Kingdom of Lies – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Kingdom of Lies, Unnerving Adventures in the World of Cybercrime” by Kate Fazzini, published in 2019. This slim volume contained a few anecdotes of people who recently participated in schemes to defraud others or manipulate data on the World Wide Web.

The computer hackers who keep a low profile are better coders and have better technological knowledge than the ones who are attention whores. The latter who are employed in cybersecurity attend conferences and are more talk than action. Some of them think they’re the hero of a movie– do-gooders who are trying to save the world, in a power struggle with evil, arrogant rebels.

Over the decades, individuals and governments from lots of different countries have continually attempted to gain access to certain data through the Internet, usually for intelligence or money. For instance, “Chinese nationals have been stealing proprietary data on [mergers and acquisitions] deals [in America] for years in order to inside trade… The Department of Justice is investigating. The SEC is investigating. But the law firms are clueless. Then the SEC was hacked too, by the same people. The cycle continues.”

A trend that started in the 2000’s that has largely run its course is ransomware. That is, software that steals valuable data that forces the victim to pay a ransom– hundreds of dollars or more to the cybercriminal– to get that data back. In the last seven years or so, information-technology departments of businesses, especially in the financial sector, have thrown a vast quantity of money at specialists in cybersecurity to prevent further attacks in that area.

Probably the country that can crank out the best cybersecurity experts is Israel. Middle schoolers begin learning technology there. That nation’s population is small, enterprising, flexible, militarily trained, and is always thinking defensively.

Voting in United States elections is becoming more and more computerized, and so elections have become vulnerable to interference by hackers. It is not necessary to tamper with the presidential election results of all fifty states in order to significantly affect the outcome. A hacker need only change the data of battleground states (five to ten states) for a specific candidate.

Read the book to learn additional details about the world of cybercrime.

The Class

The Book of the Week is “The Class, A Life-Changing Teacher, His World-Changing Kids, and the Most Inventive Classroom in America” by Heather Won Tesoriero, published in 2018. Despite its sensationalist title, this volume provided a fascinating inside look at one program at an elitist school where brainy kids prepared to fiercely compete for big money and prestige on the high-school science-fair circuit.

The cliche of the baking soda/vinegar volcano as a winning project at the science fair ended decades ago. A Greenwich Connecticut school offers a specific course for self-starting kids passionate about science, whose sole purpose is providing resources– experimental equipment, materials and supervising teacher– with which to enter science fairs.

The author related about ten of the kids’ experiences in the form of vignettes– their personally chosen projects and whether they won an award, personal details of their homes lives, prom adventures, and college acceptances or rejections, etc., roughly over the course of the 2016-2017 academic year, with backstories.

The supervising teacher of the class, who had previously acquired a couple of decades of scientific experience in private industry, had hand-picked the lucky 48 applicants from different grades who partook of this unique opportunity.

They got access to his guidance and professional scientific devices that even well-funded school districts don’t have. Yet another reason Malcolm Gladwell might brand them “outliers” is that some of the chosen students were younger siblings of ones who had gone before.

Most of the science fairs or prizes thereof are funded by corporations and benefactors with big names, such as Google, Intel, Amazon, Xerox, United Technologies, etc.

A great irony is that the event itself is called a science fair when in reality, there were instances mentioned by the author in which the judging of projects was thought to be unfair by the teacher, contestants or their parents. The reasons that certain entries won awards and others did not, were unexplained.

The real reasons would have to be revealed in litigation–probably beyond the scope of this book. It must be said that the author did not mention any litigation.

Nevertheless, since major business entities are running the show, the projects must certainly be seen in terms of their commercial applications, not just in terms of their potential for societal good, like curing diseases or finding new sources of renewable energy.

For instance, one girl’s project that was passed over for an award involved computational biology. The software she coded was, with 80% accuracy, able to identify the most effective breast cancer drugs. Without question, that project had a very valuable commercial application that would open a Pandora’s box.

In another case, a boy who was competing for an “XPRIZE” was advised by his personal attorney to drop out of that contest. He was exceptional for various reasons, much more advanced than his classmates– already attempting to patent his work, and the kind who has the potential to be a future Nobel-prize winner.

