Engineering the Bar Code “Was Fun!”

(p. A13) If he had followed instructions from his boss, George Laurer might never have succeeded in designing the Universal Product Code.

In 1971, a supervisor at International Business Machines Corp. told the electrical engineer to devise a bar code based on previous models involving circular symbols resembling dart boards. While the boss was on vacation, Mr. Laurer concluded that little circles wouldn’t do, partly because smears of ink left by printing presses could scramble the code. Instead, he and others came up with a row of stripes, whose varying width and spacing conveyed a reliable code.

. . .

. . . , as he noted in the title of his memoir, “Engineering Was Fun!”

For the full obituary, see:

James R. Hagerty. “Bar Code Designer Defied Instructions.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, December 14, 2019): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Dec. 12, 2019 and has the title “George Laurer, Defying Instructions, Created Universal Bar Code.”)

Laurer’s memoir, mentioned above, is:

Laurer, George J. Engineering Was Fun! 3rd ed. Morrisville, NC:, 2012.

Chinese Scientists “Withdrew” Research Paper That Noted Proximity of Shi Bat Lab to Wuhan Market

(p. A11) For the past 15 years, Chinese scientist Shi Zhengli has warned the world—in English, Chinese and French—that bats harbor coronaviruses that pose serious risks to human health.

The flying mammals are a likely culprit in the pandemic now sweeping the globe, and Dr. Shi and her laboratories in Wuhan, where the outbreak was first identified, have attracted suspicion.

. . .

Dr. Shi’s experience—and her large set of reference material—helped her determine that the new coronavirus loose in Wuhan had most likely come from a bat. In fact, a sample her team collected in Yunnan province in 2013 was about 96% identical to the genetic sequence of the virus that causes Covid-19.

All of that has raised questions about whether the virus could have somehow escaped from one of Dr. Shi’s labs and infected Wuhan’s population.

In a February [2020] research paper, Chinese scientists pointed out that the Wuhan market, where the coronavirus began spreading late last year, was close to her labs as well as those of another local scientist who has worked on bats at the Wuhan Municipal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The authors withdrew their paper as “speculation” after it got widespread international notice.

For the full story, see:

James T. Areddy. “‘Bat Woman’ Draws Scrutiny.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, April 22, 2020): A11.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 21, 2020, and has the title “China Bat Expert Says Her Wuhan Lab Wasn’t Source of New Coronavirus.”)

Early Promising Results from Gilead-Sponsored Study on Remdesivir

(p. B3) A doctor in Chicago told colleagues that Gilead’s drug remdesivir appeared to help many patients enrolled in a clinical trial site at the University of Chicago Medicine hospital, according to a news report in online health publication STAT, which cited a video of the remarks. The doctor said that the hospital had enrolled 125 patients in two remdesivir studies sponsored by Gilead, and that most had been discharged from the hospital, and two had died.

. . .

“Partial data from an ongoing clinical trial is by definition incomplete and should never be used to draw conclusions about the safety or efficacy of a potential treatment that is under investigation,” a University of Chicago spokeswoman said in an email. “Drawing any conclusions at this point is premature and scientifically unsound.”

. . .

Last week, Gilead reported in the New England Journal of Medicine that remdesivir showed encouraging results in treating 53 patients with severe Covid-19 symptoms. The patients were given the drug under so-called compassionate use, which allows for doctors to request unapproved drugs for patients in emergency situations.

Of the 53 compassionate use patients who received remdesivir, nearly half were discharged from the hospital and seven patients died, or 13% of the total, according to the New England Journal paper. Of 30 patients using breathing tubes connected to ventilators, 17 had their tubes disconnected after remdesivir treatment.

For the full story, see:

Joseph Walker. “Gilead Shares Up 9.7% On Encouraging Signs In Covid-19 Drug Trial.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, April 18, 2020): B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 17, 2020, and has the title “Coronavirus Drug Report, Though Inconclusive, Sends Gilead Higher.” Where the versions differ, the passages quoted above follow the somewhat longer online version.)

Chinese Communists Censor Academic Articles on Origins of Covid-19

(p. A21) Beijing has claimed that the virus originated in a Wuhan “wet market,” where wild animals were sold. But evidence to counter this theory emerged in January [2020]. Chinese researchers reported in the Lancet Jan. 24 that the first known cases had no contact with the market, and Chinese state media acknowledged the finding. There’s no evidence the market sold bats or pangolins, the animals from which the virus is thought to have jumped to humans. And the bat species that carries it isn’t found within 100 miles of Wuhan.

Wuhan has two labs where we know bats and humans interacted. One is the Institute of Virology, eight miles from the wet market; the other is the Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention, barely 300 yards from the market.

Both labs collect live animals to study viruses. Their researchers travel to caves across China to capture bats for this purpose. Chinese state media released a minidocumentary in mid-December following a team of Wuhan CDC researchers collecting viruses from bats in caves. The researchers fretted openly about the risk of infection.

. . .

While the Chinese government denies the possibility of a lab leak, its actions tell a different story. The Chinese military posted its top epidemiologist to the Institute of Virology in January. In February Chairman Xi Jinping urged swift implementation of new biosafety rules to govern pathogens in laboratory settings. Academic papers about the virus’s origins are now subject to prior restraint by the government.

