Category Entrepreneurs

The Scene: Madison, Saturday, 9 June 2012

Who Cares?

Seth Godin:

Unless someone does, things start to fray around the edges.

Often it’s the CEO or the manager who sets a standard of caring about the details. Even better is a culture where everyone cares, and where each person reinforces that horizontally throughout the team.

You’ve probably been to the hotel that serves refrigerated tomatoes in January at their $20 breakfast, that doesn’t answer the phone when you call the front desk, that has a shower curtain that is falling off the rack and a slightly snarky concierge. This is in sharp relief to that hotel down the street, the one that costs just the same, but gets the details right.

It’s obviously not about access to capital (doing it right doesn’t cost more). It’s about caring enough to make an effort.

Apple and the American economy

The Economist:

THE macroeconomic discussions that Apple’s success prompts tend to be very curious things. Here we have a company that’s been phenomenally successful, making products people love and directly creating nearly 50,000 American jobs in doing so, criticised for not locating its manufacturing operations in America, even as Americans complain to Apple about the working conditions of those doing the manufacture abroad: life in dormitories, 12-hour shifts 6 days a week, and low pay. It isn’t enough for Apple to have changed the world with its innovative consumer electronics. It must also rebuild American manufacturing, and not just any manufacturing: the manufacturing of decades ago when reasonable hours and high wages were the norm.

The utility of Apple, however, is that it does provide a framework within which we can discuss the significant changes that have occurred across the global economy in recent decades. Contributing to that effort is a very nice and much talked about piece from the New York Times, which asks simply why it is that Apple’s manufacturing is located in Asia.

Re-Evaluating Germany’s Blind Faith in the Sun

Alexander Neubacher:

The costs of subsidizing solar electricity have exceeded the 100-billion-euro mark in Germany, but poor results are jeopardizing the country’s transition to renewable energy. The government is struggling to come up with a new concept to promote the inefficient technology in the future.

The Baedeker travel guide is now available in an environmentally-friendly version. The 200-page book, entitled “Germany – Discover Renewable Energy,” lists the sights of the solar age: the solar café in Kirchzarten, the solar golf course in Bad Saulgau, the light tower in Solingen and the “Alster Sun” in Hamburg, possibly the largest solar boat in the world.

The only thing that’s missing at the moment is sunshine. For weeks now, the 1.1 million solar power systems in Germany have generated almost no electricity. The days are short, the weather is bad and the sky is overcast.

As is so often the case in winter, all solar panels more or less stopped generating electricity at the same time. To avert power shortages, Germany currently has to import large amounts of electricity generated at nuclear power plants in France and the Czech Republic. To offset the temporary loss of solar power, grid operator Tennet resorted to an emergency backup plan, powering up an old oil-fired plant in the Austrian city of Graz.

Berlin Tech Startups

Der Spiegel:

As Berlin’s tech scene continues to grow, investors are beginning to take notice. Venture capital is flooding into the city and many funds are setting up shop locally. But with German investors still wary of the tech scene following the dot-bomb implosion a decade ago, some wonder if it will be enough.

A Curious Case of Optimism

Ed Wallace:

I first started reading biographies of men of great accomplishments in high school; the first was that of Eddie Rickenbacker. I haven’t stopped, either; the most recent was that of Steve Jobs. Sometime after I’d started my career in the automotive industry, I took to reading books about the men who had created that industry. One thing you learn quickly about these individuals is that most had suffered serious financial setbacks before they finally succeeded. In fact the setbacks they encountered would have stopped the average individual in his tracks; but those who finally succeeded to greatness seemed to brush off defeat even faster than they accepted their ultimate success.

The other fact one notices in reading great car guys’ biographies is that many of the greatest names in business history actually started in the absolute worst of economic times. Others, such as GM’s Alfred Sloan, made their reputations in periods of horrendous economic activity.

