Welcome to Muhr's Must Reads!

I focus on delivering relevant business & finance related articles while occasionally straying to other topics (sports, art, technology, etc.) to keep the "juices" flowing. While I primarily read for myself, and this site acts as a quasi-personal library, I created MMR because I'm passionate about sharing what I find interesting.

My goal is to provide readers with ~60 minutes of high-quality material per edition (selections come from many sources representing 5-10% of what I've seen/read). I also add estimated read times for each link in order to easily manage their information intake.

With roughly 100,000 large merchant ships in the water at any time, scores sink, burn, break apart, run aground, or explode each year—often with toxic consequences. It is Captain Nick Sloane's job to board troubled vessels and salvage what he can. Against heavy odds, he recently refloated the doomed cruise ship Costa Concordia. William Langewiesche explains why Sloane may be the most valuable man on the seas ... Every ocean voyage involves risk. This has always been, and will always be. Currently about 100,000 large merchant ships sail the seas. If past patterns hold, during the next 10 years some 25,000 of them will be categorized as insurance casualties. Another 1,600 will be lost—roughly one ship every two and a half days. Some fraud is involved, but most of the losses are real. Though safety is said to be improving, it is evident that the oceans remain wild and will not soon be tamed. ... In that light one of the greatest seafarers at work today is neither a naval commander nor an old-salt merchant mariner but a certain marine salvage master with a taste for chaos and a genius for improvisation. He is a burly South African, aged 53, by the name of Captain Nick Sloane. His job is to intervene where other captains have failed, and to make the best of ships that are sinking, burning, breaking apart, or severely aground. Usually those same ships are threatening to leak bunker fuel—the sludge that powers them—along with crude oil or other toxins in quantities that could poison the environment for years to come. Sloane boards the ships with small teams—by helicopter from overhead, or by Zodiac from oceangoing tugs—and once he arrives he stays aboard and fights, sometimes for weeks at a stretch. ... He is tenacious in part because of the financial stakes involved. By well-wrought tradition, rescuers are not recompensed for saving lives at sea, but those who save a ship have a claim to a large part of its value, including its cargo. The final payout involves calculations not only of the ship's total value but also of the difficulty and danger involved in making the save. Today the payout is usually determined through Lloyd's of London, after the work is done, and on average amounts to perhaps 12 percent of the assessed value, except in disputed cases referred to arbitration, where the payout may climb higher. Such cuts amount to millions of dollars. On the other hand, expenses have to be paid out of pocket, and if the salvors fail to save the ship, they may win nothing at all—not even a thank-you for trying.
It started as a continuation of the misadventures of the Griswold family; it ended up becoming one of the most surprisingly popular and oft-quoted holiday movies of all time. This month marks the 25th anniversary of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, in which beleaguered patriarch Clark Griswold — played by the inimitable Chevy Chase — tries to engineer the picture-perfect seasonal festivities: the best naturally procured tree, the biggest and brightest (literally) Christmas-light display on the block, the end-of-the-year bonus from his Scrooge-like boss. It's the only comedy to appeal to those who live for that deck-the-halls spirit, viewers who are dyed-in-the-wool Grinches ("Well, I don't know what to say, except it's Christmas and we're all in misery") and folks who appreciate the genius of Randy Quaid in his underwear, exclaiming "Sh**ter's full!"... In honor of the film's quarter-of-a-century milestone, we've asked the cast and creators to weigh in on the seasonal classic. From the intricate planning behind the film’s zany antics to freak snowstorms and cast freak-outs, this is the untold, no-holds-barred story of Christmas Vacation.
How General Electric, Local Motors, and an army of DIY inventors are rebuilding American manufacturing ... One modified refrigerator dispensed soda cans from a chute, like a vending machine. Another used a nitrogen cylinder for home-style flash freezing. (“It had a big sign that said this product is dangerous—that was its selling point,” Nolan says.) The winner, though, was an oven with a bar-code scanner capable of reading and perfectly executing cooking instructions encoded on packaged foods. To demo the product, the leader of the team, Chris Cprek, a University of Louisville staffer and one of LVL1’s founders, created a bar code with baking instructions for a raspberry pie and used his hacked-together oven to bake the dessert right on the workshop floor. ... To the executives at GE, Cprek’s hack came as a wakeup call. The idea for a bar-code-scanning oven had come up in internal ideas sessions before, and they knew it had great potential. In retirement communities or urban food deserts, such an appliance could help people eat healthier meals without requiring much time or expertise. And yet, the concept had never left the brainstorm stage at GE. That’s because, for giant manufacturing companies, putting something into a production run is a giant gamble. Navigating the obstacle course of requisite departments (R&D, design, prototyping, market research, manufacturing) can take years, and tooling a factory line can cost tens of millions of dollars. That the executives were now staring at a working prototype of an idea they already liked—and it hadn’t come from them—made them wonder how much innovation they were letting slide by. Why couldn’t they build a more nimble product-development pipeline?
