“Our Creative Yield Increases with Age”

(p. C1) . . . precocious achievement is the exception, not the norm. The fact is, we mature and develop at different rates. All of us will have multiple cognitive peaks throughout our lives, and the talents and passions that we have to offer can emerge across a range of personal circumstances, not just in formal educational settings focused on a few narrow criteria of achievement. Late bloomers are everywhere once you know to look for them.

. . .

What about creativity and innovation? That realm must belong to the young, with their exuberance and fresh ideas, right? Not necessarily. For instance, the average age of scientists when they are doing work that eventually leads to a Nobel Prize is 39, according to a 2008 Northwestern University study. The average age of U.S. patent applicants is 47.

Our creative yield increases with age, says Elkhonon Goldberg, a clinical professor of neurology at New York University. Dr. Goldberg thinks that the brain’s right and left hemispheres are connected by a “salience network” that helps us to evaluate novel perceptions from the right side by comparing them to the stored images and patterns on our left side. Thus a child will have greater novel perceptions than a middle-aged adult but will lack the context to turn them into creative insights.

Take Ken Fisher, who today runs Fisher Investments, a stock fund with $100 billion under management and 50,000 customers. After graduating from high school, he flunked out of a junior college. “I had no particular direction,” he said. He went back to school to study forestry, hoping for a career outdoors, but switched to economics and got his degree in 1972. In his early 20s, he hung out his shingle as a financial adviser, following his father’s career. To bring in extra money, he took construction jobs, and he played slide guitar in a bar. But he also read and read: “Books about management and business—and maybe thirty trade magazines a month for years,” he says. By the time he reached his 30s, an idea had gelled that would make him his fortune. As he puts it, during that period of reflection, “I developed a theory about valuing companies that was a bit unconventional.”

For the full commentary, see:

Rich Karlgaard. “It’s Never Too Late to Start a Brilliant Career; Our obsession with early achievement shortchanges people of all ages. Research shows that our brains keep developing deep into adulthood and so do our capabilities.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, May 4, 2019): C1-C2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 3, 2019, and has the same title as the print version.)

The the passages quoted above, are from a commentary that is adapted from:

Karlgaard, Rich. Late Bloomers: The Power of Patience in a World Obsessed with Early Achievement. New York: Currency, 2019.

The research by Elkhonon Goldberg, mentioned above, is described in:

Goldberg, Elkhonon. Creativity: The Human Brain in the Age of Innovation. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018.

100 Million Africans Use Mobile Money

(p. B6) Hyperinflation and economic isolation have pushed this poor, breakaway republic closer to a virtual milestone than most other countries in the world: a cashless economy.

Mobile-money services have taken off over the past decade in Africa; 1 in 10 adults across the continent—about 100 million people—use them. In Kenya, Vodacom Group Ltd.’s groundbreaking service M-Pesa, broadly considered the first major and most successful mobile-money technology platform, counts 26 million users, roughly half the population. More than half of the world’s 282 mobile-money platforms are in sub-Saharan Africa, research by McKinsey & Co. shows.

The continent, home to many of the world’s frontier economies, has come closest to skipping, or “leapfrogging” as it’s often called, traditional brick-and-mortar banks and going straight to heavily using phones as wallets.

And nowhere are the benefits of mobile money more apparent than in Somaliland, where the extreme economic and financial conditions have allowed Zaad, a service from the main local telecom, Telesom, to catalyze commerce in one of the most isolated parts of the world.

“I have my salary paid on Zaad, so I only use cash when I can’t use Zaad,” said Qassim Ali, a supermarket salesman here in the country’s capital. “I prefer it. I have less cash on me, so I am less vulnerable if I am robbed.”

. . .

The reasons for mobile money’s success in Somaliland are on full display on Hargeisa’s busy, bumpy streets, where rows of money changers lounge in front of 3-foot-tall towers of cash, some held together by nets, others in sacks. To get the shillings to a customer’s car, most money exchanges employ assistants armed with wheelbarrows to lug the heavy bags.

Once a week, Abdulahi Abdirahman hauls two bulky, heavy sacks of shillings from his gas station across Hargeisa to the money-exchange area downtown and, several hours later, returns with just a few dollar notes in his back pocket and his Zaad wallet loaded up.