Design by Rutan

Air & Space:

You can always tell a Burt Rutan airplane, just as you can always tell a Dr. Seuss drawing or a Beatles song. It’s not only the configurations — though canards, winglets, or twin booms sometimes give them away. It’s not just the materials, though composites have been key to Rutan’s achievements and helped make him the hero of the homebuilder. And it’s not just the futurism, though Rutan designs always look like they flew in from a decade off in the distance. There’s some other quality rolled up with those three that makes you know it’s a Rutan. We think of it as playfulness.

Consider SpaceShipOne, Rutan’s best-known creation, which made history in 2004 as the world’s first private spaceship. It looks the way it does for sound engineering reasons: Its famous tail feathers were deployed to slow and control its atmospheric reentry, its tubby fuselage has a diameter of five feet to accommodate an oxidizer tank of similar dimension and a comfortable cabin, and its pointy little nose is sprinkled with small round windows so that the pilot could see the horizon at all times during the flight up to 60 miles and back. But SpaceShipOne is also toy-like. Can anyone doubt kids would be delighted by a small model of it?

Information Is Cheap, Meaning Is Expensive

The European:

The European: A computer “is a simple mind having a will but capable of only two ideas”, you have said.Does it make sense to think of a technical apparatus in biological terms?

Dyson: The quote comes from an illustration of a circuit diagram that Lewis Fry Richardson produced in 1930. It was a very prophetic idea, like most of the stuff that Richardson did. He had drawn this diagram of an indeterminate circuit, so it was impossible to predict which state the circuit would be in. Maybe those are the origins of mind: A simple and indeterminate circuit. The significance of Richardson’s idea was that he broke with the assumption that computation had to be deterministic, because so few others things in the universe are deterministic. Alan Turing was very explicit that computers will never be intelligent unless they are allowed to make mistakes. The human mind is not deterministic, it is not flawless. So why would we want computers to be flawless?

The European: The ultimate indeterminate process on Earth is evolution. Yet evolution doesn’t really require input and commands, it sustains and develops itself. That seems fundamentally different from the way we think about technological evolution…

Dyson: Biological evolution is a bottom-up process. There are differences between the two realms, but there are also similarities: In both biology and technology, things develop into structures of increasing complexity. That’s what Nils AallBarricelli saw right away. He tried to understand the origins of the genetic code and apply that to the development of computers. The question was whether you could run computer experiments that allowed increases in systemic complexity to happen. And very quickly that stopped being an experiment and codes began evolving in the wild—not by random mutation, but by crossing and symbiosis, exactly as Barricelli prescribed.

Taste Buds

Information is Beautiful.

Why the highest-paid doctors are the most vulnerable to automation

Farhad Majoo:

The Pap smear is the most effective cancer-screening test ever developed. When it was introduced in the United States in the 1940s, about 26,000 women died every of year of cervical cancer. Today, the exam—now known as the Pap test, since the modern method of preparation no longer requires smearing cells on a slide—is performed about 55 million times a year in this country, and about 120 million times annually worldwide. The effect of widespread, routine testing has been dramatic: Fewer than 5,000 American women now die each year of cervical cancer. If you account for population growth since the 1940s, the Pap test has reduced cervical cancer mortality by more than 90 percent.

The Pap test isn’t just good for women. It’s also a good business for doctors and diagnostic laboratories—maybe as much as a $500 million industry in the United States. The techs and doctors who look at Pap slides are the TSA agents of the medical world: They spend their days examining dozens of slides in search of tiny, subtle, and rare visual cues of disease. The process begins with a doctor collecting a sample of cells from a woman’s cervix. The cells are preserved in liquid, mixed with laboratory reagents, separated from blood and other biological material by centrifuge, and then deposited onto a slide. The cervical cells are examined first by cytotechnologists—specialists trained to analyze certain types of medical slides. If abnormalities are found, the Pap slides are then screened by pathologists, medical doctors who diagnose disease. Because the vast majority of Pap tests are performed on healthy women, about 90 percent of the slides seen by a typical lab are completely normal. The entire process costs about $25 to $100 per test, depending on the lab’s efficiency.