Ode to My Online World – BONUS POST

ODE TO MY ONLINE WORLD

sung to the tune of “How Sweet It Is” with apologies to James Taylor.

How desperate I am to be liked by you.
How desperate I am to be liked by you.

I’m a political grandstander and social media whore,
and there you are.

I need to tell the world about my ups and downs,
and there you are.

I believe all I see, so don’t argue with me.

I want to be a COP, and globally shame villains.
I want the world to STOP, exploiting me, yes I do.

How desperate I am to be liked by you.

My profile’s a goldmine.

How desperate I am to be liked by you.

I get depressed at night, wishing celebrities were in my life.

I’ve convinced myself I’m not a bore.
I POST photos and Tweet more and more.
But you occupy all of my days with time-wasting in so many ways.

I want to be a COP, and globally shame villains.
I just want the world to STOP, exploiting me, oh yes.

How desperate I am to be liked by you.

I get outraged sometimes.

How desperate I am to be liked by you. Whoa, yeah.

Everyone’s better than me. I’m not proud of myself.
You’re my whole life. I do nothing else.

I want to be a COP, and globally shame villains.
I just want the world to STOP, exploiting me, oh yes.

How desperate I am to be liked by you.
How desperate I am to be liked by you. Whoa, now.
How desperate I am to be liked by you.

I’m like, tag me, baby, oh now.

How desperate I am to be liked by you.
I’m like money to Big Tech, baby.
How desperate I am to be liked by you…

Disrupting Class

The Book of the Week is “Disrupting Class, How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns” by Clayton Christensen, Michael B. Horn and Curtis W. Johnson, published in 2008.

All three of the authors– educrats– pushed education solutions that were mostly software-centric and charter-school based. The educrats made no distinctions between teaching and learning, but indicated that students would learn from software, if schools adopted their recommendations. It is difficult to see how students who are unwilling to learn, would learn from software, though, without supervision.

Nevertheless, one point the authors got right, was that a wrench in the works that is hindering their push to convert the American education system into a machine-dominated one– is teachers’ unions across the country. One other uncertain aspect of the whole kit and caboodle is the competition between the two current software operating systems– Windows and Apple. So, due to all this political patronage and profiteering, America’s education system will remain a patchwork, most likely.

Anyway, in 2004, one school district’s (demographically similar) students in Kentucky had 26% better state standardized test scores than another; the latter had three times the funding. There are usually three major reasons for such a discrepancy: the former district prepped the students for the test, and /or they cheated, and / or students possessed the basic skills and fundamental knowledge to do better than the competition.

The authors admitted more research was needed to determine the reasons for the discrepancy. They did however, declare that their recommendations for bettering the American education system through customization of teaching would help all students improve, regardless of funding.

The authors then presented a hypothetical scenario which would defy reality in most underfunded, understaffed and /or poorly staffed schools. In the scenario, a star athlete was attending that kind of a high school. He was having trouble understanding a concept in science class. The teacher wasn’t explaining it in a way the student could understand it. If the student didn’t keep his grades up, he wouldn’t be able to play in the big soccer game. The student’s father, an engineer, was more than happy to, was available to, and was able to, successfully tutor him so he could still play. The student lived happily ever after.

First of all, subpar schools tend to coddle their star athletes– allow them to pass their classes, or provide them with extra tutoring. Secondly, such schools have a significant number of students in overcrowded classrooms, who are discipline problems– disruptive to the class (sort of like the software-based learning that would be disruptive to the industry that the authors seemed to think the American education system is becoming).

The anecdote said nothing about: the classroom’s learning environment (which in subpar schools is frequently noisy and / or hostile) or what proportion of the other students were truly interested in learning, etc. Thirdly, it would be very unlikely that the student’s father would be an engineer, never mind available.

If there was only a handful of students who truly wanted to learn, then the authors should have suggested that those schools assign those students to do software-based learning. Those students deserve better! But the authors didn’t suggest that.

