Ancient “Cousin” to Homo Erectus Adapted to “a Chaotic Climate Shift”

(p. D4) Around two million years ago, this area in South Africa is believed to have undergone a chaotic climate shift. The regional environment transformed from wetter and more lush conditions to drier and more arid ones. In order for a species like P. robustus to survive in such terrain, it probably would have needed to be able to chew on tough plants. But the specimen found in the cave at Drimolen didn’t seem to fit with what some scientists had previously stated about the human cousin.

They labeled the skull DNH 155 and determined that it belonged to a male.

. . .

In addition to being smaller than male P. robustus who lived at Swartkrans, DNH 155’s cranium indicated its chewing muscles were not as strong as theirs. Mr. Martin said the differences suggest DNH 155 and the other P. robustus found at Drimolen were smaller not because they were all female, but rather because they were earlier forms of the species belonging to a different population that hadn’t yet been subjected to the environmental pressures that would favor larger sizes and stronger jaw muscles.

“It basically hasn’t become this massive chewing and grinding machine that it becomes later,” Mr. Martin said.

The change would have been the result of microevolution, or an evolutionary change occurring within a species. Such a morphological change, the scientists said, was likely the result of P. robustus adapting to that changing climate, with members of the species who were able to get enough nutrition from a change in their food supply surviving, and passing their traits to offspring.

For the full story, see:

Nicholas St. Fleur. “How to Adapt: A Skull’s Story.” The New York Times (Tuesday, November 17, 2020): D4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 9, 2020, and has the title “How a Human Cousin Adapted to a Changing Climate.”)

Jobs Told Benioff to Build an “Application Ecosystem”

(p. B1) I first met Steve Jobs in 1984 when Apple Inc. hired me as a summer intern.

. . .

Even once my internship ended, we stayed in touch, and as my career progressed he became a mentor of sorts. Which is why, one memorable day in 2003, I found myself pacing anxiously in the reception area of Apple’s headquarters.

. . .

(p. B2) As Steve’s staff ushered me into Apple’s boardroom that day, I felt a rush of excitement coursing through my jangling nerves.

. . .

“Marc,” he said. “If you want to be a great CEO, be mindful and project the future.”

I nodded, perhaps a bit disappointed. He’d given me similar advice before, but he wasn’t finished.

Steve then told me we needed to land a big account, and to grow “10 times in 24 months or you’ll be dead.” I gulped. Then he said something less alarming, but more puzzling: We needed an “application ecosystem.”

. . .

One evening, over dinner in San Francisco, I was struck by an irresistibly simple idea. What if any developer from anywhere in the world could create their own application for the Salesforce platform? And what if we offered to store these apps in an online directory that allowed any Salesforce user to download them? I wouldn’t say this idea felt entirely comfortable. I’d grown up with the old view of innovation as something that should happen within the four walls of our offices. Opening our products to outside tinkering was akin to giving our intellectual property away. Yet, at that moment, I knew in my gut that if Salesforce was to become the new kind of company I wanted it to be, we would need to seek innovation everywhere.

. . .

Building an ecosystem is about acknowledging that the next game-changing innovation may come from a brilliant technologist and mentor based in Silicon Valley, or it may come from a novice programmer based halfway around the world. A company seeking to achieve true scale needs to seek innovation beyond its own four walls and tap into the entire universe of knowledge and creativity out there.

For the full commentary, see:

Marc Benioff. “What I Learned from Steve Jobs.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, October 12, 2019): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date October 11, 2019, and has the title “The Lesson I Learned from Steve Jobs.”)

Marc Benioff’s commentary is adapted from his co-authored book:

Benioff, Marc, and Monica Langley. Trailblazer: The Power of Business as the Greatest Platform for Change. New York: Currency, 2019.

Even Alibaba Entrepreneur Jack Ma Cannot Speak His Mind in Communist China

(p. A1) Chinese President Xi Jinping personally made the decision to halt the initial public offering of Ant Group, which would have been the world’s biggest, after controlling shareholder Jack Ma infuriated government leaders, according to Chinese officials with knowledge of the matter.

. . .

In a speech on Oct. 24 [2020], days before the financial-technology giant was set to go public, Mr. Ma cited Mr. Xi’s words in what top government officials saw as an effort to burnish his own image and tarnish that of regulators, these people said.

