Researchers and Entrepreneurs Experiment with Once-Taboo Geoengineering Projects to Reverse Global Warming

(p. A3) Dumping chemicals in the ocean? Spraying saltwater into clouds? Injecting reflective particles into the sky? . . .

These geoengineering approaches were once considered taboo by scientists and regulators who feared that tinkering with the environment could have unintended consequences, but now researchers are receiving taxpayer funds and private investments to get out of the lab and test these methods outdoors.

. . .

In Israel, a startup called Stardust Solutions has begun testing a system to disperse a cloud of tiny reflective particles about 60,000 feet in altitude, reflecting sunlight away from Earth to cool the atmosphere in a concept known as solar radiation management, or SRM. Yanai Yedvab, Stardust chief executive and a former deputy chief scientist at the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, wouldn’t disclose the composition of the proprietary particles.

Yedvab said Stardust has raised $15 million from two investors and has conducted low-level aerial tests using white smoke to simulate the particles’ path in the atmosphere. After the company completes indoor safety testing, it intends to conduct a limited outdoor test of the dispersion technology, monitoring devices and particles in the next few months, Yedvab said.

. . .

Experiments aimed at cooling the atmosphere by reflecting sunlight away from Earth are an attempt to mimic what happens when a volcano erupts. In 1991, Mount Pinatubo, an active volcano in the Philippines, spewed sulfur and ash into the upper atmosphere, lowering the Earth’s temperature by .5 degrees Celsius (.9 degrees Fahrenheit) for an entire year.

For the full story, see:

Eric Niiler. “New Experiments Aim to Cool Planet.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, February 15, 2024): A3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date February 14, 2024, and has the title “Scientists Resort to Once-Unthinkable Solutions to Cool the Planet.” The online version says that the title of the print version was also “Scientists Resort to Once-Unthinkable Solutions to Cool the Planet.” But my print version has the title “New Experiments Aim to Cool Planet.”)

Good Scientific Questions Can Be Answered With Empirical Experiments: “In Science, Reality Rules”

(p. A17) . . . I hit it off with the legendary Columbia University physics professor and Nobel Prize winner I.I. Rabi, who discovered the basis for magnetic resonance imaging, among other techniques through which we access and harness the quantum world.

. . .

Naturally, our conversations often wandered across physics. I was full of theoretical ideas and quasi-philosophical speculations. Rabi pressed me—gently, with a twinkle in his eye, yet relentlessly—to describe their concrete meaning. In the process we often discovered that there wasn’t any!

But not always—and the questions that survived those dialogues were leaner and stronger. I internalized this experience, and since then my inner Rabi (he died in 1988) has been a wise, inspiring companion.

. . .

Fully worked-out answers to good scientific questions should include solid experimental prospects.

That is a surprisingly controversial view today, as some prominent philosophers of science promote a “post-empirical physics” that doesn’t require proof, or evidence. And there’s no doubt that physically inspired mathematics, or for that matter pure mathematics, can bring people great joy. But I lean toward Rabi’s attitude: In science, reality rules.

. . .

Another characteristic of most good questions is that the answer is just a little bit out of reach. It should not be too obvious, but it should not be utterly inaccessible either.

. . .

The foolproof way to find good questions is to come up with a lot of them and then throw out the ones that are too vague, too easy, too hard or too inconsequential.

For the full commentary, see:

Frank Wilczek. “WILCZEK’S UNIVERSE; Sifting for the Right Questions in Science.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, July 29, 2023): C4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 28, 2023, and has the same title as the print version.)

Apple’s Bold “1984” Super Bowl Ad, Had Failed Marketing Test

(p. C4) Conceived by the Chiat/Day ad agency and directed by Ridley Scott, then fresh off making the seminal science-fiction noir “Blade Runner,” the Apple commercial “1984,” which was intended to introduce the new Macintosh computer, would become one of the most acclaimed commercials ever made. It also helped to kick off — pun partially intended — the Super Bowl tradition of the big game serving as an annual showcase for gilt-edged ads from Fortune 500 companies.