It stands to reason that live, experienced teachers should know their students and thus know how to customize teaching or customize extra help for each one. The inconvenient realities that prevent them from doing so, include but are certainly not limited to:

  • limited class time;
  • overcrowded classes;
  • classes with students who are disruptive the entire period; and
  • lack of resources for helping students learn the way they learn best.

The authors complained that American schools developed ways to lump kids together efficiently in classrooms, but in ways that have hindered their learning. But– there are reasons other than efficiency: individualized learning is expensive; face to-face social interaction is good for the kids; and they learn from each other. In isolation (with software-based learning), they don’t.

The authors then compared customized teaching to products in corporate America. This was not a very accurate analogy. For, students, teachers and resources aren’t product parts; corporate America runs on the profit motive. Education shouldn’t. Nevertheless, that is the direction it’s heading, with more and more commercialized visual education resources.

The authors explained that two recent American federal education laws would lead to growing pains and chaos in the short term, but [italics, theirs] “schools have actually been improving.” Yes, and so has the United States: a meaningless generalization. One of the laws, No Child Left Behind, a can-of-worms, was obsessed with raising standardized test scores across the board, for all students. It caused schools to (besides go crazy) lie with statistics.

The authors failed to elaborate on the aforementioned “improving” with specific examples. Instead, they went on to briefly describe the evolution of the American education system, mentioning a few influencers in early curricula, trends that prompted changes to those curricula, and changes to student populations due to other federal laws, through the years.

The next anecdote told of a student doing online research. The problem is that, sadly, the World Wide Web has been largely taken over by political propagandists and profiteers.

A subplot of the above anecdote (which was ongoing) was that a dedicated high school student got permission to take an online course in Arabic through the local community college. This, because her school didn’t offer Arabic. In a later chapter, the authors claimed the course was free (!) but didn’t specify whether course materials were free, or what kind of financial arrangement, if any, was made between the high school and college. They also weren’t clear whether the course fulfilled a graduation requirement for the student.

The student was allegedly going to chat with a native Arabic speaker halfway around the world. However, there are all different dialects of Arabic spoken in different Middle Eastern countries. The authors explained nothing about this inconvenient fact in their fanciful anecdote.

Further, the authors wrongheadedly compared the disruptiveness of online classes to that of innovations in consumer goods. But those are apples and oranges. Consumer goods’ innovations are driven by the profit motive. Childrens’ educations are driven by their parents’ belief in education and legal requirements that children attend school. The parents see the connection between education and success in life.

There are millions of complications of all sorts in connection with preparing children to become mature, responsible adults. Consumer-goods innovations are applied to inanimate objects. The only similarity is that costs of software-based learning and innovations will both fall as time goes on. But for students: at what price?? Especially if their chemistry class, as has happened at Brigham Young University (according to the authors)– was turned into a video game??

The authors thought that the large amount of money spent for universal free pre-kindergarten could be more wisely spent on parenting classes. But, once again, they failed to elaborate, and instead, ended the chapter. (For more extensive info on the myriad of subjects covered above, see this blog’s entire category of posts, “Education”).

Read the book to learn: the four major aspects of the American education system that, according to the authors, constrained students from learning; why the authors thought extrinsic motivators would force schools to rethink their services; the four ways the authors contended that technology would assist with customized learning; other comparisons with corporate models; charter school methods; and other imaginary “learning” scenarios that are likely to remain imaginary.

Life after [sic] Google

The Book of the Week is “Life after [sic] Google, The Fall of Big Data and the Rise of the Blockchain Economy” by George Gilder, published in 2018.

The author explained that Google’s business model is being eclipsed by blockchain technology. Google offers many services for free, and derives revenue from advertising. The author neglected to mention that one sign that Google is on the wane, is that, in 2013 it stopped updating its PageRank data– a measurement of the extent to which each website on the World Wide Web is networked to other websites.