It started as a continuation of the misadventures of the Griswold family; it ended up becoming one of the most surprisingly popular and oft-quoted holiday movies of all time. This month marks the 25th anniversary of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, in which beleaguered patriarch Clark Griswold — played by the inimitable Chevy Chase — tries to engineer the picture-perfect seasonal festivities: the best naturally procured tree, the biggest and brightest (literally) Christmas-light display on the block, the end-of-the-year bonus from his Scrooge-like boss. It's the only comedy to appeal to those who live for that deck-the-halls spirit, viewers who are dyed-in-the-wool Grinches ("Well, I don't know what to say, except it's Christmas and we're all in misery") and folks who appreciate the genius of Randy Quaid in his underwear, exclaiming "Sh**ter's full!"... In honor of the film's quarter-of-a-century milestone, we've asked the cast and creators to weigh in on the seasonal classic. From the intricate planning behind the film’s zany antics to freak snowstorms and cast freak-outs, this is the untold, no-holds-barred story of Christmas Vacation.
She is 5-foot-2, drives a Honda CR-V, and has very detailed opinions on printer cartridges, tax preparation software, and five flavors of Burt’s Bees lip balm. ... She is “Ali Julia,” the nom de plume of a highly mysterious Boston woman who has become a powerful figure on the Internet. ... At this moment, Ali Julia is the No. 1 ranked reviewer on Amazon.com, which makes her the queen of an elite — and very secretive — club that wields huge influence over the nation’s shopping habits. ... Companies send them piles of free products, often before they are released to the general public, with the desperate hope that they will sit down and write a detailed review, because studies show that customers are attracted to products with multiple reviews (even if they’re not all good). ... How one earns the “#1 Reviewer” badge next to their name is a mystery, even to those who have held the title. The ranking algorithm is a company secret, though top reviewers — who obsess over the algorithm in the Amazon forums — believe the key is to get readers to click “Yes” on the button at the end of each review that asks if the review was helpful.
A sumo wrestling tournament. A failed coup ending in seppuku. A search for a forgotten man. How one writer’s trip to Japan became a journey through oblivion. ... Sumo wrestlers fight under ring names called shikona, formal pseudonyms governed, like everything else in sumo, by elaborate traditions and rules. Hakuho was born Mönkhbatyn Davaajargal in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, in 1985; he is the fourth non-Japanese wrestler to attain yokozuna status. Until the last 30 years or so, foreigners were rare in the upper ranks of sumo in Japan. But some countries have their own sumo customs, brought over by immigrants, and some others have sports that are very like sumo. Thomas Edison filmed sumo matches in Hawaii as early as 1903. Mongolian wrestling involves many of the same skills and concepts. In recent years, wrestlers brought up in places like these have found their way to Japan in greater numbers, and have largely supplanted Japanese wrestlers at the top of the rankings. Six of the past eight yokozuna promotions have gone to foreigners. There has been no active Japanese yokozuna since the last retired in 2003. This is a source of intense anxiety to many in the tradition-minded world of sumo in Japan. ... Asashoryu brawled with other wrestlers in the communal baths. He barked at referees — an almost unthinkable offense. He pulled another wrestler’s hair, a breach that made him the first yokozuna ever disqualified from a match. Rikishi are expected to wear kimonos and sandals in public; Asashoryu would show up in a business suit. He would show up drunk. He would accept his prize money with the wrong hand. ... The problem, from the perspective of the traditionalists who control Japanese sumo, was that Asashoryu also won. He won relentlessly. He laid waste to the sport. ... With no Asashoryu to contend with, Hakuho proceeded to go 15-0 in his next four tournaments. He began a spell of dominance that not even Asashoryu could have matched. In 2010, he compiled the second-longest winning streak in sumo history, 63 straight wins, which tied a record set in the 1780s. He has won, so far, a record 10 tournaments without dropping a single match.
I want to provide a memo on this topic before I – and hopefully many of my readers – head out for year- end holidays . I’ll be writing not with regard to the right price for oil – about which I certainly have no unique insight – but rather, as indicated by the title, about what we can learn from recent experience. ... something I call “the failure of imagination.” I defined it as “either being unable to conceive of the full range of possible outcomes or not understanding the consequences of the more extreme occurrences.” Both aspects of the definition apply here. ... The usual starting point for forecasting something is its current level. Most forecasts extrapolate, perhaps making modest adjustments up or down. In other words, most forecasting is done incrementally, and few predictors contemplate order-of-magnitude changes. Thus I imagine that with Brent crude around $110 six months ago, the bulls were probably predicting $115 or $120 and the bears $105 or $100. Forecasters usually stick too closely to the current level, and on those rare occasions when they call for change, they often underestimate the potential magnitude. Very few people predicted oil would decline significantly, and fewer still mentioned the possibility that we would see $60 within six months. ... Turning to the second aspect of “the failure of imagination” and going beyond the inability of most people to imagine extreme outcomes, the current situation with oil also illustrates how difficult it is to understand the full range of potential ramifications. Most people easily grasp the immediate impact of developments, but few understand the “second - order” consequences... as well as the third and fourth. ... Everyone knew in 2007 that the sub-prime crisis would affect mortgage-backed securities and homebuilders, but it took until 2008 for them to worry equally about banks and the rest of the economy. ... “In economics things take longer to happen than you think they will, and then they happen faster than you thought they could.” ... For the last 3½ years, Oaktree’s mantra has been “move forward, but with caution.” For the first time in that span, with the arrival of some disarray and heightened risk aversion, events tell us it’s appropriate to drop some of our caution and substitute a degree of aggressiveness.