At the event in Shanghai, Mr. Ma, the country’s richest man, quoted Mr. Xi saying, “Success does not have to come from me.” As a result, the tech executive said, he wanted to help solve China’s financial problems through innovation. Mr. Ma bluntly criticized the government’s increasingly tight financial regulation for holding back technology development, part of a long-running battle between Ant and its overseers.

. . .

During his 21-minute speech, he criticized Beijing’s campaign to control financial risks. “There is no systemic risk in China’s financial system,” he said. “Chinese finance has no system.”

He also took aim at the regulators, saying they “have only focused on risks and overlooked development.” He accused big Chinese banks of harboring a “pawnshop mentality.” That, Mr. Ma said, has “hurt a lot of entrepreneurs.”

His remarks went viral on Chinese social media, where some users applauded Mr. Ma for daring to speak out. In Beijing, though, senior officials were angry, and officials long calling for tighter financial regulation spoke up.

After Mr. Xi decided that Ant’s IPO needed to be halted, financial regulators led by Mr. Liu, the leader’s economic czar, convened on Oct. 31 and mapped out an action plan to take Mr. Ma to task, according to the government officials familiar with the decision-making.

For the full story, see:

Jing Yang and Lingling Wei. “China’s President Personally Scuttled Record Ant IPO.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, Nov 13, 2020): A1 & A9.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date November 12, 2020, and has the title “China’s President Xi Jinping Personally Scuttled Jack Ma’s Ant IPO.”)

“Exhilaration and Loneliness of Pioneering Thought”

(p. A15) In “The Riddle of the Rosetta: How an English Polymath and a French Polyglot Discovered the Meaning of Egyptian Hieroglyphs,” Jed Z. Buchwald and Diane Greco Josefowicz recount Thomas Young’s and Jean-François Champollion’s competing efforts toward decipherment.

. . .

The authors are chiefly concerned with Young’s and Champollion’s approaches to the hieroglyphic riddle. Rarely have I seen the false starts and blind alleys, firm beliefs and 180-degree recalibrations, exhilaration and loneliness of pioneering thought captured so well. On the other hand, not every reader will match Champollion’s stamina or persevere through the book’s densest thickets. Dramatic touches are few. Champollion probably didn’t, as commonly reported, faint at the moment of his triumph. And Young was no swashbuckler. Indiana Jones hates snakes. Young hated idioms.

If “The Riddle of the Rosetta” won’t be coming to screens anytime soon, its achievement is no less admirable. For nearly 500 pages we are invited to inhabit the minds of two of history’s finest linguists.

For the full review, see:

Maxwell Carter. “BOOKSHELF; Found In Translation.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, September 18, 2020): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sep. 17, 2020, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘The Riddle of the Rosetta’ Review: Found in Translation.”)

The book under review is:

Buchwald, Jed Z., and Diane Greco Josefowicz. The Riddle of the Rosetta: How an English Polymath and a French Polyglot Discovered the Meaning of Egyptian Hieroglyphs. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2020.

Venture Capitalists Can Be Easy to Fool

I admire much about Peter Thiel, but was stunned to read in his Zero to One (p. 160) that he only invests venture capital money in start-ups whose founding supplicant is wearing a t-shirt. The review quoted below confirms that other venture capitalists also use dubious criteria to evaluate entrepreneurs.

(p. C4) Neumann’s innovation with WeWork was to repurpose office space for freelancers worldwide — rebranding precarity into community.

. . .

. . . Neumann seemed to believe that the pesky demands of having to turn a profit didn’t quite apply to him, even as he was determined to live the ostentatious life of a bohemian tycoon.

. . .

WeWork pulled the classic new-economy maneuver of hiring idealistic young people, deploying them to the point of exhaustion and paying them peanuts while telling them that they were part of a revolution — what Neumann called “the ‘We’ decade.” Eventually, WeWork offered stock options, though Neumann would be the one to cash out hundreds of millions in stock in order to fund an escalating lifestyle that had grown to include five children, several houses, a penchant for $200 T-shirts and lots of pot.

. . .

“Billion Dollar Loser” would be absorbing enough were it just about one man’s grandiosity, but Wiedeman has a larger argument to make about what Neumann represents. Neumann finagled funding not only from SoftBank, the Japanese conglomerate led by the billionaire-entrepreneur Masayoshi Son, who liked to say that “feeling is more important than numbers,” but also from the venerable venture capital firm Benchmark. Neumann had passed himself off as a tech visionary, even though he rarely used a computer and WeWork’s IT department was once run by a high school student from Queens.