A bunch of tech-industry greats are improving blockchain technology in the form of various competing cryptocurrencies, which are a financial instrument whose value fluctuates (See this blog’s post, Digital Gold). Blockchain technology’s advantages include efficiency, scalability, improving cybersecurity, and the fact that it is virtual.

Google data centers (comprised of physical servers) derive their power from the Columbia river. Worldwide demand for additional power is growing every day. According to the author, another possible power source for data centers is atomic. He wrote, “China plans to build as many as forty new-fangled nuclear plants, the next wave of data centers may well be in Shenzhen.” Considering that parts of China are in an earthquake zone (!), China might not want to end up like Japan. However, politically, it does have a sociopathic disregard for the health and safety of its citizens.

Anyhow, cryptocurrencies’ major cybersecurity feature is that they are comprised of a decentralized peer-to-peer network so they don’t have a central point of failure. Nevertheless, a major rival of Bitcoin– Ethereum– was hacked for a $150 million loss on one of its nodes. Google has all its data in one place, so theft of data and cyber-attacks are much more efficiently accomplished.

One other financial entity that uses blockchain technology is a hedge fund of the company called Renaissance Technologies. Its software mines terabytes (inconceivably large) quantities of data in order to find minute, even obscure correlations between (at times unrelated) variables that allows it to buy and sell securities at a profit. For more than thirty years, it was delivering inconceivably large returns. Until, starting in 2020, it didn’t. The author argued that since the software isn’t generating new knowledge for the world, it is not generating real wealth for society. Economically, that is bad.

Read the book to learn a wealth of additional information about the features of virtual reality versus artificial intelligence in connection with Google and other technological marvels.

Revolution 2.0 – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Revolution 2.0, The Power of the People Is Greater Than the People in Power, a Memoir” by Wael Ghonim, published in 2012.

Born in 1980, the author attended high school in Egypt. The country had a rote education system, and cheating was rampant. The underpaid teachers derived the bulk of their income from private tutoring.

The 1980’s had seen the government of Egypt start to change for the worse. There was increasing poverty, brain drain, and oppression of religious groups. In 1987, Hosni Mubarak first came to power. He initially promised to serve only the two-term limit as president. But as he acquired more power, he acquired more ownership. And more power. And broke his promise. Every presidential “election” every six years thereafter, was rigged to allow Mubarak’s reelection three more times. There was only one political party. His.

While attending university in 1998, the author launched an Islamic website that featured audio tracks of the Qur’an. He was a technology geek, and became especially well-versed in Web communications. In 2004, a group of dissidents formed a group called Kefaya, meaning “enough” in Arabic. In 2006, ordinary Egyptians began protesting against the corruption of the regime.

In 2008, after eight months of numerous interviews, the author got a job with Google. In January 2010, in order to escape Mubarak’s oppressive regime, he and his wife and children moved to Dubai. It was around then that the author became politically vocal about Egypt’s rotten government. He wrote, “Out of hopelessness came anger.”

The author and a friend launched a Facebook page to promote an opposition candidate to Mubarak, as another “election” was coming up in 2011. The regime’s public relations machine was a master at smearing its political enemies; so it did, early and often.

In June 2010, the author created a Facebook page to tell the world about how the Egyptian government tortured and killed a dissident, and he posted a gruesome photo of the said dissident. Users commented on it in droves. In the coming months, the author and others used social media to plan peaceful protests to bring down the Mubarak government.

The author helped spark a movement that experienced growing-pains typical for such a movement. For a while, it became a victim of its own success: when a movement grows significantly in a short time– due to the increasing number of people in it– members begin to form factions and disagree, and go off and do their own thing. So some disgruntled members sabotage the original group’s goals.

Also, the political enemies of the movement see it growing, so they send infiltrators to divide and conquer it. That is why progress has been so slow for so many seemingly large political movements, such as civil rights and feminism.