For the full commentary, see:

Tom Cotton. “Coronavirus and the Laboratories in Wuhan.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, April 22, 2020): A21.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 21, 2020, and has the title “ON BUSINESS; Airbnb Defied the Odds of Startup Success. How Will It Survive a Pandemic?”)

“Rational for Workers to Prefer a Seller’s Market in Labor”

If we adopt policies to maintain what I call a “robustly redundant labor market,” workers will have no reason to fear harm from free-trade and immigration. The policies that allow robustly redundant labor markets are described in my Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism.

(p. C2) Unwilling to admit that the center-left has been largely captured by the managerial elite, many pundits and academics on the left insist that mindless bigotry, rather than class interests, explains the attraction of many working-class voters to populist parties that promise to restrict trade and immigration. But it is just as rational for workers to prefer a seller’s market in labor as it is for employers to prefer a buyer’s market in labor. Blue-collar workers who have abandoned center-left parties for populist movements bring with them the historic suspicion of large-scale immigration that was typical of organized labor for generations.

And as MIT economist David Autor and his colleagues have shown, voters in the U.S. regions hit hardest by Chinese import competition were the most likely to favor Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders in 2016. Strict environmental regulations, which impose few costs on the urban elites, can threaten the livelihoods and lifestyles of workers in the exurban heartlands, like the French yellow vest protesters who rebelled against a tax on diesel fuel intended to mitigate climate change.

For the full commentary, see:

Michael Lind. “Saving Democracy From the Managerial Elite.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, January 11, 2020): C1-C2.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 10, 2020, and has the same title as the print version.)

Lind’s commentary is related to his book:

Lind, Michael. The New Class War: Saving Democracy from the Managerial Elite. New York: Portfolio, 2020.

The latest version of the paper co-authored by Autor, and mentioned above, is:

Autor, David H., David Dorn, Gordon H. Hanson, and Kaveh Majlesi. “Importing Political Polarization? The Electoral Consequences of Rising Trade Exposure.” Working Paper, Oct. 2019.

My book, mentioned way above, is:

Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019.

Firm Founders “Learned to Cope With a Lot of Adversity and Have a Lot of Resilience”

(p. B6) I’m a sucker for good stories about the founding of companies.

Yvon Chouinard started apparel maker Patagonia in a chicken coop; James Dyson went through 5,000 prototypes on his way to inventing a bagless vacuum cleaner; Steve Ellis opened Chipotle burrito shops simply to earn enough money to start a gourmet restaurant (he never got that far).

Airbnb Inc.’s story takes the cake. In 2008, a couple entrepreneurial types living on Ramen noodles in San Francisco cooked up an online home-sharing scheme. They recruited a computer scientist, funded their idea in the early days by maxing out credit cards and selling politically-themed cereal boxes, and held on until their company shook up the entire lodging industry.

. . .

“There’s this crazy idealism that founders have,” Brian Chesky, one of those Airbnb founders and the company’s chief executive, told me this week in a video chat. “They’ve learned to cope with a lot of adversity and have a lot of resilience.”

For the full commentary, see:

John D. Stoll. “ON BUSINESS; Airbnb Defied the Startup Odds. Will It Survive a Pandemic?” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, April 18, 2020): B6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 17, 2020, and has the title “ON BUSINESS; Airbnb Defied the Odds of Startup Success. How Will It Survive a Pandemic?”)

Small Is Not Always Beautiful

(p. A16) Zaid Kurdieh has so many fava beans growing at his farm in upstate New York that he could send 4,000 pounds a week to the best chefs in New York City. In Kentucky, Robert Eversole and Thomas Sargent planted enough winter greens to fill the all the salad bars at the University of Kentucky and still have enough left over to feed fans at the state’s two major spring horse races.

But the coronavirus pandemic has postponed the Kentucky Derby and shut the university. And in New York, chefs who would normally be shelling Mr. Kurdieh’s fava beans for their spring menus have closed their restaurants.

So these small farmers, like many others across the country who spent decades building a local, sustainable agricultural system, are staring at their fields and wondering what to do now that the table has been kicked out from under the modern farm-to-table movement.

. . .

Farm-to-table — the term has become a fixture in the culinary lexicon — started in the 1970s, when Chez Panisse and a handful of other restaurants hatched what then seemed like a radical notion: Build menus from food grown by nearby farmers who are thoughtful about everything from the seeds they select and the soil they grow them in to the communities they feed.

That idea grew into a pipeline connecting farmers, ranchers and chefs that in 2019 had generated $12 billion in income for small-scale producers including cheesemakers and vintners. Governments, hospitals and schools have come to see the value in buying locally grown food. No Silicon Valley tech company worth its stock price would dare to design a cafeteria without local food.

Since the pandemic hit, that conduit has shut down. The loss in sales could run as high as $689 million, with much higher costs in jobs and other businesses that make up the farm-to-table economic ecosystem, according to a report compiled in March by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

For the full story, see:

Kim Severson. “Farm-to-Table Falters, and Growers Are in Limbo.” The New York Times (Friday, April 10, 2020): A16.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 9, 2020, and has the title “The Farm-to-Table Connection Comes Undone.”)