For the full review, see:

Jennifer Szalai. “Big Dreams, and a Harsh Awakening.” The New York Times (Thursday, October 22, 2020): C4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 21, 2020, and has the title “‘Billion Dollar Loser’ Recounts WeWork’s Big Dreams and Its Harsh Wake-Up Call.”)

The book under review is:

Wiedeman, Reeves. Billion Dollar Loser: The Epic Rise and Spectacular Fall of Adam Neumann and WeWork. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2020.

“The Often-Unsung Adaptability of Organic Intelligence”

(p. A13) . . ., as the journalist Jonathan Waldman chronicles in “SAM,” the quest for a bricklaying robot has been bumpier than the work of a mason with vertigo.

. . .

Several themes run through the book. First is the often-unsung adaptability of organic intelligence.

. . .

The minute adjustments a human makes when manipulating objects, especially in messy environments like construction sites, result from billions of years of evolution. We make it look easy, until you give instructions to a robot and watch it fumble around or freeze up when it gets a little dirt on its face. Yann LeCun, Facebook’s chief A.I. scientist, once told me, “I would declare victory if in my professional lifetime we could make machines that are as intelligent as a rat.”

Mr. Peters has laudable motivations. “By creating a bricklaying robot,” Mr. Waldman writes, “he aimed to eliminate lifting and bending and repetitive-motion injuries in humans; to improve the quality of walls; to finish jobs faster and safer and cheaper; and to ease project scheduling and estimation. Basically: to modernize the world’s second oldest and most primitive trade.”

. . .

Within this physically and culturally harsh environment, Construction Robotics had to invent and reinvent their business model on the fly. Should they license their innovations? Sell the robots? Rent them? Provide robots and technicians as a service? Create a full-service masonry shop? Pivot from bricks to cement blocks? Take money from venture capitalists, court Google or a Dubai investment fund? Mr. Peters follows the philosophy of the book “The Lean Startup” and aims for an MVP—minimum viable product—to gain exposure and experience, knowing the risks in the construction industry. Word of a robot that builds crummy walls will travel fast, and demolished reputations are hard to rebuild.

The business finally finds its footing in the epilogue, around 2018. Construction Robotics gets SAM to lay more than 3,000 bricks a day (versus 300 to 1,000 for a human mason), and they create another machine that helps workers lift and place concrete blocks, quickly selling dozens. The company now looks to be solvent, though it’s unclear how much the construction landscape is poised to change.

For the full review, see:

Hutson, Matthew. “BOOKSHELF; Building a Better Bricklayer.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Jan 14, 2020): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date January 13, 2020, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘SAM’ Review: Building a Better Bricklayer.”)

The book under review is:

Waldman, Jonathan. SAM: One Robot, a Dozen Engineers, and the Race to Revolutionize the Way We Build. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2020.

“A Safe Space for Entrepreneurs to Share Their Stories of Ascent”

(p. 1) Guy Raz is wrapping up an episode of How I Built This, his podcast about the origin stories of late capitalism, when his guest, the Israeli investor Haim Saban, gets to the good part. The throw-your-arms-aloft, finish-line moment of his personal business journey. In the story Mr. Saban is telling, he is about to make a lot of money, and then quadruple it into even more money.

Mr. Raz cuts in, astonished. “But half a billion dollars — that’s a lot of money,” he says. “I mean, wow.”

“Two billion is more,” Mr. Saban says.

“Was money — becoming really rich — did that motivate you?” Mr. Raz asks a moment later.

“You know, it wasn’t only money, but it was also money,” Mr. Saban says. “Money is a marker to success.”

There’s a moment like this in every episode of How I Built This. The guest has let his or her guard down and revealed something intimate, or financial, or financially intimate, and Mr. Raz keeps the disclosures rolling by reacting with total marvelment.

. . .

By creating a safe space for entrepreneurs to share their stories of ascent, Mr. Raz has become one of the most popular podcasters in history.

For the full story, see:

Nellie Bowles. “How Guy Raz Built ‘How I Built This’.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sunday, November 25, 2018): 1 & 7.

(Note: ellipsis added. In the original, the word “more” is italicized.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 23, 2018, and has the same title as the print version.)

Build a Better Chalk and a South Korean Will Beat a Path to Your Door

A cliché usually credited to Emerson says that ‘if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door.’ Many, including Peter Thiel in his co-authored Zero to One, argue that the inventor of the better mousetrap needs some marketing to let the world know that her mousetrap is better. I think Thiel is mainly right, but the story quoted below suggests that sometimes the cliché may be true.

