August 11, 2015

Book Review - The Wright Brothers by David McCullough

Many of you might have already heard about the fantastic book recently published on the Wright Brothers (Wilbur and Orville) by David McCullough. This is the first full audio book I have listened to (I am trying to work audio books into my schedule as a way to get through the many books I’d like to read) and the account really lives up to expectations.

What I find truly fascinating is how seemingly out of nowhere two “untrained” bike mechanics, although diligently self-educated, could ring in a completely new era for humanity. The conditions in which they were brought up (with a lot of strong family support), self-discipline, ridicule they endured from naysayers and the pain they felt through family tragedies, and their endless curiosity put together with “workingest” men some had ever known became a recipe for success.

Of course the “discovery” of manned flight still speaks to the idea that breakthroughs come based on a multitude of smaller discoveries over time, but it’s still amazing to think (and read/hear) about how the invention came to be. McCullough’s prose is clear and he crafts a suspenseful tale leading the reader toward the incredible invention of manned flight.

The lessons I'll try to take away are that...
... having an interest and curiosity in a great number of subjects can bring about insights that might seem obvious in hindsight – the brothers read a vast number of books on varying subjects
... there is no substitute for working hard and if you do your homework, naysayers are more easily dismissed – another way of saying this is to have ambition, resolve, drive and determination - there is no substitute for practice
... don’t take for granted the amazing inventions that we have at our disposal today
... true advancements have similar pre-existing conditions – building upon smaller iterations leads to leaps in innovation, but they can come from anywhere or anyone
... the principles of engineering are vital – Wilbur and Orville only added an engine after solving the ability to fly consistently

Most of these insights are obvious but analyzing instances where conditions have produced success , over and over, in different fields, builds confidence in trying to accomplish something great in whatever a person decides to pursue.

“The best dividends on the labor invested have invariably come from seeking more knowledge than more power.” Wilbur and Orville Wright, March 12, 1906.

The New York Times - How a Chinese Billionaire Built Her Fortune < 5min

She’ll dip her hands into a tray of water, to determine whether the temperature is just right. She can explain the intricacies of heating glass in a potassium ion bath. When she passes a grinding machine, she is apt to ask technicians to step aside so she can take their place for a while. ... Ms. Zhou knows the drill. For years, she labored in a factory, the best job she could get having grown up in an impoverished village in central China. ... Ms. Zhou has honed her hands-on knowledge into a world-class, multibillion-dollar operation, one at the vanguard of China’s push into high-end manufacturing. Lens Technology is now one of the leading suppliers of the so-called cover glass used in laptops, tablets and mobile devices, including the Apple iPhone and the Samsung Galaxy. This year, her factories are expected to churn out more than a billion glass screens, each refined to a fraction of a millimeter. ... In 2003, she was still making glass for watches when she received an unexpected phone call from executives at Motorola. They asked if she was willing to help them develop a glass screen for their new device, the Razr V3.

Wired - The Tricky Ethics of the Lucrative Disaster Rescue Business 5-15min

Global Rescue, which positions itself as a nimble eject button for those who frequently find themselves in tough spots, has in the past decade established a lucrative client base of large corporations, government organizations, hunters, and adventure travelers. The company has offices in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Pakistan, and Thailand and a staff that might make some countries' armies blush. Its roster of 200-odd employees includes wilderness paramedics and former military personnel, some of them ex-Special Forces and Navy SEALs. The company's Nepal posting is a busy one. Every spring, climbers and trekkers, many of them Global Rescue clients, come to test their mettle in the Himalayas. In 2013 and 2014, the company evacuated 28 clients and repatriated the remains of three more who perished in the mountains. ... In an age when travelers can land in Paris or Jakarta and book a ride with Uber before the plane reaches the gate, Global Rescue's existence hardly seems remarkable. Why shouldn't we be able to hire private armies to ensure our safe return home from vacation? Fast convenience has never been so valued, and Global Rescue represents a logical extension in the app era: security guaranteed with the click of a sat phone. That's what the company sells, anyway—absolute control in situations that are by definition uncontrollable. The truth is slightly more complicated.

Bloomberg - Google’s $6 Billion Miscalculation on the EU 5-15min

Why the search leader’s antitrust deal fell apart ... The more Europeans rely on Google, however, the more they’ve come to fear it, making it an easy target for politicians. Last November members of the European Parliament voted 384 to 174 for a symbolic proposal to break up the search giant into two separate pieces—its monolithic search engine and everything else. In Spain, Google has been forced to shut down Google News over copyright issues. In Germany, it has stopped collecting images for its Street View navigation service because of privacy concerns. The memory of Stasi secret police surveillance in the former East makes such issues especially sensitive. More recently, Google has been forced to comply with an EU “right to be forgotten” ruling and to remove embarrassing items from its search database at the behest of users. ... Critics now draw from a wealth of evidence about the decision-making inside the Googleplex during this period, owing to perhaps the strangest twist in the entire case. Earlier this year every other page of a staff memo written by the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Competition was mistakenly included in the response to a Freedom of Information request made by the Wall Street Journal. The 169-page FTC document quotes liberally from internal e-mails and memos, during the time when Google’s partners were noticing many of these changes to the search engine—and what they contained seemed incriminating.

The Verge - The Changeup: How baseball’s tech team built the future of television 5-15min

Major League Baseball Advanced Media, or BAM for short. BAM began as the in-house IT department for the league’s 30 teams, a small handful of employees originally tasked with building websites for teams and clubs. But over the last 15 years, BAM has emerged as the most talented and reliable name in streaming video, a skill set suddenly in very high demand. ... BAM cemented its status as one of the most important players at the intersection of sports, media, and technology, announcing that it will be powering the mobile, web, and television offerings from the National Hockey League. It’s the first time BAM has been fully embraced by another major league. ... For years, BAM was a name known only to industry insiders, a sharpshooter organization called in to make sure the big game or series premiere streamed without fail. Over time, it forged long-term deals with clients like WWE and Sony Playstation’s Vue network. Now it’s moving from powering the platform to co-owning the content as well. ... Watching sports online has always had one major complication: regional blackouts prevent you from streaming a game in the same territory as a television broadcaster who owns local rights. That meant BAM had to figure out where a customer was and whether or not they could legally watch the stream. In fact, BAM’s very first post-season package wasn’t even broadcast live in the United States or Japan. Fox owned the national broadcast rights to the pennant race, so BAM’s first big broadcast took place in Europe. From the beginning, BAM had to perfect live video streaming on a global scale.