. . .

FRED GOLDBERG The original idea was actually done in 1982. We presented an ad [with] a headline, which was “Why 1984 Won’t Be Like ‘1984,’” to Steve Jobs, and he didn’t think the Apple III was worthy of that claim.

. . .

HAYDEN Steve Jobs was excited but frightened by it. Steve Wozniak offered to pay to run the commercial himself.

SCULLEY Before the commercial ran, we had to take it to the board of directors. The board sees the commercial, and then there’s just dead silence in the boardroom. They turn and look at me, and [a board member] says, “You’re not really going to run that thing, are you?”

HAYDEN As the closing credits scrolled up, the chairman, Mike Markkula, put his head in his hands and kind of folded over the conference table, and then slowly straightened up and [proposed hiring a different ad agency].

SCOTT I made it. I thought it was pretty good. But I was thinking, “Really? They’re going to run this on the Super Bowl? And we don’t know what it’s for?”

GOLDBERG I had them do a theater test. We get back the results, and it’s the worst business commercial that they’ve ever tested, in terms of persuasiveness.

SCULLEY The board said, “We don’t think you should run it. Try to sell the time.”

GOLDBERG And it was Jay Chiat who told us to drag our feet, basically, when we were told to sell off the time on the Super Bowl.

HAYDEN At long last, it came down that we would run the “1984” commercial once.

For the full story, see:

Saul Austerlitz. “The Super Bowl’s Big Ad Touchdown.” The New York Times (Saturday, February 10, 2024): C4.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added. The bracketed words in comments from Goldberg, Sculley, and Hayden were in the original.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Feb. 5, 2024, and has the title “40 Years Ago, This Ad Changed the Super Bowl Forever.” In the print and online versions, the names of panelists were in capitalized and bold fonts.)

Apple’s bold and famous “1984” Super Bowl ad could only be understood by those who were familiar with:

Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty-Four. New York: The New American Library, 1961 [1st published in 1949].

A PC Industry Run “By Middle-Manager Types” Is No Longer “Fun”

(p. B10) John Walker, a groundbreaking, if reclusive, technology entrepreneur and polymath who was a founder and chief executive of Autodesk, the company that brought the ubiquitous AutoCAD software program to the design and architecture masses, died on Feb. 2 [2024] in Neuchâtel, Switzerland.

. . .

AutoCAD — the “CAD” stands for computer-aided design — was based on a program called Interact created by Michael Riddle, another company founder. With the contributions of Mr. Walker as well as Greg Lutz, who was also a founder, and the rest of the team, AutoCAD would go on to revolutionize industries including architecture, graphic design and engineering by allowing design professionals to ditch their pencils and paper and render their creations on a screen using an inexpensive personal computer.

“To him goes the credit for the Second Design Revolution,” the California software executive Roopinder Tara wrote in a tribute to Mr. Walker on the site The “First Design Revolution,” as Mr. Tara called it, was the creation of earlier CAD programs that ran on expensive mainframes or minicomputers. But, he wrote, it was with AutoCAD, which “burst onto the scene in 1982, after the advent of the IBM PC, that the computer actually started to deliver on the promise.”

. . .

“In 1977, this business was fun,” Mr. Walker wrote in a book-length history of Autodesk that he published on his site. “The sellers and the buyers were hot-shot techies like ourselves, everybody spoke the same language and knew what was going on.”

“Today,” he added, “the microcomputer industry is run by middle-manager types who know far more about P/L statements than they do RAM organization.”

For the full obituary, see:

Alex Williams. “John Walker, 74, Recluse Who, as a Tech Mogul, Popularized AutoCAD.” The New York Times (Thursday, March 7, 2024): B10.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date March 6, 2024 and has the title “John Walker, Tech Executive Who Popularized AutoCAD, Dies at 74.” In both the online and print versions, the word fun is in italics.)

