My good friend and mentor Joel Mokyr spoke with Forbes recently about the most influential businessmen in history. The resulting article and list of people is quite interesting. To read each, click through the list on the right side of the article.
The list contains two of my favorite entrepreneurs and two of the Lunar Men, Matthew Boulton and Josiah Wedgwood. The entry on Wedgwood is quite right to remark on his invention of the celebrity endorsement, but there’s so much more to him than that. Wedgwood pioneered the use of showrooms to display his wares, making them stylish and elegant. He pioneered the use of standard shapes in his product lines, and the communication of the shapes and finishes through what we would now think of as catalog advertising. And he introduced the money-back guarantee to retail.
Not to mention the beauty of his products, which continues to this day.
Tyler Cowen reminds me in one of his posts today that I don’t link to Ben Muse often enough to reflect the value I get from reading his website.
I’m doing a little housecleaning today, so you’ll see Ben added to my links list, as well as Fellow Chicagoans Milt Rosenberg and Theresa the keyboard biologist and knitter. Theresa and Bonne Marie Burns are habitues of a KIP (that’s knit-in-public to you) every other Thursday that I keep trying to get to. Maybe next week it’ll finally happen, since it’s spring break.
While we’re on the Chicago theme here, I’ve been meaning to post this Design Within Reach newsletter from February. DWR is opening a studio in Chicago, and to celebrate that opening they featured this article on the Chicago Architecture Foundation. CAF (of which yours truly is a member) hosts architecture tours in Chicago and suburbs, has a great gift shop, and provides a wonderful docent volunteer opportunity for people who love Chicago architecture and want to share that love with visitors:
Every day of the year, with the exception of a few holidays, a design tour is being led by this group, educating locals and tourists alike on the cultural relevance of design. They offer more than 50 tours that range from Churches by Bus to Frank Lloyd Wright on Tuesdays to Winnetka by Bike. … But the defining characteristic of the CAF is the very manner in which the design history is delivered to the public: by riverboat, by rail, by foot, by bike and always in person.
Ditto on my being a spaz: check out Global Chicago, written by Michael Herman, a fellow Chicagoan. He takes a philosophical approach to design and urban space, which I find refreshingly different to read and think about. I am intrigued by his take on open space, complexity, and Hayek:
The planned orders of our organizations simply can not handle the levels of complexity and adaptation that most organizations are facing. The only compassionate thing to do is look carefully at the knowns and unknowns… and then to use planned orders for what we know and use OpenSpaceTech to discover and invite spontaneous orders to address all of the real and uncertain complexities, diversities, urgencies and conflicts we face.
Lots of food for thought.
Am surrounded by approx. 400 pages of environmental economics research papers. Very interesting reads and lots of good research done. This and other factors of the day jobs have contributed to the silence in these quarters this week. Should change soon.
So today I looked in my “junk” folder in my mail program, and found several emails there that are “not junk”! The negative externalities of spam, indeed.
One such message was from Mike VanWinkle, editor of Chicago Report, a blog-zine focusing primarily on Chicago politics and culture. I had, of course, seen links to Chicago Report in other places, and have been reading it, but I wanted to put a formal “Hi!” here.
Randall McElroy at Catallarchy has a really nice post from Sunday on the construction and use of public transportation in Atlanta and Chicago. One thing that matters is history — when the city builds its transportation infrastructure. But his point is well taken, and it’s not only public transportation that was privately funded by early adopters. I like his conclusion:
These two cases indicate something very important for city planners. First, if a city demands mass transit, private enterprise will supply it. Second, if a city does not demand mass transit, building it anyway (publicly, since private enterprise does not supply what is not demanded) will result in a system so poor that few people want to ride it and that can only survive on continuous 11th-hour rescues with tax dollars. Either way, we will get from point A to point B without you.
According to this New Scientist article, feeding rapeseed (canola) oil to cows can produce butter with a better balance of unsaturated fats.
Apparently the proportions in the feed have to be handled delicately, as the cow’s rumen (forestomach) contains bacteria that don’t respond well to the presence of so much canola oil.
I wonder if this would have any effect on bovine methane production … one of my student groups is doing a research project on livestock methane production and greenhouse gases in the southern hemisphere. Better butter and less gas might be asking for a lot, but … strive for it!
Stephen Bainbridge has an interesting post on Petite Sirah, one of my favorite grapes. I like the blackberry and boysenberry that he notes in the young PS, and I certainly like the chocolate and spices in the mature PS. It’s a yummy and versatile grape, especially if you cook on the grill a lot.
He mentions that he has Ridge PS from the mid-90s that isn’t even close to drinking. We are going to have to be even more patient; our cellar has a few 1998, 1999, and 2000 Petite Sirahs from Preston Vineyards in Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. We have opened a couple of them, and they were good after decanting, but still had tons more potential.
For an instant gratification, cheap-and-cheerful Petite Sirah to go with the grilled lamb chops without having to wait 15 years, try the PS from Bogle Vineyards. It retails around $10, is a gorgeous deep purple, has those blackberry and boysenberry and spice notes, and is an accessible way to get acquainted with this fantastic grape and decide if you want to invest in the Ridges and Prestons of the world.
This post from Tyler Cowen from Saturday illustrates some interesting features of our water use over the past 30 years. Evidently, our aggregate water use has not changed in 20 years:
The flat trend in consumption came even as the USA’s population grew and electricity production, the largest user of water, increased.
Of course, one of the cool things about hydro power is that you can reuse the same water over and over again, by pumping it back up to the top at night when it’s cheap to generate power to do so. That’s called pump storage. But I digress …
What amazes me is that this decrease has come notwithstanding the fact that water is one of the most illogically and inefficiently priced and used resources on the planet.
Tyler notes that 70 percent of water use is in agriculture, and at least in the US, a lot of water gets used in agriculture that may not be needed because of the lack of transferability between potential uses and the “use it or lose it” bureaucratic mentality that has overtaken the interpretation of historic water rights. In my ideal world, the historic water rights that farmers have would be a fully transferable and alienable property right. So if San Diego, for example, is willing to pay more for water than the value that the water represents to my crops, then I’m gonna sell. Such transactions can’t really happen now, so we get locked into inefficient and non-value-maximizing uses of water.
Put it another way: our water use has not gone up in 20 years. If we paid prices for water that reflected the true cost of its use, and if farmers could transfer their property rights over water to non-agricultural users, think how much less water we could be using than we did 20 years ago.
I also think Tyler’s point about nanotech desalinization is pretty cool. So in my lifetime I could have a Nalgene bottle with a filter that would turn salt water into fresh? Sweet! La vita e bella.