As Amazon popularized ebooks over the last decade, it catalyzed a necessary change in our reading habits. By 2007, when the first Kindle emerged, the publishing world had to compete with Facebook, mobile games, and a hundred other distractions; to retain their vitality, books needed to adapt. Over the years, Amazon has stuffed its e-readers with features making them easier to read, like embedded dictionaries and translators; it’s added a social network; it’s even introduced a feature that seamlessly turns text into audio and back at our convenience. Books are vessels for transmitting ideas, and today the vessels have ideas of their own own: about what we should read, and how we should read it. ... Hundreds of millions of tablets and e-readers have been sold, but today we're still inclined to think of a book as words on a page. Amazon's success with Kindle has hinged on recognizing how much more they can be. So where does the company go from here? In a series of rare, on-the-record interviews for Kindle’s 7th anniversary, Amazon executives sketched out their evolving vision for the future of reading. It's wild — and it's coming into focus faster than you might have guessed.
Your sweat may bring medical diagnostics to Fitbits and Fuelbands ... Sweat, ick. It betrays our nervousness, leaves unsightly blotches on our clothes, drips down our faces, and makes us stink. Sure, it cools us when we overheat, but most of the time we think of it purely as an inconvenience. ... We may soon, however, learn to like our sweat a lot more—or at least what it can reveal about our health. We’d certainly prefer giving a doctor a little sweat to being punctured for a blood test—or even providing a urine sample—as long as we didn’t have to run a mile or sit in a sauna to do it. And if sweat could provide constant updates about our bodies’ reactions to a medication, or track head trauma in athletes, we might just start to appreciate it. ... Sweat contains a trove of medical information and can provide it in almost real time. And now you can monitor your sweat with a wearable gadget that stimulates and collects it using a small patch and analyzes it using a smartphone—that is, if you visit my lab. ... There is still work to do on the digital signal processing and algorithms needed to analyze the raw electrical measurements of biomarkers in sweat. But a physical-exertion sensor patch is a near reality, about to be tried on hundreds of people. If all goes well, we could have sweat-sensing patches—at least sensors for athletics—on the market in low volume next year. These do not have to go through a lengthy approval process with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration because they are not meant to be used for diagnosis or treatment of disease.
Or so says Joe Jamail. But at the age of 89, the state’s most famous attorney—and one of the wealthiest—is still dropping f-bombs and crushing his opposing counsel. Can someone get this man another Scotch? ... Merely getting Jamail’s signature on their pleadings added value to their claim. No lawyer has ever known the kind of success Jamail has. His $10.5 billion verdict in Pennzoil v. Texaco in 1985—still the largest jury award in history—was merely the most famous. He’s had five verdicts for over $100 million and more than two hundred for at least $1 million. Forbes has repeatedly declared him the world’s richest practicing attorney and estimates his net worth at $1.7 billion, a particularly staggering figure when you realize that most of it came from contingency fees from settlements and jury awards. That record has created a mystique around Jamail. Or if you’re less romantic, it gives him sixty-plus years of very real momentum, and in the courtroom it’s unmistakable.
Why the video website is rewriting the rules of broadcasting ... There are few certainties in modern broadcasting but Dominic Smales is “100 per cent sure” that he knows one of them: the small-screen stars of the future will be minted on social media. “In a few years it will seem totally outmoded to have a commissioning editor deciding what goes on our television screens and then forcing performers in front of an audience,” he says fervently. ... “I was amazed at the power of what they were doing,” recalls Smales. “They were posting videos of themselves and being in the top five or 10 in the world almost straightaway, among the ones of crashing Ferraris and dogs on skateboards.” And, significantly, no one was directing their output. “They were the editor-in-chief, the commissioner, the broadcaster, the crew; they were everything to it.” Yet they were also attracting audiences, supporting their offline business and – over time – making money out of YouTube directly. This, Smales concluded, was the future of broadcasting.
In the owner's suite, on his private jet or among Dallas' beautiful people, JERRY JONES seems a happy man. But what he really wants, he cannot have. ... Standing 6 feet, ½-inch tall, Jones is, like his stadium, modernized by creative vision and formidable resources -- his face lifted, his scalp fortified and his teeth capped to gleam. His blue eyes are still icicle-clear, full of mirth and the hint of trouble. It's been nearly a half-century since he played college football, but he still moves with an athlete's gait, as effortlessly as a man 20 years younger. Stepping forward heels-first, he appears to glide, even lope, despite a slouch that's most perceptible when he's immobile and feeling agitated, which happens most often when his team is playing. ... On Feb. 25, 1989, Jones, then a little-known oil and gas wildcatter from Little Rock, Arkansas, bought the Cowboys for $151 million, the highest price paid at the time for an American sports franchise. Still the NFL's most valuable franchise with annual revenues of $615 million, the Cowboys are now valued by Forbes at $3.2 billion. Jones is estimated to be worth at least that much, although likely much more. When told that the Cowboys' value has appreciated at a faster clip than his beloved Rockwell, Jones mulls the idea for a moment, then beams: "You know, that's probably true -- I hadn't thought of that."