In autumn 2010, the author was starting to get emotionally burnt out. He mistakenly used his personal account that revealed his true identity. Up to then, he had been super-careful to use false identities in his social media accounts, so as to avoid being arrested, jailed, interrogated, tortured and possibly murdered.

Egyptians were encouraged by Tunisia’s street protests, which were going on around the same time. But Egypt’s problems were worse. The author took the plunge to call Egypt’s movement “Revolution Against Torture, Poverty, Corruption and Unemployment.” He helped shape the protest messaging that convinced the public to peacefully take to the streets on Egyptian Police Day, January 25, 2011. He explained that he opposed only human rights abuses committed by law enforcement officials, not the respectful maintenance of order.

The author learned that: his contacts and access to communications were more important than plans, because best-laid plans always go awry– conditions on the ground change rapidly, and “People’s attachment to ideas is much stronger than their attachment to individuals, who can be doubted and defamed.”

Read the book to learn the details of the backstory, and what happened next.

Father Son & Co.

The Book of the Week is “Father Son & Co., My Life at IBM and Beyond” by Thomas J. Watson Jr. and Peter Petre, published in 1990.

Curiously, the word “mainframe” never appeared in this volume. Not even once.

Born in 1914, Watson Jr. (hereinafter referred to as “Jr.”), who grew up in Short Hills, New Jersey, was the oldest of four siblings. His father (Watson Sr., hereinafter referred to as “Sr.”), who played well with others, executed a financial turnaround of Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company (renamed IBM in 1924).

Sr. instituted a corporate culture of “investiture socialization”– training, educating, and fostering cooperation among employees and rewarding them for performing well. They had air-conditioned offices and factories (rare for the 1930’s) in Endicott, in upstate New York. Their corporate campus afforded them the use of a country club that offered free concerts, a dining room, two golf courses, a shooting range, and library.

Top management encouraged even the lowest-level workers to make suggestions for improving working conditions. On one occasion, an anonymous complaint that reached Sr.’s desk alleged that a heating system in a plant was being renovated too early in spring, making the work environment freezing, and there was one toilet for fifty employees. Jr. was sent to personally investigate. He wrote that he began remedying the situation within one day.

The first half of the twentieth century is obviously a bygone era in employment. The non-union IBM was competing with other employers that provided labor-union: benefits, compensation and job security for their workers.

Sr. was practically the only corporate executive in America in the Depression years who agreed with FDR’s policies. One hard and fast rule under the “cult of personality” which Sr. developed, was that alcohol was prohibited in all IBM offices at all times, including lunchtime off-campus, and even special occasions.

IBM initially sold scales and meat slicers business-to-business, but switched to leasing of, and tech support for, electric typewriters and punch-card machines. That last product automated all accounting functions and processing of sales data.

In 1940, Sr. testified at a Congressional hearing on “technological unemployment”– the unfortunate, economically adverse situation in which people are thrown out of work when processes get automated. Sr. argued that his company was good for the economy, as it stimulated consumerism.

During WWII, IBM contracted with the War Department to manufacture machine guns, and keep tabs on a slew of battle-related statistics: “… bombing results, casualties, prisoners, displaced persons, and supplies.”

IBM found that the most cost-effective way to run its international business through its subsidiary, World Trade, was to assemble machine-parts in various countries so as to force interdependence among them and share the wealth. Immediately after WWII, though, there were disastrous financial losses in Europe especially, until infrastructure could be rebuilt.

By then, the company had about 22,000 employees, most of whom worshipped Sr. His photo hung on the walls of their offices. Nevertheless, at the time, he was smart enough to listen to IBM’s vice president of engineering. The latter was virtually the only manager who had the foresight to raise the alarm early, on the coming obsolescence of the medium of punch-cards, which took up scads of storage space but allowed instantaneous data-viewing. The technologically superior, compact medium of magnetic tape stored data which were invisible until viewed on a monitor. It was unclear how long the transition from punch-card to tape would take, but entrepreneurs were already making inroads on the extremely expensive experimentation required.