(p. A12) The bright-white sticks drop one by one into the whir and clatter of a weatherworn piece of machinery, where they are stamped with the most celebrated name in chalk: Hagoromo.

. . .

Of the thick grayish mass that emerges, four ingredients are known: calcium carbonate, clay, glue and oyster shells. The other three are a secret. In a video posted to YouTube about the chalk, an American fan offers a guess as to one of them: angel tears.

Hagoromo chalk is a cult favorite of elite academics, artists and others around the world who praise it for its silky feel, vibrant colors, scant dust and nearly unbreakable quality. Mathematicians in particular are prone to waxing poetic about it, and buying it in bulk. The YouTube video, produced by Great Big Story, has been viewed more than 18 million times.

Despite its renown, Hagoromo is still produced on a relatively small scale, using custom-made equipment, much of it run by two laborers who are identical twins — a throwback in a high-tech era where interactive displays are replacing chalkboards.

. . .

In 2014, Takayasu Watanabe, the grandson of the company’s founder, announced that Hagoromo would halt production, partly because of the industry’s declining fortunes and partly because of his own ill health.  . . .

As Mr. Watanabe was preparing to shut it down, he received a visit from Shin Hyeong-seok, who had been importing the chalk to South Korea for nearly 10 years. Mr. Shin sold the chalk through the company he started, Sejong Mall, named after King Sejong the Great, who in the 15th century created Hangeul, the Korean writing system.

Mr. Shin had discovered the chalk years before in Japan while investigating the workings of cram schools.   . . .

“I went into the teachers’ lounge and remember being mesmerized by the fluorescent-colored chalks,” he said. “And when I started writing with one, I could not put it down.”

On his trip to see Mr. Watanabe, Mr. Shin presented what he called a “crazy idea.” He, a teacher and importer with no manufacturing experience, would take over production of the chalk in South Korea. Mr. Watanabe laughed.

But Mr. Shin kept pressing. “My pitch to him was that there are many things in the world that will disappear one day, but the best-quality item should be the last to do so,” Mr. Shin said.

. . .

Takako Iwata, the second of Mr. Watanabe’s three daughters, who served as interpreter for Mr. Shin and her father, . . . said she wasn’t exactly sure how Hagoromo had become so beloved outside Japan. “I guess people who came to Japan just kept on bringing the chalk back to their home countries,” she said. “When my father was still running the company, he did not know about this huge following.”

That changed a bit, though, in his company’s final months, when he received a flood of orders, including from American professors who hoped to buy supplies large enough to last 10 years or more.

David Eisenbud, the director of the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute at the University of California, Berkeley, said he had bought enough to last the rest of his life.

Dr. Eisenbud is a key figure in the chalk’s popularization in the United States. He was first introduced to it years ago during a visit to the University of Tokyo. “Everything about the chalk was exquisite,” he said. “I thought, ‘Chalk is chalk,’ but I was wrong.”

He later persuaded an acquaintance to import the chalk into the United States. (Mr. Shin now sells it to American buyers through Amazon.)

Yujiro Kawamata, a Japanese mathematician who introduced Hagoromo to Dr. Eisenbud, marveled at the turn of events.

“I happened to tell Eisenbud about the chalk, which was just a tool that was a part of my everyday life, and now the whole world knows about it,” Dr. Kawamata said.

For the full story, see:

Hikari Hida and Jean Chung. “How a Beloved Chalk Bridged a Bitter Divide to Survive.” The New York Times (Wednesday, November 18, 2020): A12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 17, 2020, and has the title “A Ride on the Assembly Line With the World’s Most Famous Chalk.”)

PayPal entrepreneur Peter Thiel’s co-authored book mentioned above is:

Thiel, Peter, and Blake Masters. Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future. New York: Crown Business, 2014.

Water Entrepreneurs in Kathmandu: “The City Depends on Us”

(p. 1) KATHMANDU, Nepal — It had been 11 days since a ruptured valve reduced Kupondole district’s pipeline flow to a dribble, and the phones at Pradeep Tamanz’s tanker business wouldn’t stop ringing.

A Malaysian embassy residence had run perilously low on water, and the diplomats wanted to shower. They’d pay extra for a swift delivery. A coffee processing plant was on the verge of shutting down production after emptying its storage tank. It, too, would shell out whatever amount of money it would take. Across the neighborhood and other parts of the city, the calls were coming in so feverishly that Sanjay, a tanker driver, jokily wondered if he might get carjacked. “This is like liquid gold,” he said, jabbing at his precious cargo, large amounts of which seeped from every hatch. “Maybe more than gold.”