At the other end of the spectrum, the author also wrote about kids who weren’t able to get their acts together, due to honest ineptitude. However, the author also related that, in previous years, there had been mean-spirited activity in the lab. In the documented academic year, there was cyberbullying by students and parents even in the science-fair community (!), borne of jealousy and whiny sour grapes expressed by the non-winners. Sadly, as is well known, the parents can be worse than the kids.

Read the book to learn of the triumphs and setbacks, trials and tribulations of the privileged kids and their teacher.

Moore’s Law / Elon Musk

The Books of the Week are “Moore’s Law, The Life of Gordon Moore, Silicon Valley’s Quiet Revolutionary” by Arnold Thackray, David C. Brock and Rachel Jones, published in 2015, and “Elon Musk, Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future” by Ashlee Vance, published in 2015.

The former biography described not only Gordon Moore’s life, but the histories and cultures of his ancestors, his wife’s family, and the places where he lived.

Born in January 1929 in Pescadero California, Moore was the middle son of three. His father spent most of his working life in law enforcement. He, his father and brothers went fishing and hunting. The family moved to Redwood City in 1938.

At eleven years old, Moore fell in love with chemistry. His “… adolescent hobby of making bombs and explosions” or maybe also the cumulative effect of his noisy hunting excursions were thought to have caused his hearing loss later in life. He wed his college sweetheart and completed a PhD in experimental particle physics at California Institute of Technology.

In 1953, the transistor was starting to replace the vacuum tube in various devices, like TV sets. It also became a handy component in military electronics. In 1956, Moore went to work for William Shockley– a reputable scientist but a psycho boss. Shockley had hubris syndrome and, with his friends from Bell Labs, convinced his company’s major investor to fund the development of a diode rather than the silicon transistor.

In 1957, feeling disgusted and entrepreneurial, Moore and seven of his colleagues left the company and, financed by venture capitalists, eventually formed Fairchild Semiconductor in Mountain View, California. What with the space race, aerospace computing was all the rage. Silicon was a substance that had the right physical properties to advance it.

At Fairchild, Moore formed a research and development group that competed with the manufacturing department. Unfortunately, his temperament was non-confrontational, and his avoidance behavior was bad for business. Fortunately, in 1968, he, Bob Noyce and Andy Grove sported the appropriate diverse set of personalities and skills that maximized profits in a new venture they formed, called Intel. Their strategy was to introduce cutting-edge products to the technology market and be the first to do so.

Intel went public in October 1971, but NOT on a “stock exchange” as the authors wrote. Only on NASDAQ (not an exchange). Moore wanted the company to make computer parts, but not the whole computer, or else it would compete with its customers, such as IBM. By the mid 1970’s, Intel had factories in Malaysia and the Philippines. Moore motivated his initial employees through bribery– stock options and a stock purchase program. He even bribed his own son to finish school.

Intel’s labor- and time-saving devices proliferated in everyday products like calculators, color TV’s, telephone networks, cash registers and watches, not to mention inter-continental ballistic missiles. And spaceships. The authors downplayed the role of video games in the advancement of computer components.

Moore wrote about a concept that played out accurately through the decades that came to be known as Moore’s Law. In 1976, the price of silicon transistors– which are put on memory microchips– was less than a penny. That price got lower and lower as technology got better and faster. Unfortunately, according to the book, this economic growth has run its course in the United States and is predicted to come to an end in the next five years or so.

Read the book to learn how Intel cheated by taking a page from Microsoft’s playbook (and partnered with it)– to become a monopoly– in order to dominate the PC world; what the billionaire Moore did after he was forced to retire (very reluctantly; hint– he engaged in philanthropy from which he required measurability and accountability); and much more about his company, lifestyle and family.

Born into a relatively wealthy family in 1971 in Pretoria, South Africa, Elon Musk is the oldest of three children. A voracious reader, he, like Isaac Asimov, was also an insufferable know-it-all, and thus became a social outcast. At about eight years old, he chose to go live with his psychologically abusive, rabid-apartheidist father when his parents split.

Musk engaged in the usual leisure pursuits of nerdy boys of his generation: Dungeons and Dragons, computer programming, rocketry and chemistry explosions. Being super-smart, he learned that the United States was superior to South Africa in terms  entrepreneurial opportunities. He therefore got Canadian citizenship through his mother’s ancestors, and then moved to the United States as a young man.

