This Week

Things that caught my attention, this week.

How Trump’s vaccine effort produced results at ‘warp speed’
Hannah Kuchler in New York and Kiran Stacey:

Sitting in the shadow of the brutalist health department building in Washington, with only a leather jacket for protection against an autumnal breeze, Moncef Slaoui cuts a defiant figure.

Six months after the former GlaxoSmithKline executive left the private sector to become President Donald Trump’s coronavirus vaccine tsar, Mr Slaoui feels his decision has been vindicated, and critics of the ability of Operation Warp Speed to develop a vaccine in record time having been proved wrong.

“The easy answer for experts was to say it was impossible and find reasons why the operation would never work,” he told the Financial Times.

But the vaccine push is now hailed as the bright spot in the Trump administration’s Covid-19 response, as products from Pfizer and BioNTech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca and Oxford university move closer to approval.

Operation Warp Speed is a more than $10bn investment programme with a remit to fund vaccines, therapeutics — such as two recently approved antibody treatments — and diagnostics.

The entire planet is going to benefit from it. We’re going to?.?.?.?hopefully have a vaccine available in France and Spain and Italy, all paid for by the US government
Stéphane Bancel, Moderna chief executive
So far it has spent the vast majority of its money on Covid-19 vaccines.

As well as funding some vaccine developers directly, it has also signed pre-orders for the products others are working on, guaranteeing them an income from an approved vaccine when the normal commercial decision might be to not take the risk.

Mr Slaoui’s team also helped manufacturers secure supplies and sped up responses to usually laborious regulatory queries.

Scientists had warned that, with much still to learn about Covid-19, a vaccine might take longer to develop, manufacture and distribute than Mr Slaoui — and his boss, the president — might have hoped.

The central achievement of Operation Warp Speed had been accelerating investment in manufacturing, said Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the Columbia University School of Public Health.

How Big Government Stacked the Deck Against Small Business.

Gap misses profit estimates on higher costs from online shift

McDonald’s Chris Kempczinski: ‘Our menu is very Darwinian’.

Supporting Julian Assange, fighting for a free press
Alan Rusbridger:

Journalists are supposed to believe in transparency – and I think most colleagues around the world welcomed the example we collectively set 10 years ago, pioneering the ability of multiple news organisations to work collaboratively on huge data sets. Journalists are bred to compete: in the 21st century we are learning to share.

But the past 10 years have also had a darker side. It was perhaps inevitable that a backlash would follow – and it has, with several countries moving to propose tougher laws that would all but make national security reporting, in particular, almost impossible.

Good leadership, after all, is defined by its absence.

Open Street Map is having a moment

Why the data wobbles.

Facebook’s Latest Error Shakes Advertisers’ Confidence.

The Elan Vital of Jean Mayer: (1935-2020)
Bill Whaley:

I had skied Taos on a day during spring break the previous March, 1965, when Jean set the marathon record, 60 runs, top to bottom, while riding up the four-minute Poma Lift on Al’s. He flew down Al’s or cut into Rhoda’s and Upper Inferno, down Showdown, curving over Snakedance like a mythical half-bird half-man. “Who is that man,” I wondered. Years later Paco came close to the record at 58 runs.

In January of 1967, at the St. Bernard Jean asked me, “Do you have fun the way you ski?” Humbled, I hastened to attend ski school, a privilege accorded ski bums. During the three years I worked at the St. Bernard, I took countless classes with Dadou or Jean among the top guests and the occasional drop-in instructor or ski patrolman from other ski areas.

When we arrived at a slope with uncut powder, Jean would say in an exaggerated Gallic accent, “I want you to get an idea, an image of how I ski, so that you can feel what I do, how I seduce the mountain.” Then he would turn to me. “Bill, on me. Allez, à l’attaque.”

“a new, “science-based” Covid-19 measure is prescribed, but the science in support of it is either vague or missing altogether“.

Mike McCarthy’s worst decision-making day buries the Cowboys in last place.

Amazon versus Alex Berenson (& me)

Politics and Policy with Maggie Haberman

China’s Surveillance State Sucks Up Data. U.S. Tech Is Key to Sorting It.