In the 1950’s, the U.S. government commissioned IBM and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to do a joint defense project called SAGE. In 1957, the Soviets’ launch of Sputnik showed SAGE to be “… a costly fantasy, the SDI of its day. Before long, we found ourselves vastly overarmed, faced with the danger of mutual annihilation.”

In 1967, in the wake of racial tensions in America, IBM built a plant in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, New York City. It was part of a social program that was modestly successful; suggested by a task force comprised of white business leaders who assisted a black community board with economic development.

The author admitted that IBM had become a monopoly of sorts by the 1970’s. “The [anti-trust case against IBM] dragged on for twelve years, until the Reagan administration finally dropped it in 1981… the natural forces of technology etched away whatever monopoly we may have had.”

Read the book to learn about the role played by IBM with regard to other major negative and positive economic trends driving America over the course of more than half a century, plus more biographical information on the author and his family.

ENDNOTE: Alarmists on both sides of the economic spectrum shouldn’t have nearly as much fodder with which to propagandize, if they heed the lessons from this book, lessons that smack of deju vu all over again :

  • Some people might say Moore’s Law has run its course in the United States (See the post, “Moore’s Law / Elon Musk”).
  • Microsoft learned the most lucrative lessons from IBM in preparing its own legal defense against the Justice Department’s antitrust accusations.
  • The national healthcare system of the United States can only improve in the coming decades– eliminating one major cost for employers that was seriously hampering their bottom line.
  • The way IBM began to do business internationally decades ago, is still in existence. And
  • supply and demand will compel Americans to find solutions to seemingly overwhelming problems, such as those relating to energy, environmentalism and education.

Of course, there will always be leaders who, grateful for term limits, lacking courage– adopt the attitude of the character Linus in the “Peanuts” comic strip: No problem is ever so big or so complicated that it can’t be run away from.

Skunk Works

“I asked the Air Force for $30 million, but they had only $20 million to spend in discretionary funds for secret projects by which they bypassed Congressional appropriations procedures.”

The above was written by Ben Rich, head of the Skunk Works– a secret division of military-contractor Lockheed in Burbank, California in summer 1975.

The Book of the Week is “Skunk Works, A Personal Memoir of My Years at Lockheed” by Ben R. Rich & Leo Janos, published in 1994.

In January 1975, the author, a scientist, helped with projects to build weaponry for the CIA and the U.S. Air Force. At the time, the U.S. government was cutting military spending, as the Vietnam War was ending.

Lockheed was suffering from a bribery scandal, and the longtime head of the Skunk Works was retiring. The out-going executive had contentious relations with Lockheed’s customers, but knew how to manage people building weaponry. The author was promoted to replace him.

In summer 1975, unbeknownst to Lockheed, competitive bidding among military contractors had already started for producing a “stealth” plane; meaning, undetected by radar, that could spy or drop bombs. One military school-of-thought was pushing missiles rather than bombs, because missiles could travel long distances, and required a minimum of military personnel.

As is well known, 1970’s software that powered military planes was extremely primitive. The complex aerodynamics involved in making a plane invisible to radar, requires reverse-engineering– quickly computing billions of bits of information obtained from surveilling the wings of the plane while it’s flying above, and taking photos of or dropping bombs on, enemy territory.

The stealth plane project was “Top Secret” so extraordinary measures had to be taken to keep it quiet; necessitating an alarm system, code-names, pass codes, security clearances, etc. Contractor workers labored around the clock to meet deadlines and budgets, despite numerous setbacks and frustrations. It was ultimately up to American president Jimmy Carter to decide which plane models the military was to build in future years. He did, in June 1977. Nevertheless, it takes eight to ten years for a non-secret plane to be designed, tested, and manufactured. It is even more difficult to estimate how long a secret one will take.