Musk attended college and graduate school in Pennsylvania. He studied business, physics and economics. He charged admission for alcohol parties to raise money to pay for his tuition. In 1995, he went into business with his brother. Four years later, their website start-up, Zip2, was sold to Compaq for a tidy sum. He then started and/or worked on other projects, including an internet bank, an electric car, spacecraft and devices that harness solar power.

Certain aspects of Musk’s personality in the workplace are comparable to various other famous people. Musk’s dysfunctional managerial style is a blessing and a curse. He, like the late Steve Jobs, is hard-driving on employees to the point of meanness. But his focus and workaholic business ventures have achieved what many said was impossible. His keen entrepreneurial instincts, similar to those of Bill Gates, have seen him through. Also like Gates, he has delivered on what he promised, but usually way over deadline.

When it comes to space exploration, Musk, like Freeman Dyson, shoots not for colonizing the moon, but for colonizing Mars. Musk, like Richard Stallman, believes in the free exchange of information. He truly wants to improve humanity so much so that, according to the author, he eventually shared with the world (!) the intellectual property of his electric car company, Tesla. In 2005, its first car was completed by a mere eighteen workers.

However, in 2007, Musk was very possessive of Tesla. Contrary the recommendation of an interim CEO, he stubbornly refused to cut the near-bankrupt company’s losses and sell it to an experienced international automaker. He was competing with not only overwhelmingly powerful and politically influential automakers, but also with military contractors and the oil industry.

Read the book to learn of two major automakers who have invested in Tesla; of how the Obama administration helped keep the company afloat; of the myriad benefits the world is deriving from Musk’s  innovations; and of Musk’s personal life.

The Nudist on the Late Shift – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “The Nudist on the Late Shift, and Other True Tales of Silicon Valley” by Po Bronson, published in 1999.  The author provided NO specific source notes and NO index, but he was a journalist who interviewed numerous, various individuals directly.

Anyway, the interviewees aspired to get rich quick in Silicon Valley in the 1990’s. Most were technology gurus; the others, sellers of high-tech products. Some became multi-millionaires; others, who also possessed irrepressible optimism, moved on to the next project.

Bronson described the trials and tribulations suffered by parties involved in an IPO– the subject tech company’s directors and officers, the SEC, the local business printer, bankers in various major U. S. cities, etc.– on the precarious first day of trading on a Friday in the summer of 1998.

The author spoke extensively with the supremely confident co-creator of the software that became Hotmail, the world’s first Web-based email service– which was free and global, later sold to Microsoft in late 1997 for about $400 million. At the book’s writing, the service had more than 26 million users.

One of countless interesting aspects of the World Wide Web is that its advent weeded out the sloppy computer-code developers. The reason is that the code is required to be on a global rather than a local-area network– with the potential for millions of users with diverse hardware, software and settings– and thus the potential for crashing much more easily.

Read the book to learn about the then-options available to entrepreneurs seeking funding for their projects.

The World According to Monsanto – URGENT POST

The Book of the Decade is  “The World According to Monsanto– Pollution, Corruption, and the Control of Our Food Supply” by Marie-Monique Robin, published in 2010.

The author wrote, “When one dissects Monsanto’s activity reports (contained in 10-K forms [annual reports filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission in the United States]) since 1997, one is struck by the place taken up by litigation.”

There are no companies that can fairly be compared to Monsanto in terms of payments to victims for irreparable harm, permanent injury and wrongful deaths caused by the environmental damage done by Monsanto. They couldn’t possibly compete. But the following is a summary of recent expenses of the legal bullying of, and financial punishments handed down, to Monsanto.

Monsanto’s 2017 annual report’s footnotes showed $33 million in expenses associated with “environmental and litigation matters.” The company’s 2015 Restructuring Plan included $167 million of the same kinds of aforementioned expenses and “a SEC settlement.” The cost of goods sold was $101 million. That means, its litigation expenses exceeded the costs of producing its products. Besides, annual reports don’t normally contain the exact phrase “environmental and litigation matters.”