Supporting Julian Assange, fighting for a free press

Alan Rusbridger:

Journalists are supposed to believe in transparency – and I think most colleagues around the world welcomed the example we collectively set 10 years ago, pioneering the ability of multiple news organisations to work collaboratively on huge data sets. Journalists are bred to compete: in the 21st century we are learning to share.

But the past 10 years have also had a darker side. It was perhaps inevitable that a backlash would follow – and it has, with several countries moving to propose tougher laws that would all but make national security reporting, in particular, almost impossible.

Bill Gates is wrong about education

Wikipedia:

Could Bill’s great mind be wrong?

Everyone who disagrees with a great mind needs to pause and re-examine. Gates got sensational credentials. He sports a genius mind. He has seen more places that I could possibly ever manage to visit in Google Maps. He has spoken to more great people than I have had a chance to read about. He has visited more schools that I have seen on pictures. He started his forays into education in 1999. In contrast, I started thinking about “the system” only in 2016 when getting ready to write this book. This makes me into a fledgling with an immature point of view. Gates himself is a great example of a brisk student who has turned his skills and talents into a monumental achievement. His credentials are so much better than mine!

Good leadership, after all, is defined by its absence.

Greg Satell:

By now I think it’s clear that organizations no longer serve to direct work, but to direct passion.  Good leaders therefore, direct passion effectively, bad leaders do not.

Of course, that’s easier said than done, but as I described in an earlier post, Daniel Pink offers a very useful framework of autonomy, mastery and purpose.  Organizations in the digital age that provide those three things, no matter what their size, history or technology, can succeed.  Ones that do not will fail.

And that’s what leaderless organizations teach us about how to manage more conventional enterprises.  While the examples above show that organizations can be self organizing, leaders with industrial age tendencies often obstruct progress.  They pursue efficiency to the exclusion of passion, become overbearing and diminish performance.

Those who devote their efforts to the success of organizations like Morning Star, the Orpheus Orchestra and Anonymous are committed to a purpose, much like those at Apple, Facebook Google and other successful enterprises   In the end, a leader’s primary function is to imbue work with meaning.

Open Street Map is having a moment

Joe Morrison:

Well, anytime the wealthiest institutions in history are quietly collaborating on something, I think it’s worth noting. I’m not sure there is a precedent for such a collaboration — if you know of a case where otherwise embittered mega-corporations worked with a global community of volunteers on a public dataset…let me know. I’d love to learn about it.

The question on my mind is how idiosyncratic this situation really is. Does OSM represent a model for strategic corporate sponsorship of public goods moving forward? Or is it tragically inimitable?

For instance: I work for a company called Azavea that, among many noble efforts, maintains Cicero. It’s a database of elected officials and legislative districts in several countries around the world that gets updated daily. You can imagine that this should be a public good — like, doesn’t the government already have this information? Turns out…nah. Cicero requires ceaseless, grueling work to keep updated, and that means serious investment of time and money.

One of the key differences between Cicero and OSM is a community of contributors. Community is what makes OSM special. Without it, the project is “default dead,” as they say in Silicon Valley. Much like elected official information, map data goes stale fairly quickly and therefore requires constant life support.

Why the data wobbles

Erin Kissane:

We compile and publish COVID-19 data organized by the date on which it’s reported, rather than by date of specimen collection, data of symptom onset, date of death, etc. To see how holiday delays affect this data, we can look at the way weekends and holidays have caused predictable dips and rises in the numbers we compile every day from US states and territories.

If you’ve been following the data we report, you’ll probably be familiar with the day-of-week effects that make many state-reported COVID-19 metrics so jagged on the charts. On Wednesday through Saturday, we tend to see peak reporting for tests, cases, and deaths. Sunday and Monday, on the other hand, are usually very low in comparison. (This is the main reason we use—and advocate for the use of—seven-day averages for most COVID-19 metrics.) 

The reasons for these effects are many, and extend from test administration all the way through to the process of getting the data onto an official website. On weekends, fewer doctors’ offices and other testing sites are open, so fewer people get tested, which means that fewer tests make it to labs. The reporting systems, too, are affected: Fewer results are reported to health departments, and fewer health department staff are at their desks to turn those results into the data points we eventually see under tests and cases. 