When it comes to bad ideas, finance certainly offers up an embarrassment of riches – CAPM, Efficient Market Hypothesis, Beta, VaR, portfolio insurance, tail risk hedging, smart beta, leverage, structured finance products, benchmarks, hedge funds, risk premia, and risk parity to name but a few. Whilst I have expressed my ire at these concepts and poured scorn upon many of these ideas over the years, they aren’ t the topic of this paper. ... Rather in this essay I want to explore the problems that surround the concept of shareholder value and its maximization. I’m aware that expressing skepticism over this topic is a little like criticizing motherhood and apple pie. I grew up in the U.K. watching a wonderful comedian named Kenny Everett. Amongst his many comic creations was a U.S. Army general whose solution to those who “didn’t like Apple Pie on Sundays, and didn’t love their mothers” was “to round them up, put them in a field, and bomb the bas**rds,” so it is with no small amount of trepidation that I embark on this critique. ... Before you dismiss me as a raving “red under the bed,” you might be surprised to know that I am not alone in questioning the mantra of shareholder value maximization. Indeed the title of this essay is taken from a direct quotation from none other than that stalwart of the capitalist system, Jack Welch. In an interview in the Financial Times from March 2009, Welch said “Shareholder value is the dumbest idea in the world.”
  • Firstly, SVM has failed its namesakes: it has not delivered increased returns to shareholders in any meaningful way, and may actually have led to poorer corporate performance!
  • Secondly, it suggests that management guru Peter Drucker was right back in 1973 when he suggested “The only valid purpose of a firm is to create a customer.” Only by focusing on being a good business are you likely to end up delivering decent returns to shareholders. Focusing on the latter as an objective can easily undermine the former. Concentrate on the former, and the latter will take care of itself. As Keynes once put it, “Achieve immortality by accident, if at all.”
  • Thirdly, we need to think about the broader impact of policies like SVM on the economy overall. Shareholders are but one very narrow group of our broader economic landscape. Yet by allowing companies to focus on them alone, we have potentially unleashed a number of ills upon ourselves. A broader perspective is called for. Customers, employees, and taxpayers should all be considered. Raising any one group to the exclusion of others is likely a path to disaster. Anyone for stakeholder capitalism?
  • With a record 224,000 hectares under cultivation this year, the country produced an estimated 6,400 tons of opium, or around 90 percent of the world's supply. The drug is entwined with the highest levels of the Afghan government and the economy in a way that makes the cocaine business in Escobar-era Colombia look like a sideshow. The share of cocaine trafficking and production in Colombia's GDP peaked at six percent in the late 1980s; in Afghanistan today, according to U.N. estimates, the opium industry accounts for 15 percent of the economy, a figure that is set to rise as the West withdraws. ... The country produces twice as much opium as it did in 2000. How did all those poppy fields flower under the nose of one of the biggest international military and development missions of our time? The answer lies partly in the deeply cynical bargains struck by former Afghan President Hamid Karzai in his bid to consolidate power, and partly in the way the U.S. military ignored the corruption of its allies in taking on the Taliban. It's the story of how, in pursuit of the War on Terror, we lost the War on Drugs in Afghanistan by allying with many of the same people who turned the country into the world's biggest source of heroin. ... Fifteen workers can harvest a productive hectare within a week. When you consider that Helmand alone has at least 100,000 hectares under cultivation, you get a sense of the vast amount of manpower that must be mobilized.
    “In the old days I used to think about the models, the programs and the mathematics,” Peterffy says in his heavy Hungarian accent. “And now I’m completely consumed with marketing. It’s not a straightforward, logical thing.” He sits in an armchair in the guest house he uses as a home office, dressed in khaki slacks and a candy-stripe Oxford shirt. The room is paneled in rich African mahogany, with large bay windows opening on to fields where dairy cows once grazed. Yet Peterffy hardly seems relaxed. Instead, he is taking on the marketing challenge with the same intensity he earlier applied to mathematical models and technical hurdles. ... By Peterffy’s figuring, only 5% of traders who should use Interactive have so far signed up. His face contorts, and he lets out something between a scream and a wail. “It drives me crazy,” he says. “I’m really frustrated that I can’t get this business going full sail as it should be.” ... Peterffy has always been a full-sail kind of guy. Even in high school he was entrepreneurial, selling smuggled sticks of contraband Juicy Fruit gum at a 500% markup. He arrived in New York at 21, a penniless descendant of nobles who had lost nearly everything under Communist rule.
