“When the Forts of Folly Fall”

When I read the poem below I smiled. Part of me found it inspiring and part of me found it foolish. But I smiled.

(p. A11) . . . from the final stanza of Matthew Arnold’s poem “The Last Word”: “Charge once more, then, and be dumb! / Let the victors, when they come, / When the forts of folly fall, / Find thy body by the wall.”

For the full commentary, see:

Abigail Shrier, interviewer. “THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW; Standing Against Psychiatry’s Crazes.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, May 4, 2019): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 3, 2019.)

Australia’s 27-Year Economic Expansion

(p. A2) Australia is experiencing an amazing economic run—a 27-year expansion that survived a regional economic crisis in the 1990s, a global economic crisis in the 2000s, and a boom-boost cycle in its core commodity sector in the 2010s.

Its experience offers lessons for the U.S. and the rest of the world. Among them, the laws of economics don’t dictate that expansions run on preset timetables. Wise policy-making, and some good luck, carried Australia’s expansion into the record books.

For the full commentary, see:

James Glynn. “THE OUTLOOK; Keeping an Economic Boom Going.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, July 16, 2018): A2.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 15, 2018, and has the title “THE OUTLOOK; How an Economic Boom Can Run Out the Clock.”)

Focus on Global Warming Distracts Bird Lovers from Protecting Habitat

(p. 15) . . . [in] a piece called “Save What You Love” as [Jonathan Franzen] tells the story, he was “already not in a good mood” when he read a news release from the Audubon Society explaining that climate change was “the greatest threat” to America’s birds. That statement deepened his tetchy ill humor, because he believed that it might distract bird lovers from what he considered the more immediate work of protecting habitat. “I felt bullied by its dominance,” he writes of global warming, and so he conceived of the essay, which turns into an extended whine about environmental groups for focusing so heavily on carbon emissions.

For the full review, see:

Bill McKibben. “Forest for the Trees.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018): 15.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed words, added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 3, 2018, and has the title “Jonathan Franzen Despairs of a Planet Inhospitable to Birds.”)

The book under review, is:

Franzen, Jonathan. The End of the End of the Earth: Essays. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018.

Cheaper to Teach Humans than to Upgrade Robots

(p. A1) SASEBO, Japan—Yoshihisa Ishikawa’s one-night stay at a robot-staffed hotel in western Japan wasn’t relaxing.

He was roused every few hours during the night by the doll-shaped assistant in his room asking: “Sorry, I couldn’t catch that. Could you repeat your request?”

By 6 a.m., he realized the problem: His heavy snoring was triggering the robot.

Turns out, robots aren’t the best at hospitality. After opening in a blaze of publicity in 2015, Japan’s Henn na, or “Strange,” Hotel, recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s first robot hotel, is now laying off its low-performing droids.

So far, the hotel has culled over half of its 243 robots, many because they created work rather than reduced it.

. . .

(p. A8) The hotel launched with around 80 robots. The initial positive reaction encouraged it to add many more for guests’ entertainment, such as a team of human and dog robot dancers in the lobby.

That’s when problems started to pile up, said the hotel’s general manager, Takeyoshi Oe.

Toshifumi Nakamura, a former hotel guest, recalled that about half the puppy-size lobby dancers appeared to be broken or in need of charging when he visited in mid-2016. Mr. Oe said the hotel increased overtime for the human staff to cope with the additional workload.

. . .

Mr. Ishikawa, the heavy snorer, said he wasn’t sure how to turn Churi off.

“She got a bad reputation,” said Hideo Sawada, president of the travel company that owns the hotel. Churi was among the robots removed.

. . .

Mr. Oe said the hotel has considered upgrading some robots but has to weigh the potentially high costs of frequent replacements. Churi was in service for four years, plenty of time for the technology to become outdated.

“Many people get a new phone every couple of years, so four years seems really old,” said Mr. Oe.

. . .

Mr. Sawada said he hasn’t given up on the idea of a hotel without human staff, but Strange Hotel has taught him that there are currently many jobs suited only for humans. “When you actually use robots you realize there are places where they aren’t needed—or just annoy people,” he said.

For the full story, see:

Alastair Gale and Takashi Mochizuki. “The World’s First Robot Hotel Is Looking for a Few Good Humans.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, January 15, 2019): A1 & A8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Jan. 14, 2019, and has the title “Robot Hotel Loses Love for Robots.”)

More Job Quits Lead to Better Matches and Higher Productivity

(p. A1) Kimberly Enoch had a stable job working from home managing grants for a Little Rock, Ark., nonprofit, but she was bored and thought she could do better.

So she quit.

Within three months, she landed a job as a grant writer at Southern Bancorp Community Partners, snagging a 14% raise, a faster pace at work and an easy seven-minute commute.

“I knew I could do more,” Ms. Enoch said.

She is part of a bigger trend. Workers are choosing to leave their jobs at the fastest rate since the internet boom 17 years ago and getting rewarded for it with bigger paychecks and/or more satisfying work.

Labor Department data show that 3.4 million Americans quit their jobs in April [2018], near a 2001 peak and twice the 1.7 million who were laid off from jobs in April.

Job-hopping is happening across industries including retail, food service and construction, a sign of broad-based labor-market dynamism.

Workers have been made more confident by a strong economy and historically low unemployment, at 3.8% in May, the lowest since 2000. Ms. Enoch started getting interview opportunities the same day she began sending out applications online.

The trend could stoke broader wage growth and improve worker productivity, which have been sluggish in the past decade.

. . .