FDA Delays Apple Offering Consumers Quick and Convenient Blood Pressure Readings

Doesn’t the FDA do harm by requiring that Apple watch blood pressure monitor be equal in accuracy to a standard clinical blood pressure monitor? Many people will not take the time and effort to get frequent readings from a standard blood pressure monitor in a clinic. But many of them would check their blood pressure conveniently on their watch. Isn’t a less accurate reading better than no reading at all?

(p. A1) Apple’s widening effort to turn its nine-year-old watch from a luxury timepiece into the ultimate all-in-one medical device is taking it into territory that is legally treacherous as well as potentially profitable.

. . .

(p. A2) “The studies that we’ve seen are not yet reassuring that they’re ready for prime time or for clinical use,” said Jordana Cohen, associate professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania.

To secure Food and Drug Administration clearance for selling a blood-pressure monitor, companies must demonstrate through the FDA’s 510(k) process that their device’s accuracy is comparable to an existing, already cleared device, she added.

Similarly, tracking glucose through noninvasive skin sensors is generally less precise than direct blood analysis, with factors such as skin tone and temperature affecting accuracy.

For the full story, see:

Dalvin Brown and Aaron Tilley. “Tech and Legal Hurdles Hinder Apple’s Quest for Medical Watch.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, Dec. 29, 2023): A1-A2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date December 28, 2023, and has the title “Apple Keeps Chasing the Ultimate Health-Tracking Watch—but It Could Take Years.”)

Akio Toyoda Had the Courage to Predict the Current EV Debacle

On Nov. 25, 2022, I ran a blog entry that reported on the severe criticism that then-Toyota-President Akio Toyoda [sic] was receiving for his skepticism that charging infrastructure and consumer preferences were ready for an immediate full switch to electric vehicles. Because he had the courage to keep Toyota focused on hybrids, consumers now have more of what they need and want. As a result Toyota prospers. In a capitalist system, firms run by executives with foresight and courage receive their just reward.

(p. B1) TOKYO—Gasoline-electric vehicles are flying off dealer lots in the U.S. and generating a windfall for the reigning hegemon of hybrids, Toyota Motor.

Toyota on Tuesday [February 6, 2024] forecast a record $30.3 billion net profit for the fiscal year ending March thanks to higher sales of hybrid vehicles in all of its major markets. The results sent Toyota shares up 4.8% in Tokyo to close at a record high.

Hybrid sales grew last year at a faster clip than sales for pure electric vehicles in the U.S. and some other markets. Signs have emerged that the EV push might have gotten ahead of U.S. consumers who are worried about charging problems and higher prices. That has steered them toward less expensive hybrids, which can be filled up with gasoline.

Automakers that had been rushing to pivot toward full EVs are now reconsidering. General Motors said last week it would introduce some plug-in hybrid models in North America after facing pressure from dealers. Ford Motor said last year it would seek to quadruple its hybrid sales in the next five years.

For the full story, see:

River Davis. “Toyota Is Cashing In As Hybrid Sales Boom.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, February 7, 2024): B1-B2.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date February 6, 2024, and has the title “Toyota Cashes In on Booming Hybrid Sales.”)

A Miraculous Machine in the Middle-Ages That Did Nothing to Improve the Lives of the Masses

Before the industrial revolution clever inventors sometimes devised elaborate and amazing machines. The Antikythera mechanism is a famous example. Though these machines amaze us, they usually did little to improve the lives of those who lived at the time of invention. Why? Maybe the answer is that just before the industrial revolution, entrepreneurs were encouraged and enabled (through property rights and patents) to apply amazing inventions to the betterment of the people.

(p. C9) What kind of a book do we have in “Miracles and Machines: A Sixteenth-Century Automaton and Its Legend”?

. . .

The authors call the book a “clockwork”; its many disparate parts are joined in scrupulous devotion to a 16th-century automaton—an object, they write, which is at once “a sculpture, a machine, an icon, and a messenger.”

The figure is of a Franciscan friar, about 16 inches tall, carved out of wood, cloaked in a modern replica of the garb he once wore. His 5-pound weight is due to an intricate iron mechanism that fits inside his wooden body; it is wound with a key.