Another item included $32 million of expenses related to “legacy environmental settlements.” Monsanto recorded the settlement of its polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) legal troubles for $280 million in fiscal 2016. Lastly (finally!), the “Long-Term Portion of Environmental and Litigation Liabilities” accounts for almost 1 1/2% of the company’s “Total Liabilities” for the year.

What makes Monsanto’s excessive litigation egregious is that it has so much worldwide hegemony that it wins its cases most of the time– the company itself sues everyone who gets in the way of its profit-making, and successfully defends itself against the countless plaintiffs who have legitimate causes of action against it.

Not to mention the fact that it had basically formed a public-private partnership (largely via political contributions and lobbying), with the American government as of the book’s writing. That is why whistleblowers and activists get crushed in its wake.

Sounds familiar… Unfortunately, the reason history repeats itself so often is that human nature doesn’t change. What makes Monsanto’s case so much scarier than the situations with other, similar monstrous entities is that Monsanto has the potential to permanently contaminate nearly the entire world’s food supply, and there have already been significant consequences of that nature due to its unbridled greed. Yes, it is that bad.

Founded as a chemical and plastics company in 1901 in Saint Louis, Missouri– Monsanto went public in 1929. It made DDT, dioxin, aspartame, (and inadvertently but knowingly and ruthlessly, PCBs), among other substances that have done permanent harm to a large number of people.

As of this book’s writing, Monsanto had a presence in 46 nations and owned 90% of the patents for all Genetically Modified Organisms internationally grown. It makes billions of dollars in profit annually.

The author traveled extensively to interview numerous people to gather a voluminous amount of data on Monsanto’s quest to make the maximum amount of money it possibly can, at the expense of humanity. The scientists she interviewed– including friends and foes of Monsanto– all said they wouldn’t eat the genetically modified foods borne of Monsanto products.

The author tells lots of anecdotes about people from all different geographic areas who have been adversely affected by the chemicals and genetically modified organisms sold by Monsanto, plus about several people previously affiliated with the company and U.S. government agencies, who were clearly still loyal to their former employers. One such interviewee displayed the body language of a liar: excessive blinking when answering her pressing questions. She also pored over declassified documents that indicate outrageous corporate wrongdoing.

Monsanto’s employees currently research, apply for patents to, and sell genetically modified seeds for growing soybeans, corn, cotton and rapeseed; plus a herbicide– Roundup, an insecticide– Bt toxin, and the bovine growth hormone rBST.

The author wrote that in 1983, the American federal government set aside funds called the Superfund Program to decontaminate toxic waste sites around the nation. When some of those funds were diverted to “… finance the electoral campaigns of Republican candidates, Congress discovered that documents that would compromise the companies[,] disappeared.”

As might be recalled, the Reagan administration had a reputation for being staunchly pro-business; so much so that it made EPA worker Anne Burford and her colleague Rita Lavelle the scapegoats of a scandal after pressuring them to shred documents (which would have implicated Monsanto) and commit other crimes in connection with the town of Times Beach, Missouri– a dioxin-and-PCBs-contaminated site.

That contamination resulted in the deaths of numerous animals, serious health problems for the people there, and forced permanent evacuation of the eight-hundred family resort town.

The author spoke with several whistleblowers. All were punished by their employers. One from the EPA distributed an inflammatory memo saying Monsanto published false research results on its products. Another from the FDA wrote a report on the flaws in Monsanto’s application for approval of the artificial growth hormone rBST. He was fired in 1989, sued, and years later, won a job back at the FDA, but not one for which he was suited.

Monsanto’s rBST (still currently used at some dairy farms), when injected into cows, causes them to produce more milk (translation: more money). With the hormone, other substances are also likely to get into the milk, such as pus and antibiotics. This is because the injection sites on the cows form abscesses, necessitating the administering of antibiotics to the cows. Further, with rBST, the cows develop serious health problems, like ovarian cysts, mastitis and uterine disorders. Never mind humans who drink their milk.

In an unprecedented move, the FDA changed its own rules and approved rBST in November 1993 without forcing Monsanto to reply to its concerns and recommendations.

In the late 1980’s, a genetically modified dietary supplement sold by prescription only caused serious health problems, killing at least 37 and permanently disabling 1,500. If that kind of harm was done by a regulated item meant to be eaten that was genetically modified around the same time that Monsanto was testing rBST– a part of a product that millions of people would consume, shouldn’t the FDA have been more prudent in its approval process of rBST??