For the full story, see:

Matina Stevis-Gridneff. “An Unlikely Leader in the Mobile-Money Race.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, July 7, 2018): B6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 6, 2018, and has the title “An Isolated Country Runs on Mobile Money.”)

Sand from Greenland’s Global Warming Can Help World Make Concrete

(p. A8) A few miles up the Sermilik Fjord in southwestern Greenland, the water has abruptly turned milky, a sign that it is loaded with suspended silt, sand and other sediment.

It is this material — carried here in a constant plume of meltwater from the Sermeq glacier at the head of the fjord — that Mette Bendixen, a Danish scientist at the University of Colorado, has come to see. As their research boat moves farther into the murky water, she and several colleagues climb into a rubber dinghy to take samples.

Dr. Bendixen, a geomorphologist, is here to investigate an idea, one that she initially ran by colleagues to make sure it wasn’t crazy: Could this island, population 57,000, become a provider of sand to billions of people?

Sand for eroded beaches, potentially from the Rockaways to the Riviera. Sand to be used as bedding for pipes, cables and other underground infrastructure. Mostly, though, sand for concrete, to build the houses, highways and harbors of a growing world.

The world makes a lot of concrete, more than 10 billion tons a year, and is poised to make much more for a population that is forecast to grow by more than 25 percent by 2050. That makes sand, which is about 40 percent of concrete by weight, one of the most-used commodities in the world, and one that is becoming harder to come by in some regions.

But because of the erosive power of ice, there is a lot of sand in Greenland. And with climate change accelerating the melting of Greenland’s mile-thick ice sheet — a recent study found that melting has increased sixfold since the 1980s — there is going to be a lot more.

“It’s not rocket science,” Dr. Bendixen said. “One part of the world has something that other parts of the world are lacking.”

For the full story, see:

Henry Fountain. “Melting Greenland Is Awash in Sand.” The New York Times (Thursday, July 4, 2019): A8.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 1, 2019, and has the same title as the print version.)

Intense Scaringe Self-Funded Start of Audacious Rivian

(p. B1) NORMAL, Ill. — By definition, the time of the world’s richest man is pretty valuable. But early last fall, Jeff Bezos sought out a 36-year old entrepreneur named R.J. Scaringe and spent the better part of a day in Plymouth, Mich., at the company he founded, Rivian.

Mr. Bezos got a preview of Rivian’s electric pickup truck and sport utility vehicle and liked what he saw. Not long after his visit, Amazon led a $700 million investment in Rivian. Two months later, in April, Ford Motor invested $500 million. All told, Rivian has raised $1.7 billion without selling a single truck or S.U.V.

. . .

(p. B6) Rivian is promising to do for trucks what Tesla did for luxury cars.

That’s where the similarities between the two electric automobile makers end. Even as Tesla and its brash chief executive, Elon Musk, made headlines by setting and falling short of some audacious goals, Mr. Scaringe and Rivian have spent a decade fine-tuning their designs.

. . .

Mr. Scaringe founded Mainstream Motors, the business that would later become Rivian, in 2009 after completing a doctorate in mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

His timing was odd to say the least — the financial crisis had made investors skittish, and the bankruptcies of General Motors and Chrysler did not bode well for an automotive start-up.

Family and friends provided the initial funding, and Mr. Scaringe and his father both took out second mortgages to raise money. Continue reading “Intense Scaringe Self-Funded Start of Audacious Rivian”

Higher Education Is a Lumbering “Dinosaur”

(p. A15) We are at the end of an era in American higher education. It is an era that began in the decades after the Civil War, when colleges and universities gradually stopped being preparatory schools for ministers and lawyers and embraced the ideals of research and academic professionalism. It reached full bloom after World War II, when the spigots of public funding were opened in full, and eventually became an overpriced caricature of itself, bloated by a mix of irrelevance and complacency and facing declining enrollments and a contracting market. No one has better explained the economics of this decline—and its broad cultural effects—than Richard Vedder.

. . .

“Restoring the Promise: Higher Education in America” is a summary of the arguments he has been making since then as the Cassandra of American colleges and universities.

. . .

At Mr. Vedder’s alma mater, Northwestern, tuition rose from 16% of median family income in 1958 to almost 70% in 2016. Over time, armies of administrators wrested the direction of their institutions away from the hands of faculties and trustees.