    Just as the Prius has established itself as the first true mass-market hybrid, Toyota hopes the Mirai will one day become the first mass-market hydrogen car. On sale in Japan on Dec. 15, it will be available in the U.S. and Europe in late 2015 and has a driving range of 300 miles, much farther than most plug-in electrics can go. It also runs on the most abundant element in the universe and emits only heat and water ... As cool as the Mirai is, selling it is a hugely risky move. While fuel cells are a proven technology, used by NASA during Apollo missions in the 1960s to generate electricity and produce drinking water, a mass market for fuel-cell cars will require big investments in hydrogen fueling stations that may not be forthcoming. And, thanks in large part to Toyota itself, the auto industry has sunk serious money into hybrids, plug-in electrics, and advanced batteries in the expectation that these technologies will dominate the post-gasoline era, whenever that may be. “Every manufacturer has multiple hybrids and electrics coming,” says Mike Jackson, chief executive officer of AutoNation (AN), the largest U.S. retailer of new cars, trucks, and SUVs. “And here you have Toyota saying, ‘We’re not going to go full electric. The ultimate answer is fuel cells.’ ” ... Toyota says it made the Mirai economically viable by reengineering the fuel-cell stack with less expensive materials, reducing the amount of platinum in the catalyst that separates hydrogen protons from electrons (electricity), and standardizing the production equipment to make the car. ... The environmental benefit of fuel-cell cars won’t be fully realized if hydrogen isn’t eventually produced from renewable sources.
    With its world-leading research investments and vast size, China will dominate the future of genetically modified food—despite the resistance of its population. ... Today no genetically modified food (with the exception of a virus-resistant papaya) is grown in China, even for animal feed. The Ministry of Agriculture issued its last significant safety approvals five years ago—for a pest-resistant rice developed in China and a variety of corn whose phosphorus content is more digestible to pigs, enhancing growth and reducing subsequent pollution—but never gave the okay for actual planting. The safety certificates expired in August. A recent endorsement of GMOs by the aging Yuan Longping himself has done little to move the policy or change public opinion. Ji-kun Huang, director of the Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy, says, “The technology is ready, but politically, it’s sensitive. Commercialization will be a long way off. Rice is a staple food, and public concern about safety is serious.” ... Yet despite the uncertainties, research on GMO crops continues. By one count published in Nature Biotechnology, 378 Chinese groups employing thousands of scientists are engaged in this work. The government will have spent some $4 billion on GMOs by 2020. Researchers are using the latest modification technologies and drawing from high-throughput genomic analysis of thousands of crop strains, accelerating the pace of discovery. ... Cautious though they are of arousing public opposition, Chinese leaders are well aware that their country will need a lot more food. Growing it will require new agricultural tricks.
    There was a driving rain on Cape Canaveral on the morning of November 14, 1969, as humanity's second trip to the Moon lifted off, with a set of science experiments and three astronauts on board, and President Nixon in attendance. Seven years after his predecessor had kicked off the whole project by asking why Rice plays Texas, Apollo 12 was headed for a place on the western edge of the near side of the Moon called the Ocean of Storms, but first they would have to get through an Earth-bound one. ... "That's a lovely liftoff," Charles "Pete" Conrad, the 39-year-old Apollo 12 mission commander, said to the other two astronauts aboard the capsule nicknamed Yankee Clipper, Alan L. Bean, and Richard Gordon. "That's not bad at all!" ... And then, at approximately thirty sixth and a half seconds, Conrad saw a bright white flash and felt his spaceship tremble. On the audio recording, you can hear a static burst. ... "The hell was that," he said. ... Unbeknownst to anyone, at that exact moment, their spaceship had just become history's highest and fastest lightning rod.
    Like the population, the business sector of the U.S. economy is aging. Our research shows a secular increase in the share of economic activity occurring in older firms—a trend that has occurred in every state and metropolitan area, in every firm size category, and in each broad industrial sector. ... The share of firms aged 16 years or more was 23 percent in 1992, but leaped to 34 percent by 2011—an increase of 50 percent in two decades. The share of private-sector workers employed in these mature firms increased from 60 percent to 72 percent during the same period. ... Perhaps most startling, we find that employment and firm shares declined for every other firm age group during this period. We explore three potential contributing factors driving the increasing share of economic activity occurring in older firms, and find that a secular decline in entrepreneurship is playing a major role. We also believe that increasing early-stage firm failure rates might be a growing factor. ... We are unable to find strong evidence of a direct link between business consolidation and an aging firm structure. Though we document a clear rise in consolidation during the last few decades, it doesn’t appear to be a major contributor to business aging directly—which has been occurring across all firm size classes, and the most in the smallest of businesses. ...This leaves some questions unanswered, but it clearly establishes that whatever the reason, it has become increasingly advantageous to be an incumbent, particularly an entrenched one, and less advantageous to be a new entrant. ... The trends described here raise some cause for concern in our view. Holding all factors constant, we’d expect an economy with greater concentration in older firms and less in younger firms to exhibit lower productivity, potentially less innovation, and possibly fewer new jobs created than would otherwise be the case.