Monsanto sued the dairies that said on their milk-container labels that their milk contained no rBST. The defendants were forced to change their labeling.

In the late 1990’s, there was the TV-journalist-couple who were working on a show with negative coverage on Monsanto, when their employer was taken over by Fox News. They were fired because they refused to switch from telling the truth, to lying about Monsanto.

In 2003, after the couple suffered years of emotionally and bank-account draining litigation, “The [federal] judges considered that no law prohibited a television network or a newspaper company from lying to the public. To be sure, the rules established by the FCC prohibited it, but they did not have the force of law.” No wonder journalism is dead.

Conflicts of interest abounded in the 1990’s , when supposedly scholarly journal (peer-reviewed) articles (like Science, Nature and the Journal of the American Medical Association) declared that Monsanto’s products were safe; those articles were written by people paid by Monsanto.

Reputable scientists pointed out that Monsanto’s scientific testing involved non-standard procedures, and was statistically suspect as it was of too short a duration, and had too small a sample size.

Read the book to learn about:

  • horror stories resulting from Monsanto’s underhanded tactics regarding testing and use of its products, including the herbicide Roundup;
  • its victims in Anniston, Alabama who were subjected to PCBs;
  • which of Monsanto’s products was banned in 2000 in Canada and Europe;
  • how Monsanto is active in the United Nations;
  • how deregulation perpetuates Monsanto’s worldwide hegemony;
  • which ten or so individual American government officials acted on Monsanto’s behalf, but had undisclosed conflicts of interest [there was scant room in the book to list all those who were ethically challenged Monsanto affiliates— wait, that’s redundant];
  • the percentages of all foods genetically modified in specific categories in 2005;
  • how taxpayers footed the bill for Monsanto’s aggressive use of legal and political weaponry against American soybean farmers (whom it seriously harmed by taking away their livelihoods through duress and illegally spying on them in the late 1990’s) from 1999 into 2002;
  • why Monsanto dropped its initiative to introduce a transgenic wheat, even after spending hundreds of millions of dollars in connection therewith;
  • how Mexico has been harmed by Monsanto’s transgenic corn;
  • how Argentina and Paraguay have been harmed by Monsanto’s transgenic soybeans;
  • how India has been harmed by Monsanto’s transgenic cotton;
  • how Canadian farmers have been harmed by transgenic canola;
  • what transpired when, in January 2005, the Securities and Exchange Commission launched a legal proceeding against Monsanto for corruption in Indonesia;
  • why the World Trade Organization should share some blame for allowing the worldwide spread of Monsanto’s tentacles;
  • and much more.

Endnote:  Feel free to browse other posts for additional examples of entities behaving badly under the category “Business Ethics.”

Appetite for Self-Destruction

The Book of the Week is “Appetite for Self-Destruction, The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age” by Steve Knopper, published in 2009. This is an account of how the American music industry, for the most part, reacted badly to the jarring changes wrought by technological advances starting in the late 1970’s.

For decades prior to the 1970’s, the music market in the United States had had a shady reputation– involving drugs, kickbacks, bribes and cronyism, among other vices.

Even after CDs proved to provide sound that was superior to plastic records, entities in the music industry supply chain resisted making CDs because it necessitated the reconfiguring of their: factories, marketing materials, store displays, etc. Modernizing everything was expensive.

In 1978, the Sony CDP-101 could play the first CD title:  “52nd Street” from Billy Joel. But only in Japan. PolyGram Records, CBS Records and Sony understood the value of the new product. Arista Records, Capitol Records and EMI didn’t.

In addition to the widespread introduction of CDs in America by the late 1980’s, the sale of CBS Records was another disruptive force in the industry, resulting in power struggles and lots of layoffs. The old-school record labels depended on MTV, radio and music stores to distribute their wares for another decade.

The tail end of the 1990’s saw a new technology that really turned the industry on its ear:  the World Wide Web. It enabled people to create software that allowed free (no-cost and no restrictions) electronic-music-file sharing. In December 1999, the organization regulating intellectual property rights on music, the RIAA, sued one of the major organizations doing the sharing– Napster– for copyright violations. By the following summer, the latter had approximately nineteen million users per month.