Dashing from filling stations to houses and factories and back, Mr. Tamanz tried to meet demand. His (p. 6) three tanker crews slept in one or two-hour spurts, often in the cramped, refrigerator-sized truck cabins, and kept the tankers on the road for up to 19 hours a day. He fobbed off business to competitors, an unusual practice in the cutthroat world of Kathmandu tanker men, and even sounded out a mechanic about converting a flatbed truck into a new tanker. With fat profits pouring in, the young businessman figured it might soon repay its cost.

But no matter how hard the crews worked or how furiously they pushed their lumbering vehicles over the potholed roads, there was no satisfying the city’s needs. The going was too slow. The water shortage too severe. By the time the pipeline was fully restored, some households had subsisted on nothing but small jerrycans for almost an entire month. “You know it’s not even peak season, but this is what happens here,” Mr. Tamanz said. “Just imagine what things would be like if we didn’t exist?” He trailed off as his phone rang once more.

In Kathmandu, as in much of South Asia and parts of the Middle East, South America and sub-Saharan Africa, these men and their tanker trucks sometimes prevent entire cities from running dry. Without them, millions of households wouldn’t have sufficient water to cook, clean or wash. Or perhaps any at all. And without them, an already deteriorating infrastructure might break down completely, as the tanker men know well. “The city depends on us,” said Maheswar Dahal, a businessman who owns six trucks in Kathmandu’s Jorpati district. “There would be disaster if we didn’t do our work.”

For the full story, see:

Peter Schwartzstein. “Merchants of Thirst.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sunday, January 12, 2020): 1 & 6-7.

(Note: the online version of the story was updated on January 13, 2020, and has the title “The Merchants of Thirst.”)

Workers with Criminal Records Pay for Their Second Chance with Greater Loyalty and Harder Work

(p. B1) CINCINNATI—While some companies try to attract and keep employees with yoga classes and lavish cafeterias, Nehemiah Manufacturing Co.’s perks include a social-service team and an attorney.

When two consumer-product veterans started Nehemiah a decade ago, their idea was to create more opportunities in a struggling part of Cincinnati. Increasingly, that meant hiring people who had a particularly hard time finding jobs: those with criminal backgrounds.

Now, workers with criminal records make up around 80% of the company’s about 180 employees—and Nehemiah has learned that offering a job to people trying to turn their lives around is just half the battle.

“We are investing in our employees in order to retain them,” said Richard Palmer, president of Nehemiah, whose brands include Boogie Wipes, Saline Soothers and other consumer products. “It’s no different than tech companies bringing in lunch and a foosball table.”

In one of the tightest labor markets in decades, more employers are willing to give ex-convicts a chance, trying to marry business needs and good intentions. Even large American companies are rethinking whether their responsibilities extend beyond their shareholders. JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive James Dimon said in October [1999] that the bank would step up efforts to recruit people with criminal backgrounds.

Hiring people with a criminal past can pay big dividends for companies, such as closer community ties and a loyal workforce. But keeping them on the job can be a struggle.

. . .

(p. B6) Since its first days, Nehemiah has become more deliberate about identifying candidates who are likely to be good, reliable employees and has developed a more formal system for providing them with support.

Today, Nehemiah’s annual turnover stands at roughly 15%, well below the 38.5% average for consumer-products companies, as reported by Mercer’s 2019 U.S. Turnover Survey. Nehemiah says it had operating income of $5.7 million on sales of $59.4 million in 2018.

. . .

“We found that the population we were hiring who had criminal backgrounds were our most loyal people,” said Mr. Palmer. “When we were looking for people to work overtime, come in on Saturday or go that extra mile, it was the second-chance population that was saying, ‘I’m in.’”

. . .

At Nehemiah, having a criminal past carries less of a stigma because so many workers have been incarcerated.

. . .

. . ., Nehemiah’s approach . . . means it can spot potential other employers might overlook. When Rayshun Holt came to Nehemiah roughly two years ago, Ms. Merida said he immediately stood out as someone the company wanted.

Mr. Holt, 40, spent two decades in prison after fatally shooting a friend when he was 15 during what he describes as a scuffle over a gun. While in prison, Mr. Holt reconnected to his faith, started taking classes and began coaching other prisoners on how to turn their lives around.