    Mark your calendar: January 1, 2020. ... As this future year unfolds, the gap between how much cocoa the world wants to consume and how much it can produce will swell to 1 million metric tons, according to Mars Inc. and Barry Callebaut AG, the world’s largest chocolate maker. By 2030, the predicted shortfall will grow to 2 million tons. And so on. ... Because of disease, drought, rapacious new markets and the displacement of cacao by more-productive crops such as corn and rubber, demand is expected to outstrip supply by an additional 1 million tons every decade for the foreseeable future. Here, now, as you read these words, the world is running out of chocolate ... Last year, we again consumed more cocoa than we were able to produce. This year, despite an unexpected bumper crop, supply barely kept pace with the recent upswing in demand. From 1993 to 2007, the price of cocoa averaged $1,465 a ton; during the subsequent six years, the average was $2,736 -- an 87 percent increase. ... The world’s most universally delectable treat has begun a journey from being very loved and very common, like beer, to being very loved and a good deal less common, like Bordeaux. Unfortunately, that is the least of the confection’s problems. ... Efforts are under way to make chocolate cheap and abundant -- in the process inadvertently rendering it as tasteless as today’s store-bought tomatoes, yet another food, along with chicken and strawberries, that went from flavorful to forgettable on the road to plenitude.
    Most gamblers were still asleep, and the gondoliers had yet to pole their way down the ersatz canal in front of the Venetian casino on the Las Vegas Strip. But early on the chilly morning of Feb. 10, just above the casino floor, the offices of the world’s largest gaming company were gripped by chaos. Computers were flatlining, e-mail was down, most phones didn’t work, and several of the technology systems that help run the $14 billion operation had sputtered to a halt. ... Computer engineers at Las Vegas Sands Corp. (LVS) raced to figure out what was happening. Within an hour, they had a diagnosis: Sands was under a withering cyber attack. PCs and servers were shutting down in a cascading IT catastrophe, with many of their hard drives wiped clean. The company’s technical staff had never seen anything like it. ... The people who make the company work, from accountants to marketing managers, were staring at blank screens. “Hundreds of people were calling IT to tell them their computers weren’t working,” says James Pfeiffer, who worked in Sands’ risk-management department in Las Vegas at the time. Most people, he recalls, switched over to their cell phones and personal e-mail accounts to communicate with co-workers. Numerous systems were felled, including those that run the loyalty rewards plans for Sands customers; programs that monitor the performance and payout of slot machines and table games at Sands’ U.S. casinos; and a multimillion-dollar storage system. ... In an effort to save as many machines as they could, IT staffers scrambled across the casino floors of Sands’ Vegas properties—the Venetian and its sister hotel, the Palazzo—ripping network cords out of every functioning computer they could find, including PCs used by pit bosses to track gamblers and kiosks where slots players cash in their tickets. ... This was no Ocean’s Eleven. The hackers were not trying to empty a vault of cash, nor were they after customer credit card data, as in recent attacks on Target (TGT), Neiman Marcus, and Home Depot (HD). This was personal. The perpetrators wanted to punish the company, or, more precisely, its chief executive officer and majority owner, the billionaire Sheldon Adelson. Although confirming their conjectures would take some time, executives suspected almost immediately the assault was coming from Iran.
    To conduct business, shell companies like Drex need a registered agent, sometimes an attorney, who files the required incorporation papers and whose office usually serves as the shell's address. This process creates a layer between the shell and its owner, especially if the dummy company is filed in a secrecy haven where ownership information is guarded behind an impenetrable wall of laws and regulations. In Makhlouf's case—and, I discovered, in the case of various other crooked businessmen and international gangsters—the organization that helped incorporate his shell company and shield it from international scrutiny was a law firm called Mossack Fonseca, which had served as Drex's registered agent from July 4, 2000, to late 2011. ... Founded in Panama in 1977 by German-born Jurgen Mossack and a Panamanian man named Ramón Fonseca, a vice president of the country's current ruling party, it later added a third director, Swiss lawyer Christoph Zollinger. Since the 70s the law firm has expanded operations and now works with affiliated offices in 44 countries, including the Bahamas, Cyprus, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Brazil, Jersey, Luxembourg, the British Virgin Islands, and—perhaps most troubling—the US, specifically the states of Wyoming, Florida, and Nevada. ... Mossack Fonseca, of course, is not alone in setting up shell companies used by the world's crooks and tax evaders. Across the globe, there are vast numbers of competing firms ... If shell companies are getaway cars for bank robbers, then Mossack Fonseca may be the world's shadiest car dealership.
    It's a cloudy morning in August 2014 and, on an industrial estate on the outskirts of Avonmouth near Bristol, a team of engineers is at work on Thrust's successor. The car, Bloodhound SSC, marks a bold attempt to set a new Land Speed Record of 1,609kph (1,000mph) by 2016. If successful, it will not only mark the biggest jump in land-speed history, but will also be the culmination of a decade-long experiment in education and open engineering. ... "People ask me if Andy has an ejector seat," Chapman says, running his hand over the carbon-fibre monocoque that forms the car's cockpit and air intake for the jet engine. "He doesn't, because nobody has designed an ejector seat that can operate at Mach 1.4. If you ejected into the jet stream at 1,000mph, around 12 tonnes of force per square metre will hit you. This is the safest place for him to be." ... he MoD granted Bloodhound three EJ-200 test engines used for the Eurofighter development programme. As a result, 5,670 British secondary schools are now linked to the Bloodhound Education Project. A dedicated team runs workshops in which children can learn about physics and the car's engineering: Heathland School in Middlesex has managed to get a model rocket car to 462kph. Around the same time, Noble also decided to make Bloodhound open source, allowing anyone to download and critique the car's design plans. And, during the record attempts in 2015 and 2016, 12 cameras and more than 300 mounted sensors will stream live footage and data from the car, which anyone can follow online.