For, more problems arose with the stealth project, including a strike by the machinists’ union in August 1977. From the start, intrusive Air Force, Navy and OSHA inspectors had provided yet other stressful procedures-and -paperwork-and-more-paperwork diversions from the research and development.

August 1979 saw the “competitive” in competitive bidding. Pilots pitted the stealth fighter with high-precision, laser-guided bombs against an existing T-38 plane with Hawk missiles in the Nevada desert. After a July 1980 deadline was missed, finally, in June 1981, the contract-award-winner executed a first test-flight witnessed by government, military and weapons-making leaders from the White House Situation Room and the Tactical Air Command at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia.

One aspect of a spy-plane test-flight, is that the plane breaks the sound barrier– faster than the earth rotates, at a speed of, say almost mach 2 or 3– so its vibrations rattle or can break windows of structures on earth. Test flights that have failed have killed pilots, but successful ones have transported pilots cross-country in record time: from San Diego, California to Savannah Beach, Georgia in one hour.

Yes, Americans derive a few benefits and excitement from military toys. However– greedy, power-hungry people who fail to foster international cooperation, continue to argue that it is still necessary for the security of the nation, to build ridiculously expensive, high-tech weaponry that will never be used. The wasted money might be better spent on other budget items.

The author admitted that even during the Cold War, his operation “… almost wrecked our own free enterprise system by chasing after enormously costly technologies that were simply beyond our creative grasp …We spent a hell of a lot of money in deception and very little in behalf of worthwhile technology.”

Read the book to learn: how the author harnessed his and his underlings’ knowledge and experience in personnel management, physics, chemistry, aerodynamics, engineering, economics, contract-law and various other disciplines to stay on top of the juggling act that was his job; a wealth of additional information on the research and development of high-tech planes (including the tortuous ways they were paid for, and by whom; and how, with the knowledge gained in developing one of the spy planes– the Challenger disaster could have been averted).

Wikinomics / Courting Justice – BONUS POST

The First Bonus Book of the Week is “Wikinomics, How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything” by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams, published in 2006.

This book’s authors slapped together a huge number of cliched, vast generalizations in pushing their overly idealistic scenarios of the future. They had high hopes for the open-source movement. Unfortunately, since the book’s writing, most of the open-source projects they mentioned have tapered off, because in the long run, few people can or would want to provide “sweat equity” without ever receiving any equity.

Nevertheless, cooperation and globalization– two other movements for which the authors had great enthusiasm– are still alive, well and prospering. It is debatable, however, how long these two can be implemented before their socialistic aspects reach critical mass, and fail.

The authors mentioned that crowdsourcing of strangers (competitors) who are offered a reward for submitting the best innovative solution for a specific problem- has been very successful. But once the problem has been solved, a corporate entity needs loyal employees to continue to implement the solution.

The authors also contended that cooperation among companies reminiscent of the way the Japanese conduct business, has also been successful. However, long-term, the Japanese way leads to groupthink and herd mentality– lack of new ideas and competition; an oligopoly or monopoly. Free-market economics– competition– forces a company to acknowledge its weaknesses and threats against it, of which it might not even be aware. This is why capitalist economics for most goods and services is the way to go– there is balance between cooperation and competition that allows workers to best fulfill their potential for their employer and themselves.

It might be recalled that pure socialism thrived for a short time when the State of Israel was born. That was an extremely special exception, for the following major reasons; the Kibbutzniks:

  • were forced to work together in order to survive in the desert, geographically surrounded by enemies;
  • were like-minded– oppressed for their religion– seeking a safe place in the world;
  • had a common goal bigger than themselves– building a country for themselves from the ground up– creating the political, social and cultural systems and infrastructure when everything was simple and their population was low;
  • had in common the shared, traumatic experience of WWII and/or the Holocaust; and
  • had substantial financial and military help from the United States.