Released in 2016 with $96 in his pocket, he said, “I was filled with hope and overwhelmed by fear.” His first job was in a fast-food restaurant specializing in chicken fingers. “I was the oldest person there and the most enthusiastic. It was the first time in my life I was earning an honest check,” he said.

But he struggled to find steady work with decent pay. Nehemiah hired him as a second-shift supervisor at $19 an hour.

Ms. Merida said she was impressed by Mr. Holt’s passion, humility and sincerity when he told his life story, how he knew the streets but had already taken steps to turn his life around. “I knew this was a born leader who could really have a profound impact on our employees,” said Ms. Merida. “He could show them that no matter how bad it is, your life isn’t over.”

Mr. Holt now works as the company’s commercialization coordinator, responsible for taking new products and product improvements from concept to market.

For the full story, see:

Ruth Simon. “The Company of Second Chances.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, January 25, 2020): B1 & B6.

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

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

Why Did McPizza Fail?

Why do some products succeed and others fail? The answers may hold lessons for which future projects should be pursued and, if pursued, how to pursue them. Successes are sometimes researched; failures much less often. The passages quoted below are from an unusually deep dive into the story of McDonalds’s failed McPizza.

(p. 1) Maybe you are too young to remember. Perhaps you forgot. Or there’s a chance you’ve blocked it. But the home of the Big Mac began selling pizza in the mid-1980s, hoping to grab market share from national pie chains. McDonald’s gave up a few years later. Nobody seemed to lament the passing of McPizza, and nobody was urging its return. Which, to Mr. Thompson in the fall of 2016, made the topic all the more appealing.

. . .

(p. 8) One trick to keeping this enterprise alive and entertaining is Mr. Thompson’s refusal to accept answers to the show’s titular question, which he had learned by Episode 5. McPizza failed for reasons that should have seemed evident before it was rolled out: It’s way, way off brand, and it didn’t bake fast enough to keep pace with the rest of the menu.

. . .

Early on, Mr. Thompson learned that a McDonald’s in Pomeroy, Ohio, was the last franchise in the country still serving the pizza, and he raised money through Indiegogo to fly there and try it. (He described it as “at least as good as Little Caesars.”)

He wondered how the place kept selling an item that others in the chain didn’t offer. Once again, definitive answers were elusive because the franchise owner would not speak to him.  . . .

Several months after Mr. Thompson’s visit, the Pomeroy McDonald’s stopped selling McPizza. The podcast depicted this as retaliation against the show, a shameless effort to curtail old-fashioned muckraking. This makes sense only in the mind of “Brian Thompson,” whose baseline assumption is that McDonald’s ought to again sell pizza because people love it and because the company is in business to make money. Hence, any rationale for the product’s demise is under suspicion.

To Mr. Thompson’s delight, he keeps unearthing new rationales for the product’s cancellation. At one point, he heard about a McDonald’s in Adak, Alaska, a largely deserted island in the middle of the Bering Sea. For years, Adak was a Cold War outpost for Army and Navy barracks, but it was decommissioned in the early 1990s, and the McDonald’s there was abandoned. Last year, Mr. Thompson raised money online to travel the 3,100 miles there, hoping that the husk of a restaurant would contain his Holy Grail: a McDonald’s pizza oven.

He flew to Anchorage, then took a once-a-week, three-hour flight to Adak. After landing, he went straight to the McDonald’s and was disappointed to see it had been boarded up — there was no way inside. The trip seemed a grand bust. But as Mr. Thompson prepared to leave the island, his Airbnb host suggested he call a guy named Larry, who, it turned out, had once found a pizza oven in a derelict bowling alley. Evidently, it had been hauled out of the defunct McDonald’s. Larry determined it had been manufactured for McDonald’s by Garland Commercial Industries, a company in Freeland, Pa.

To “Brian Thompson,” this was a breakthrough on a par with the formulation of the laws of thermodynamics. He called Garland, and a representative put him in touch with a service tech in Cleveland who had once repaired McDonald’s ovens. Unlike the corporate P.R. department, this guy was chatty.

“They were only in McDonald’s for roughly two to three years because of the difficulty to program them,” the tech said on Episode 143. “I don’t even think there’s program manuals for it.”

And thus, to Mr. Thompson’s delight, three years into the show, he’d added another reason that McDonald’s killed pizza — the ovens were a fiasco.

For the full story, see:

David Segal. “Answering a Fast-Food Question, if You Care.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sunday, November 1, 2020): 1 & 8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Oct. 28, 2020, and has the title “A Podcast Answers a Fast-Food Question That Nobody Is Asking.”)