. . .

Imagine, Ms. King and Mr. Todd suggest, what it would have been like to see this automaton at the time of its creation. He is placed upon a candlelit table. His feet take steps under his tunic—but he actually glides on three wheels, making his movement seem ethereal. He is deliberately slow. This is not a mechanism meant to thrill us with speed and virtuosity. His movements are graceful, solemn.

As he moves, the friar raises and lowers a cross in his left hand and strikes his chest with his right, as if declaring “mea culpa.” He also lifts the cross to his lips and fixes his gaze steadily, perhaps at an observer at the opposite end of the table. He looks down at the cross, up at the observer, and begins to turn: “You let out half a breath,” the authors tell us, “but as his full body pivots on the table, feet in motion, head forward, his eyes slide left in their sockets to stay fixed on you!” Then he changes direction, staring at what might be another observer. There is no doubt about his seriousness; the impact on believers, in the half-light, would have been considerable.

. . .

In seeking to learn more about the friar’s provenance, Ms. King contacted Servus Gieben, a Dutch-born Franciscan who served as the director of the Franciscan Museum in Rome. In his correspondence with Ms. King, Gieben, who died in 2014, reaffirmed his theory that it may have been commissioned by Philip for his son Carlos. In 1562, at the age of 17, Carlos fell down a flight of stairs and so gravely injured his skull that he was not expected to survive (either the injury or the era’s “treatments”).

. . . The corpse of a Franciscan friar, Diego de Alcalá (ca. 1400-63), had remained free of decay after his death that it was thought to have healing powers. And behold: Once it was laid upon the dying prince, Carlos soon began to recover. Philip II spent 26 years petitioning four consecutive popes to recognize the miracle and declare Diego a saint. (He ultimately was, as the city of San Diego now affirms.)

Gieben suggested that the facial resemblance between the automaton and Diego was evident. And what better way, he thought, for Philip to honor Diego than by providing his often wayward son with an admonitory reminder in the form of the penitential friar himself, created by the most brilliant clockmaker in the empire. As Don Carlos was brought back to life, so an inanimate automaton would turn animate.

Even today, the authors suggest, the friar remains “a small miracle. Or the image of a small miracle. Or the metaphor of a large miracle. Or an artificial miracle.”

For the full review see:

Edward Rothstein. “A Wonder of Another Age.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, December 23, 2023): C9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date December 22, 2023, and has the title “‘Miracles and Machines’ Review: Mystery of the Clockwork Man.”)

The book under review is:

King, Elizabeth, and W. David Todd. Miracles and Machines: A Sixteenth-Century Automaton and Its Legend. Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 2023.

Cleaning Pigeon Poop Off Their Antenna to Rule Out a Cause of Static

(p. B11) Arno A. Penzias, whose astronomical probes yielded incontrovertible evidence of a dynamic, evolving universe with a clear point of origin, confirming what became known as the Big Bang theory, died on Monday [January 22, 2024] in San Francisco.

. . .

In 1964, while preparing the antenna to measure the properties of the Milky Way galaxy, Dr. Penzias and Dr. Wilson, another young radio astronomer who was new to Bell Labs, encountered a persistent, unexplained hiss of radio waves that seemed to come from everywhere in the sky, detected no matter which way the antenna was pointed. Perplexed, they considered various sources of the noise. They thought they might be picking up radar, or noise from New York City, or radiation from a nuclear explosion. Or might pigeon droppings be the culprit?

Examining the antenna, Dr. Penzias and Dr. Wilson “subjected its electric circuits to scrutiny comparable to that used in preparing a manned spacecraft,” Walter Sullivan wrote in The New York Times in 1965. Yet the mysterious hiss remained.

The cosmological underpinnings of the noise were finally explained with help from physicists at Princeton University, who had predicted that there might be radiation coming from all directions left over from the Big Bang. The buzzing, it turned out, was just that: a cosmic echo. It confirmed that the universe wasn’t infinitely old and static but rather had begun as a primordial fireball that left the universe bathed in background radiation.

. . .