Read the book to learn of the outcome of the above and other legal battles; the new 1990’s and early 2000’s music conduits and devices, their relationships to the laws on music piracy; and many other actions taken by the American music industry that have fueled the current state of digital music sales.

Unsolved Science

The Book of the Week is “Unsolved Science” by Bill Price, published in 2016.

This book is a compilation of articles discussing the various areas of science that humans have still to decipher.

One reason scientific mysteries remain is that they lie in regions difficult and expensive to study, such as the deep oceans and outer space.

Although it is known that humans have roughly half of the same DNA as bananas and 99% of chimpanzees, it is unclear what accounts for the differences in intelligence and linguistics between humans and the latter.

Read the book to learn why it is so difficult to find a cure for cancer; the causes of long-term global temperature changes; the pros and cons of nuclear power; and many other mysteries of the universe.

Fu-Go

The Book of the Week is “Fu-Go” by Ross Coen, published in 2014. This book describes the precursor to modern-day drones.

During WWII, extensive research in meteorology, materials science, engineering, physics and statistics was required to send the explosives-laden hot-air balloons about 6,000 miles from Japan to America. In 1942, the Japanese began the campaign with the goals of boosting its own national morale and taking a swipe at its enemy; more specifically, to start forest fires in the Western United States, and create terror among American civilians. This would prompt America to divert its war resources to the quell the distraction. Japan lacked the funds to continue this initiative until late 1944.

The parachutes portion was made of paper from blackberry trees, and pasted together by thousands of middle school and high school girls whose education had lapsed due to the war. They performed unhealthy manual labor at a school gym and a factory. Miraculously, with significant improvement in balloon design, a few hundred of the drones landed in Washington state, Idaho, California and Montana in rural areas. There was controversy over whether to warn civilians of the danger, as this might tell the Japanese how well its campaign was working, and reveal the flaws in its system. American authorities met with the Canadian government, and pressured the media into keeping silent for a long time.

Read the book to learn whether Japan achieved its goals with this seemingly minor yet creative plan of attack.

First Cameraman

The Book of the Week is “First Cameraman” by Arun Chaudhary, published in 2012. This volume describes the job done by the author– the first-ever videographer of the President of the United States (POTUS).

The main purpose of gathering footage of the president at work is to record history (and show it off in his presidential library). During his laborious, stressful, four-plus years in Washington D.C., Chaudhary created, produced and posted a weekly, show called “West Wing Week” for the world to see on YouTube. It summed up the POTUS’ activities of the previous week.

The author emphasized that he was not a journalist, but a supplementary source of information on American politics starting in 2007 with Barack Obama’s campaign and presidency. “Once upon a time, the government counted on the press… But these days, technical innovations have greatly reduced the government’s reliance on them.” Clearly, visual communication is replacing print, and the introduction of mobile devices has allowed more and more people to use it, not necessarily wisely. The author related that there were still some scenes he was told not to include in his videos, as they were un-presidential. However, the president’s taking of “selfies” has shown how relaxed political mores have become.

Read the book to find out more about the trials, tribulations and triumphs of Chaudhary’s position.

Dragon Sea

The Book of the Week is “Dragon Sea” by Frank Pope, published in 2007. This ebook describes the lives of sunken-treasure hunters– people who go SCUBA diving to recover material assets of ships that have sunk in prior centuries.

Such a pursuit interests marine archeologists, too. They should have knowledge of art, ancient history and the sea. The oil industry has developed the technology that allows the least expense and the fewest complications for conducting underwater research and exploitation of the seabed. However, the exploitation part is still life-threatening and very expensive. A gruesome death might await divers at any time, so they make big bucks.

Many divers take a chance by attempting to retrieve treasures from a sunken ship whose contents might be claimed by its country of origin. They risk confiscated cargoes, impounded vessels and court cases, not to mention plunder, if pirates find out what they are doing before they can finish grabbing the ceramics, coins or other valuables from the ship. Those items might end up at a big-name auction house or at a museum. Or on eBay.

Read the book to learn about the salvaging of ceramics from one particular ship– along with the dangers, complications and conflicts that arose, the equipment used, worker interactions in light of the situations they encountered, and the financial results of the project.