Facebook’s Latest Error Shakes Advertisers’ Confidence

Alexandra Bruell and Sahil Patel:

Facebook Inc. is offering millions of dollars in credits to some advertisers after discovering a glitch in a tool that tells advertisers how effective their ads may be in driving results, such as getting consumers to download an app or purchase a product.

Facebook’s “conversion lift” tool overestimated some campaign results for 12 months, the company quietly told its advertisers this month. The glitch skewed data that advertisers use to decide how much money to spend with the company.

It isn’t the first problem Facebook has discovered in its systems to measure advertisers’ campaigns, and it is not likely to dent Facebook’s ad revenue. But some ad buyers said the latest gaffe has hurt confidence in the company’s metrics at a time when many businesses are navigating the pandemic by trying to cut costs and make sure their ad spending performs.

Thankful; 2020

Another Thanksgiving, near the end of a fascinating year. Yet, it is wonderful to reflect on my endless blessings.

I’m thankful for:

The Lord and Christ, our savior.

My wonderful, patient wife.

Two fascinating, beautiful daughters.

Remarkable, healthy and resilient parents/in laws.

Family, siblings & relatives.

Health.

Our time of plenty. Food is widely available.

Elections.

People willing to serve others.

Tremendous business partners and friends over the years.

Bill, my decades long mentor

Neighbors.

Local and long distance friends.

The internet.

Maps.

Podcasts.

Interesting technical skills worldwide.

Libraries.

GTI.

Exploration.

Patience.

The seasons.

Travel.

Photography.

Customers.

Story Telling.

Video.

Drones.

iPhones.

UW Arboretum.

Bicycling.

Swimming.

Healthtech.

Motivated Educators.

Volunteers.

Resale.

Entrepreneurs.

Farmers.

Business Model Innovators.

The ability to publish around gatekeepers.

The Seasons.

People who try something new.

People who say yes.

People who return calls.

Entrepreneurs in Evergreen.

The retired couple on the west coast.

Friends in Vancouver.

The Honolulu entrepreneur.

The Stanford doc.

Foodie friends.

Mad literary club

The book club.

School activists.

Creative investors.

Internet Gadflys

Persistence

Joost

Dave Winer

Interesting blogs.

KCRW

Trees vs forest

Appropriate and timely use of the “boiling frog” fable.

Tulsi Gabbard’s advocacy.

The lost mysteries of Thanksgiving by Larry Kummer.

President Lincoln’s Thanksgiving message.

AMA is a tax exempt hedge fund and licensing entity

Ben hunt:

In 2018, the American Medical Association made $158.6 million in 100% gross margin revenues by licensing its name and logo and membership lists to everyone from its own insurance brokerage subsidiary – the AMA Insurance Agency – to every pharma co or medical device co or whatever co that was willing to pay for that stamp of approval and halo of authority.

That’s how the AMA makes its money. Not so much by selling TO you – the doctors of America – with membership dues and overpriced PPE and merch, but by selling YOU – the doctors of America – to anyone who wants to buy your name and your reputation.

The Best Writing Against, For, and On Substack

Applied Divinity Studies:

Many good points have been made on both sides, I’m compiling this writing here. If you’re aware of other examples, please send them over.

Against Substack

Packy McCormick (#11 Free): Personal Email

their product velocity is dog shit… don’t do anything for discovery… it crashes all the time… It absolutely blows my mind that they’ve raised as much as they have and have improved the product as little as they have.

Gwern: Comment on Reddit

One additional aspect of this is that Substack, technically, [is] just not very good. When I moved over, I ran immediately into multiple problems: the tracking links are so long that my newsletters get cut off, subscripts/superscripts just don’t work, etc. (Other problems have come up: AlwaysKillSticky is broken on Substack because they do really abominable things with comments, and we never did figure out why a Substack page is constantly firing off requests to the server.) I don’t aspire to make my newsletters as awesome as my website, but I expected Substack to at least be as decent as your raw dumped-HTML Mailchimp newsletter.

The Scholar’s Stage: Why I am Bearish on Substack

This is a recipe for intellectual sterility. A media ecosystem composed of the New York Times, a few other large newspapers, and a swarm of hungry Substackerati will starve itself out. The big Substack names will continue to rake in subscriptions, of course, but what will they have to talk about? Only the same old ideas they had been playing with for decades.