. . . Dr. Penzias’s path to stumbling onto the answer to one of humanity’s most central questions started . . ., when he joined Bell Laboratories as a member of its radio research group in Holmdel.

There, he saw the potential of AT&T’s new satellite communications antenna, a giant radio telescope known as the Holmdel Horn, as a tool for cosmological observation. In teaming up with Dr. Wilson in 1964 to use the antenna, Dr. Wilson said in a recent interview, one of their goals was to advance the nascent field of radio astronomy by accurately measuring several bright celestial sources.

Soon after they started their measurements, however, they heard the hiss. They spent months ruling out possible causes, including pigeons.

“The pigeons would go and roost at the small end of the horn, and they deposited what Arno called a white dielectric material,” Dr. Wilson said. “And we didn’t know if the pigeon poop might have produced some radiation.” So the men climbed up and cleaned it out. The noise persisted.

It was finally Dr. Penzias’s fondness for chatting on the telephone that led to a fortuitous breakthrough. (“It was a good thing he worked for the phone company, because he liked to use their instrument,” Dr. Wilson said. “He talked to a lot of people.”)

In January 1965, Dr. Penzias dialed Bernard Burke, a fellow radio astronomer, and in the course of their conversation he mentioned the puzzling hiss. Dr. Burke suggested that Dr. Penzias call a physicist at Princeton who had been trying to prove that the Big Bang had left traces of cosmological radiation. He did.

Intrigued, scientists from Princeton visited Dr. Penzias and Dr. Wilson, and together they made the connection to the Big Bang. Theory and observation were then brought together in a pair of papers published in 1965.

For the full obituary, see:

Katie Hafner. “Arno A. Penzias Is Dead at 90; Confirmed the Big Bang Theory.” The New York Times (Thursday, January 25, 2024): B11.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Jan. 22, 2024, and has the title “Arno A. Penzias, 90, Dies; Nobel Physicist Confirmed Big Bang Theory.”)

Reagan’s “Dogged Support for Human Rights” Helped Advance Freedom and Peace

(p. C7) Reagan’s confidence that the Cold War could be won made him unusual. At the time, both Republicans and Democrats believed that America was in decline. Communism was on the march in Afghanistan, Africa, Central America and the Caribbean. Then, in 1980, President Jimmy Carter seemed hapless and ineffectual after he failed to rescue U.S. hostages in Iran. The CIA mistakenly believed that the Soviet economy was growing. The policies of arms control and détente —or direct negotiations—were ascendant.

William Inboden’s masterly diplomatic history “The Peacemaker: Ronald Reagan, the Cold War, and the World on the Brink” reveals the qualities that made Reagan an extraordinary president who established the conditions for the collapse of Soviet communism. . . .

At almost every juncture, Reagan rejected the advice of former president Richard Nixon, whose realist worldview privileged China over Japan, geopolitics over economics, equilibrium over victory, and stability over human rights. Reagan envisioned a future where high technology, a universal commitment to freedom and dignity, and a willingness to risk confrontation with the enemy resulted in a global democratic revolution and the eventual abolition of nuclear weapons.

. . .

Reagan’s horror of nuclear war led him to envision a world where nuclear weapons would be obsolete. Woven into Mr. Inboden’s story are the many times that Reagan saw the potential for nuclear catastrophe. In 1979 the commander of the North American Air Defense Command, or NORAD, told him that the U.S. had no defense against a Soviet missile strike. In 1981 he took a flight on a special Air Force One called the “Doomsday Plane” that had been made to withstand nuclear fallout. In 1982 he became the first president to participate in a continuity-of-government exercise, codenamed “Ivy League.” Reagan watched helplessly as a simulated nuclear exchange destroyed his beloved country.

The following spring Reagan proposed the development of technology that could intercept nuclear missiles before they hit their targets. Both his secretaries of defense and state were against his plans for a Strategic Defense Initiative. They were not alone. The many critics of Reagan’s antiballistic missile shield followed Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in calling it “Star Wars.”