In the United States, since the Depression Era, there has been heated political debate over how much socialism is too much. To be sure, specific socialistic entities have greatly enhanced the quality of life for Americans for decades: public libraries, the G.I. Bill, Social Security and Medicare.

Capitalistic free markets have also done the same, but when the gap between rich and poor people in a nation becomes too wide because the rich exploit vehicles to wealth through unethical political means, there occurs too much resentment among the poor.

Along these lines, the Second Bonus Book of Week, “Courting Justice, From New York Yankees v. Major League Baseball to Bush v. Gore, 1997-2000” by David Boies, published in 2004, described a few cases of how the author legally fought for underdogs (which were suing super-rich, politically entrenched entities). In antitrust and price-fixing cases, consumers have always been wronged– overcharged– and they are never fully compensated, even when the court rules against the offenders.

Born in 1941, the author (later) attended Northwestern law school in Illinois. He got a scholarship that paid his tuition, books and rent. He wrote, “I also discovered that I could borrow several thousand dollars from the government at no interest, which I did.”

Beginning in 1997, on behalf of the U.S. government, the author litigated an antitrust case against monopolist Microsoft. He helped win the portion of the case he worked on. Unfortunately, he was forced to withdraw from the case due to a conflict of interest. His role in the whole affair was meta-relevant– he represented Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election court fight. The pro-business bent of George W. Bush with his new antitrust department personnel (unethically, at best) changed the course of the Microsoft case.

The author asserted that, “The enforcement of our nation’s laws is supposed to be free from political influence, particularly when a case is ongoing [as was Microsoft’s]… [and in Gore’s case:] The rule of law means, first, that what a court (or other decision-maker) will do must be reasonably predictable, and second, that what a court does must be independent of the identity of the parties. The majority opinion [of the U.S. Supreme Court] failed both tests.”

Read the book to learn the details, as well as several other cases personally litigated by the author.

Samsung Rising

The Book of the Week is “Samsung Rising, The Inside Story of the South Korean Giant That Set Out to Beat Apple and Conquer Tech” by Geoffrey Cain, published in 2020.

In 2009, the author, a Korean-speaking journalist moved to South Korea to find out all he could about the then-electronics company Samsung, the most famous company in the country. In the ensuing years, Samsung’s relationships with technology-products makers became incestuous because it decided to make its own products while simultaneously supplying its competitors with parts for their products.

The author personally visited the city of Daegu, hometown of Samsung’s founder. In March 1938, Samsung started as a produce stand. The founder followed the Japanese business model of building an empire owned by family members, that involved complicated, group-focused, loyalty-oriented arrangements. Sounds somewhat familiar.

Anyway, in the 1950’s, he branched out into different industries, such as wool clothing, sugar refining, insurance, banking, retailing etc. The corporate culture involves slogan-chanting, and a drill team. But different divisions of the company harbor petty jealousies. The company’s success as a whole is treated as a zero-sum game, so one division’s success is considered to come at the expense of another’s. Sounds somewhat familiar. In autumn 2011, when Samsung’s division in America successfully marketed its new phone and stole a significant amount of market share from Apple, Samsung’s marketing division in South Korea lost face.

The founder made valuable government contacts that invited the kind of corruption that used to be frowned upon in the United States twenty years ago. Ironically, the United States has always provided significant financial aid to South Korea beginning with the Cold War and thereafter.

In 1999, Samsung and Sprint cooperated in a venture to make and export cell phones to the United States. Pursuant to South Korean culture, “After the bonding over booze and karaoke, it’s an accepted practice to roll out bags of cash and other gifts for your partners [American telephone service companies].” However, Samsung had to learn that Americans don’t do business that way (at least not explicitly).