. . .

Though Mr. Vedder’s critique concentrates on the economic mire into which higher education has tumbled, he is not alone in his more general criticism. Over the past 20 years, analysts as diverse as Derek Bok, Alan Kors, Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, Jeffrey Selingo, and Benjamin Ginsberg have warned that higher education, in its current form, is a dinosaur—an over-built, under-achieving creature whose chances of survival are increasingly dim. But on it lumbers. . . .

What may, . . ., bring about some kind of change is the dramatic fall-off in American birth rates since the Great Recession of 2008, as highlighted in Nathan Grawe’s “Demographics and the Demand for Higher Education” (2018). No amount of federal student loans, or tuition increases, will do colleges and universities any good when, over the next decade, the pool of age-eligible students shrinks by 13% (by Mr. Grawe’s estimate). Inventing online alternatives and attracting full-tuition students from abroad is one way of paying the bills, but colleges have been trying both strategies for the past two decades, so the yield may not increase by much.

For the full review, see:

Allen C. Guelzo. “BOOKSHELF; High Cost, Low Yield; A college degree is ever more common these days, but it comes with ever heavier loan burdens and, in many cases, only limited job prospects.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, June 25, 2019): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 24, 2019, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Restoring the Promise’ Review: High Cost, Low Yield; A college degree is ever more common these days, but it comes with ever heavier loan burdens and, in many cases, only limited job prospects.”)

The book under review is:

Vedder, Richard. Restoring the Promise: Higher Education in America. Oakland, CA: Independent Institute, 2019.

Firm Revives Cassette Tape Production

(p. A1) SPRINGFIELD, Mo.— Steve Stepp and his team of septuagenarian engineers are using a bag of rust, a kitchen mixer larger than a man and a 62-foot-long contraption that used to make magnetic strips for credit cards to avert a disaster that no one saw coming in the digital-music era.

The world is running out of cassette tape.

National Audio Co., where Mr. Stepp is president and co-owner, has been hoarding a stockpile of music-quality, ⅛-inch-wide magnetic tape from suppliers that shut down in the past 15 years after music lovers ditched cassettes. National Audio held on. Now, many musicians are clamoring for cassettes as a way to physically distribute their music.

The company says it has less than a year’s supply of tape left. So it is building the first manufacturing line for (p. A10) high-grade ferric oxide cassette tape in the U.S. in decades. If all goes well, the machine will churn out nearly 4 miles of tape a minute by January. And not just any tape. “The best tape ever made,” boasts Mr. Stepp, 69 years old. “People will hear a whole new product.” Continue reading “Firm Revives Cassette Tape Production”

Sister Jeanne Defended the Freedom of Elian Gonzalez

(p. A25) Sister Jeanne O’Laughlin, who was thrust into national prominence in 2000 during a tumultuous custody battle between the Cuban father of a 6-year-old refugee, Elian Gonzalez, and the boy’s relatives in Miami, died on Tuesday [June 18, 2019] in Adrian, Mich.

. . .

In early 2000 she sought in vain to ensure that Elian could stay temporarily with his Miami relatives instead of being returned to his father, who had remained in Cuba, divorced from his wife, after Elian and his mother fled in a rickety boat on Nov. 21, 1999.

His mother, Elizabeth Brotons Rodriguez, died when the boat capsized in the Atlantic. Elian was found in the water off Fort Lauderdale on Nov. 25 clinging to an inner tube, and his miraculous survival all but elevated him into a religious figure in South Florida’s Cuban-exile community.

. . .

In an Op-Ed article for The New York Times, she compared the “strong bond” that had developed between Elian and the Miami cousin who was caring for him with the absence of his father.

“It troubles me that Elian’s father has not come to the United States,” she wrote. “What, if not fear, could keep a person from making a 30-minute trip to reclaim his son? And what might Elian’s father fear, if not the authoritarian Cuban government itself?”

For the full obituary, see:

Sam Roberts. “Sister Jeanne O’Laughlin, Advocate in Cuban Boy’s Custody Fight, Dies at 90.” The New York Times (Friday, June 21, 2019): A25.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date June 20, 2019, and has the title “Sister Jeanne O’Laughlin, 90, Voice in Cuban Boy’s Custody Fight, Dies.”)