Scientists said SDI wouldn’t work. Arms controllers said it would increase the chances of nuclear escalation. None of them understood that Reagan had redefined the arms race to America’s advantage. “It put the Soviets on the defensive,” writes Mr. Inboden, “fueling the Kremlin’s perennial fear of America’s technological prowess.”

. . .

Reagan’s opponents said that his dogged support for human rights and missile defense was both counterproductive and a distraction from good relations with the Soviets. Rather than conform to the accepted interpretation of reality, he sought to establish new facts on the ground that favored the expansion of freedom.

For the full review, see:

Matthew Continetti. “We Win and They Lose.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022): C7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 25, 2022, and has the title “‘The Peacemaker’ Review: Ronald Reagan’s Cold War.”)

The book under review is:

Inboden, William. The Peacemaker: Ronald Reagan, the Cold War, and the World on the Brink. New York: Dutton, 2022.

Zuckerberg Praises Musk for Not Being Too Shy to Reduce Staff at X

(p. R3) At the beginning of the year, many were quick with predictions of X’s demise, in part because of the dramatic staff cuts made by Musk.

. . .

Perhaps the biggest impact of Musk’s staff reductions was provoking a broader conversation about staffing needs and overall productivity throughout Silicon Valley.

Even rival Mark Zuckerberg praised Musk for removing layers of management. “I also think that it was probably good for the industry that he made those changes because my sense is that there were a lot of other people who thought that those were good changes but who may have been a little shy about doing them,” the Facebook co-founder said.

For the full commentary, see:

Tim Higgins. “Elon Musk as Technoking? More Like DramaKing.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Dec. 18, 2023): R3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date December 16, 2023, and has the title “In the Year of a DramaKing: Elon Musk.”)

“Context Switching Is the Mindkiller”

(p. B7) “My mind often feels…like a very wild storm,” Musk said Wednesday in the same interview. “I’m a fountain of ideas. I mean I have more ideas than I could possibly execute. So I have no shortage of ideas. Innovation is not a problem, execution is a problem.”

He was speaking at the New York Times DealBook Summit on Wednesday [Nov. 29, 2023] in New York City, a high-profile event run by one of the media juggernauts he has been openly needling.

He was only there, Musk said, because of his friendship with the host, Andrew Ross Sorkin. Or, as Musk called him on stage, “Jonathan.”

“I’m Andrew,” Sorkin said.

. . .

“Context switching is the mindkiller,” he tweeted the day after Thanksgiving, a favorite axiom of his that mixes a quote from the sci-fi book “Dune” with computer lingo for multitasking.

In “Dune,” fear is the mindkiller—the idea that the primal reaction to fear is to recoil rather than go forward. In essence, fear is an obstacle to be overcome to reach success. For Musk, the challenge to overcome is being able to handle switching between rockets and tweets and cars and brain computers and drilling machines and superhuman artificial intelligence.

. . .

In the moment that ricocheted around the world, Musk told advertisers unhappy with him to go f— themselves, saying he was unwilling to pander to their “blackmail” and warned they threatened to bankrupt the social-media platform he acquired slightly more than a year ago. And if they were successful, he warned, “See how Earth responds to that.”

. . .

To Musk, the likes of Disney are trying to squelch his freedom of speech. To others, they are simply exercising their rights to walk away.

“Go. F—. Yourself,” Musk said on stage to a stunned audience. “Is that clear? I hope it is. Hey, Bob, if you’re in the audience.”

For the full commentary, see:

Tim Higgins. “Storm in Musk’s Mind Casts Shadow on Vehicle Launch.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Dec. 4, 2023): B7.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date December 2, 2023, and has the title “The Storm Brewing Inside Elon Musk’s Mind Gets Out.” The 7th, 8th, and 9th sentences quoted above, appear in the online, but not in the print, version of the commentary. Also, the online version of the sentence on being able to handle switching, contains seven added words of detail.)

The science-fiction Dune book mentioned above is:

Herbert, Frank. Dune. Deluxe ed. New York: Ace, 2019 [1st ed. 1965].