    It’s easy to dismiss emoji. They are, at first glance, ridiculous. They are a small invasive cartoon army of faces and vehicles and flags and food and symbols trying to topple the millennia-long reign of words. Emoji are intended to illustrate, or in some cases replace altogether, the words we send each other digitally, whether in a text message, email, or tweet. ... And yet, if you have a smartphone, emoji are now available to you as an optional written language, just like any global language, such as Arabic and Catalan and Cherokee and Tamil and Tibetan and English. You’ll find an emoji keyboard on your iPhone, nestled right between Dutch and Estonian. The current set is limited to 722 symbols—these are the ones that have been officially encoded into Unicode, which is an international programming standard that allows one operating system to recognize text from another. ... Emoji were born in a true eureka moment, from the mind of a single man: Shigetaka Kurita, an employee at the Japanese telecom company NTT Docomo. Back in the late 1990s, the company was looking for a way to distinguish its pager service from its competitors in a very tight market. Kurita hit on the idea of adding simplistic cartoon images to its messaging functions as a way to appeal to teens. The first round of what came to be called emoji—a Japanese neologism that means, more or less, “picture word”—were designed by Kurita, using a pencil and paper, as drawings on a 12-by-12-pixel grid and were inspired by pictorial Japanese sources, like manga (Japanese comic books) and kanji ­(Japanese characters borrowed from written Chinese).
    Some of our greatest cultural and technological achievements took place between 1945 and 1971. Why has progress stalled? ... We live in a golden age of technological, medical, scientific and social progress. Look at our computers! Look at our phones! Twenty years ago, the internet was a creaky machine for geeks. Now we can’t imagine life without it. We are on the verge of medical breakthroughs that would have seemed like magic only half a century ago: cloned organs, stem-cell therapies to repair our very DNA. Even now, life expectancy in some rich countries is improving by five hours a day. A day! Surely immortality, or something very like it, is just around the corner. ... The notion that our 21st-century world is one of accelerating advances is so dominant that it seems churlish to challenge it. Almost every week we read about ‘new hopes’ for cancer sufferers, developments in the lab that might lead to new cures, talk of a new era of space tourism and super-jets that can fly round the world in a few hours. Yet a moment’s thought tells us that this vision of unparalleled innovation can’t be right, that many of these breathless reports of progress are in fact mere hype, speculation – even fantasy. ... Yet there once was an age when speculation matched reality. It spluttered to a halt more than 40 years ago.
    For all Russia’s influence in eastern Ukraine, a motley group of local leaders — from ex-businessmen to academics and pro-Russia activists — has sprung up and seized control. Courtney Weaver meets the self-declared rulers of Donetsk and Lugansk ... To get a sense of what life is like these days in the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, roam the corridors of Donetsk National University on any given weekday. School is back in session. ... It is an October afternoon, and dozens of the university’s students are in the halls, just as they would be at any other eastern European institution. Teachers and students mingle in the corridors of the main building, file in and out of classrooms, buy books and materials at the campus bookshop, and linger outside on the main steps for a cigarette break. Few pay attention to the occasional din of artillery fire in the background. ... The university, like most places in Donetsk, is stuck in a strange purgatory. At times it seems oddly normal; at others plucked from the pages of Orwell or Zamyatin. Since early September, the institution has been run by a lieutenant of the Donetsk People’s Republic, Sergei Baryshnikov, a rotund former history professor who has made quick work of scrubbing all Ukrainian history and culture courses from the curriculum. ... Moscow’s shadow in the region is everywhere. There are Russian political strategists embedded in the Donetsk and Lugansk separatist governments; Russian mercenaries and volunteers who have taken up arms to fight in the rebel battalions; and real Russian servicemen. There are signs of money coming from Moscow as well. ... Yet for all of Russia’s influence, it is notable to what extent the motley local leaders have been left to their own devices. All across Donetsk and Lugansk, there are men and women like Baryshnikov who have sprung from the corners of society and seized control of civic institutions and government ministries, or formed their own personal armies.
    Yang was meanwhile getting stacks of proposals from Japanese companies wanting to build the first Web portal in Japan. About a month after Son’s initial investment Inoue went to visit Yang again. He’d failed to bring any documents for a formal proposal, so he just made his suggestion in person. “Let’s create Yahoo Japan,” he told Yang, according to the book. “We could start with two or three people and, if necessary, add more.” ... Yang liked that Inoue wanted to move quickly, and so the two shook hands. The following month Yahoo and SoftBank established their joint venture, Yahoo Japan, the country’s first real Web portal, and began operations the following April using Yahoo’s search engine. Inoue became its president. ... While Yahoo Japan began gaining millions of customers, Yang took his first trip to China in 1997. A junior staffer in the economic ministry was assigned to take Yang on a tour of the Great Wall of China. His name was Jack Ma, a former English teacher who had tried and failed to start a Chinese version of the Yellow Pages. ... “Jack was one of the first people I ever met [in China],” Yang says. ... Along the hike the two hit it off and talked about the growth of the Web. “He was very curious about what it’s like on the Internet and what the future might be.” Several months later Ma began building another startup based on grand and rather vague plans to connect Chinese companies with the rest of the world. He called it Alibaba. ... “[Yang] has a unique ability to help us understand how we can build bridges with the innovative community in Silicon Valley,” says Lenovo CEO Yang Yuanqing.