(p. A2) The recent uptick in quitting goes against a long-running decline in worker mobility. In recent decades, as the population aged and business startups became relatively more rare, employees tended to stick at their jobs longer, said Steven Davis, an economist at the University of Chicago who studies labor-market churn. He and co-author John Haltiwanger presented the findings of diminished economic dynamism to central bankers at the Federal Reserve’s annual Jackson Hole, Wyo., symposium in August 2014.

The problem was exacerbated by the 2007-2009 recession. Fretful workers stayed in roles that weren’t good matches for them, also hurting national productivity. Now that they are looking for better matches, productivity could improve.

For the full story, see:

Harrison, David and Eric Morath. “Economy Spurs Job Hopping.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, July 5, 2018): A1-A2.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 4, 2018, and has the title “In This Economy, Quitters Are Winning.”)

China Steals Micron Memory Chip Innovations

(p. A8) A Wall Street Journal study of 10 recent technology-related prosecution cases in Taiwan found that in nine of those, prosecutors allege the technology ended up with or was intended for companies in China.

China’s technology ministry has in public statements said Taiwan and China should cooperate in high-tech sectors including semiconductors. It didn’t reply to requests for comment on the Taiwanese cases.

One case involved a Taiwanese unit of Idaho-based Micron Technology Inc., America’s largest memory-chip manufacturer. On a spring day in 2016, a 41-year-old engineer for the unit opened his company laptop and, according to Taiwanese prosecutors, tapped into Google search: “clear computer use records.”

Wang Yongming found a file-erasing program called CCleaner, which he used to try to delete traces of more than 900 files from his laptop before returning it to his employer, the prosecutors say.

Ten months after Mr. Wang returned the laptop to the company and left for a job with a smaller Taiwanese rival, United Microelectronics Corp. , Taiwanese authorities say they unearthed evidence of the documents, which detailed production-design secrets of Micron’s memory chips.

In August, Mr. Wang and others were indicted in Taiwan on charges of stealing Micron’s trade secrets for illegal use in China. Prosecutors allege Mr. Wang transferred the data to his new employer, which used the designs in service of a Chinese chip maker called Fujian Jinhua Integrated Circuit Co. Jinhua is now planning to mass produce its own version of the chips.

In Mr. Wang’s case, prosecutors say he has confessed to some charges. Mr. Wang couldn’t be reached, and his attorneys declined to comment. UMC declined to comment. Micron, in a separate lawsuit in California, alleges Jinhua masterminded the plan to take a shortcut through a thicket of knowledge Micron accumulated during decades of investment.

. . .

Around the time Mr. Wang left Micron Taiwan, in April 2016, the company conducted an internal investigation based on suspicions that he had made illegal copies of documents. When investigators raided UMC in February 2017, say Taiwanese prosecutors and Micron, Mr. Wang handed his personal cellphone to an assistant and instructed her to take it away—unaware that prosecutors had already obtained a court order to track the device, which investigators allege also contained incriminating information.

UMC, which Mr. Wang joined in April 2016 a few days after trying to erase files from his laptop, had in January 2016 struck a deal with Jinhua to supply the designs to mass-produce DRAM in exchange for more than $700 million in fees, equipment and a cut of future licensing revenues. Before then, UMC was mostly a foundry that made other companies’ designs. Micron alleges in its civil lawsuit that Jinhua knew that the technology to be delivered under the deal would be based on Micron’s designs.

. . .

“The Micron trade secrets that Wang stole proved invaluable to UMC’s development effort and critical to the timeline of the Jinhua DRAM project,” Micron said in its filing.

The speed of UMC’s design development helped Jinhua in October 2016 to start marketing its first two DRAM products, which it called F32 and F32S—names that Micron says were identical to the ones used for chips it produced at its Taiwan facility.

For the full story, see:

Chuin-Wei Yap. “China Targets Taiwan’s Tech Secrets.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, July 2, 2018): A1 & A8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 1, 2018, and has the title “Taiwan’s Technology Secrets Come Under Assault From China.”)

Permissionless Surgical Innovation

(p. 15) When a patient’s heart gave out on the cardiac surgeon Denton Cooley’s operating table in 1969, he refused to let the man go gently into that good night. Instead, he dispatched an associate to find a sheep and pluck out its heart. Cooley sewed it into his patient’s chest. This was apparently the kind of thing you could do — without asking anyone’s permission — in the 1960s.

The patient died (of course) but Cooley pressed on. A year later, he tried another experimental procedure — an artificial heart developed and some would say stolen from his rival at Baylor University in Houston. He never asked the university’s permission because, well, that would have required going through a committee run by said rival. “We administered to Baylor University the biggest enema,” Cooley reportedly told a colleague after the surgery. “It will be remembered in years to come.”

And this, readers, is how the first artificial heart came to be implanted in a patient. (The man survived three days with the device, before receiving a transplant from a donor and dying the following day.) Such are the brazen feats that Mimi Swartz chronicles in her book “Ticker,” a brief history of the artificial heart. Swartz is an executive editor of Texas Monthly, and she is based in Houston, home to four medical schools and much of the last century’s pioneering heart research. These are physicians who have a lot more in common, she writes, “with the people who crossed Everest’s Khumbu Icefall or took the first steps on the moon.”

For the full review, see:

Sarah Zhang. “The Tin Man’s Dilemma.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, Sept. 22, 2018): 15.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sept. 17, 2018, and has the title “The Quest to Create and Perfect an Artificial Heart.”)

The book under review, is:

Swartz, Mimi. Ticker: The Quest to Create an Artificial Heart. New York: Crown, 2018.