

The APBA highlights a U.K. government analysis that found paper bags must be used three times for their carbon footprint to drop below that of single-use plastic bags made from high-density polyethylene—or HDPE—and cotton bags 131 times. The study measured the impact of making paper bags by counting the use of energy and palm oil, and the disposal of ash from production. It said growing cotton and producing yarn depletes natural resources, emits damaging chemicals and depletes oxygen in water bodies.

The trade group, which says bans aren’t successful at reducing overall waste, said a study found thicker, reusable plastic bags wound up in Austin’s waste stream after the Texas city banned single-use plastic bags in 2013.

. . .

Some companies feel caught in the middle. McDonald’s Corp. scrapped plastic straws in the U.K. last year but now faces a backlash. Over 44,000 people recently signed a petition calling for the chain to bring back plastic straws, complaining that paper replacements go soggy and make it hard to drink milk shakes.

Others point to their use of plastics as a sustainability selling point.

Garçon Wines—a London-based firm that makes flat plastic wine bottles that fit through a mail slot—said its recycled bottles are 87% lighter than glass and shaped to allow more wine to be shipped in the same space, reducing emissions.

For the full story, see:

Saabira Chaudhuri. “In Plastics War, the Industry Fights Back.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, May 21, 2019): B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 20, 2019, and the title “In Plastic-Bag Wars, the Industry Fights Back.” Where there are minor differences in wording, the passages quoted above follow the online version.)

“He Wrote Simple Declarative Sentences That People Could Read”

(p. B16) Steve Dunleavy, a hell-raising Australian who transfused his adrenaline into tabloid newspapers and television as a party crasher to American journalism, died on Monday [June 24, 2019] at his home in Island Park, N.Y.

. . .

He was said to have been the model for Wayne Gale, the manic Australian reporter played by Robert Downey Jr. in Oliver Stone’s 1994 film “Natural Born Killers.” But he gravitated closer to the Runyonesque characters in Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s play “The Front Page” from 1928.

. . .

After the actress Ava Gardner rejected his invitation to be interviewed at a nightclub and threw a glass of champagne in his face, he wrote an article that began: “Last night, I shared a glass of champagne with Ava Gardner. She threw it; I wore it.” Continue reading ““He Wrote Simple Declarative Sentences That People Could Read””

YouTube Clip on “Brunelleschi and Ghiberti’s Rivalry” Excerpted from EconTalk Podcast

A brief YouTube clip on “Brunelleschi and Ghiberti’s Rivalry,” excerpted from the EconTalk podcast on Openness to Creative Destruction. The host and interviewer was Russ Roberts of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. If you click above, the podcast should play right within my blog.

Entrepreneurs Pooled Savings to Found Garmin

(p. B16) Gary Burrell, who with a fellow engineer founded Garmin, the navigational device company whose products can direct pilots in fog, prevent hikers from getting lost and help insomniacs track their sleep, died on June 12 [2019] at his home in Spring Hill, Kan.

. . .

Mr. Burrell (pronounced burr-ELL) was vice president of engineering for King Radio, an avionics company that made navigational devices, when he recruited Dr. Min H. Kao from Magnavox, another defense contractor. Dr. Kao had been instrumental in developing a GPS receiver for aircraft.

At the time, the government was opening up its Global Positioning System for civilian use, and the two men saw possibilities. Continue reading “Entrepreneurs Pooled Savings to Found Garmin”