    Israel’s tech sector has grown despite intense conflict. This summer, 4,500 Hamas rockets were launched at Israel, the Israeli Defense Forces invaded the Gaza Strip, and more than 2,000 Palestinians and 70 Israelis were killed. During this bloody time, the pace of investment in Israeli startups actually increased over the same period the year before ... A fifth of the population, however, Israel’s 1.7 million Arabs, are only marginal participants in Start-Up Nation. Only 2 percent of Israeli technology workers are Arab. “The major social challenge of the success of high tech in Israel is that it’s just created bigger gaps,” says Yossi Vardi, an investor and central figure in Israel’s tech sector. And today relations between Israel’s Arabs and Jews are as tense as they’ve been in years—in recent weeks young Arab men from East Jerusalem have carried out a series of lethal terrorist attacks in the holy city, and right-wing Jewish activists have called on companies employing Israeli Arabs to fire them. The mayor of the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon has barred Arab workers from construction projects at local preschools, citing security concerns. ... Yet at the same time, an increasing number of Israel’s Arabs are finding work in the country’s burgeoning tech economy, feeding its appetite for programming talent. Arabs are represented at Israel’s top universities in numbers commensurate with their percentage of the population. ... The potential for a boom is there, in a highly educated generation of Arab scientists and engineers, and the fact that, after a lag, hundreds of millions of Arabic speakers are making their way onto the Internet, looking for things to read, watch, click, share, and buy.
    After the runaway success of Beats—recently bought by Apple for $3 billion—the duo is launching a new academy at the University of Southern California with the goal of inspiring the next generation of entrepreneurs ... As Iovine explains it, the school is as much an investment in their own future as it is philanthropy. “We wanted to build a school that we feel is what the entertainment industry needs right now,” he says. “There’s a new kid in town, and he’s brought up on an iPad from one and a half years old. But the problem with some of the companies up north [in Silicon Valley] is that they really are culturally inept. I’ve been shocked at the different species in Northern and Southern California—we don’t even speak the same language. The kid who’s going to have an advantage in the entertainment industry today is the kid who speaks both languages: technology and liberal arts. That’s what this school is about. Beats started with a chance run-in on the beach. Iovine was in Malibu, at his friend David Geffen ’s house, when he decided to go for a stroll. He happened upon Dr. Dre, who was out on the balcony of his own house nearby. Dre told him he’d been approached a few days earlier by an athletic company about doing a shoe line; his lawyer wanted him to do it, but Dre wasn’t sure. (“I’m not into fashion,” he says. “I wear the same s— every day.”) He asked Iovine for his thoughts. Iovine’s immortal response: “F— sneakers—let’s make speakers.”
    Magicians, Mafiosos, a Missing Painting, and the Heist of a Lifetime ... He learned the delicate art of ascending decrepit facades with his fingertips, developing an instinctive sense for which bricks crumble and which would hold. By the time he was fifteen, he was making a name for himself as an expert climber. Whenever a popular film came to the Teatro Malibran, Pipino climbed the smooth stone of the Baroque exterior and dropped into an open window. He wound through the theatre, propped open a back door, and set up an “alternate” ticket booth, selling special low-price tickets to kids in the neighborhood who couldn’t otherwise afford the show. ... As the boys grew, Alfredo admired his older brother’s technique but didn’t approve of the criminal exploits. While Pipino turned increasingly to crime, Alfredo was becoming a talented sleight-of-hand illusionist. Both brothers were gifted in the art of deception, but for different purposes. ... He was best known for stealing masterworks from the homes of Venice’s nobility and was thought to have excellent taste in art. He was also versatile: He once infiltrated the Swiss Consulate and made off with 150 million lira in cash. In the late 1970s, he tailed Cary Grant, who portrayed one of the most famous thieves in film history, and robbed him while he slept in his hotel room. Later, he freed a forlorn gorilla from the zoo in Rome (he felt bad for the animal), and robbed the Venice Casino, all of which made him a local legend. ... Pipino had a simple philosophy: Aristocrats liked to flaunt their wealth; thieves liked to take it. Sometimes the burglar took something important and aristocrats would pay to get the item back. Pipino had heard that some palazzo owners took it as a badge of honor that he had slipped through their windows because it confirmed their good taste. He viewed it as the price the rich had to pay every so often to exhibit their wealth and taste. Usually, the police negotiated “an arrangement” to get the works back. As Pipino saw it, everybody won. The police got to look like heroes, the bourgeois could brag that they’d been robbed by a famous thief, and Pipino made a living.

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