In April 2008, Samsung’s chairman was charged with stock manipulation and tax evasion. In August 2010, and again in July 2011, Apple and Samsung launched an orgy of patent litigation against each other. In October 2011, Samsung already supplied parts for Google’s Android phone, but decided to introduce a phone of its own, the Galaxy Note series. It was a cross between a phone and a tablet, that would compete with Apple’s iPhone. Samsung sought to steal Apple’s customers. Apple had a reputation for making only one version of an overpriced product that delivered exactly what customers desired, that made them feel they were in the “in” crowd. Samsung would offer a choice of different-sized screens. It came late to the market, but improved upon existing products.

In August 2016, Samsung launched a new Galaxy Note phone. In October 2016, Samsung compounded its problems by denying that its phone burst into flames without warning. Its employees who were native South Koreans were under pressure not to express any negative sentiments about anything associated with their employer. For they risked ruining their careers, as word would get around to the few other competing employers in the country, and they would never work anywhere in their homeland again. Sounds somewhat familiar.

Read the book to learn about a wealth of additional details on the culture of South Korea (which is the same as the corporate culture of Samsung), how Samsung came to focus solely on technology parts and products, and much more.

Half-Life

The Book of the Week is “Half-Life, The Divided Life of Bruno Pontecorvo, Physicist or Spy” by Frank Close, published in 2015. The author himself was a physicist, so he interspersed physics concepts with the evolution of the development of nuclear technology and its major players. This book was written for readers who would like to learn some nuclear physics, and/or those readers curious about the people involved in Cold War / nuclear physics mysteries.

However, Close made an error, spelling “Lise Meitner” as “Lisa Meitner.” Additionally, since the author was neither a historian nor American (he was British) he was mistaken in declaring, “For supporters of communism in the West, this [the autumn 1956 Hungarian uprising which was bloodily crushed by the Soviets] was probably the most serious crisis of conscience since the Soviet pact with the Nazis in 1939.” Actually, in early 1956, Khrushchev revealed Stalin’s horrific crimes to the world. Americans, especially those who considered themselves Social Democrats, were thrown for a loop ideologically, and became bitterly conflicted in their own minds, and with each other.

Anyway, born in Italy in August 1913, Pontecorvo was the fourth of eight children. In 1931, he transferred from the University of Pisa to that of Rome for his third year of physics studies, mentored by Enrico Fermi. Knowledge of particle physics was in its infancy. Pontecorvo and other scientists jointly filed a patent in autumn 1935 in connection with experiments with neutrons and hydrogen.

The year 1936 saw Pontecorvo flee to Paris after Mussolini cracked down on Jews’ liberty. He studied with Frederic and Irene Joliot-Curie. He was turned on to Communist ideology by his cousin. They attended meetings and rallies.

By the late 1930’s, physicists (and governments) of different nations such as Germany, France, Italy, the USSR, etc. started to realize how important nuclear processes were for creating future weapons of mass destruction– instrumental for their respective homelands’ national security. Beginning in the summer of 1940, nuclear research became secret in the United States. Scientific journals would no longer publish articles on that topic.

The USSR did not lack for brains, but for uranium in the early 1940’s. Beginning in summer 1942 in Moscow, the Soviets worked on an atomic bomb. But scientists in the United Kingdom had a head start, having begun their work the previous year. In December 1942, the United States started the Manhattan Project.

By the end of the 1940’s, having done nuclear research in Tulsa in Oklahoma, the Northwest Territories in Canada and in Harwell in England, Pontecorvo was planning to move himself, his wife and three sons to Liverpool to become a physics professor. The British intelligence service MI5 secretly pushed him in that direction. As is well known, the United States was gripped by anti-Communist hysteria, with the arrests of spies Klaus Fuchs, David Greenglass and the Rosenbergs.

The summer of 1950 saw the Pontecorvo family take a summer vacation in France, Switzerland, and the Italian countryside. There is circumstantial evidence that he met with his Communist cousin and suddenly, all bets were off.

Read the book to learn the fate of the family, the contributions made to science by the scientist, learn why he neither won the Nobel Prize nor collected royalties on the aforementioned patent, and much more.