Readings: Counterfeiters, The Virtual University, NASA

Here are some interesting articles I’ve read over the weekend…

(1) “Outfoxing the Counterfeiters” [Wall Street Journal] – a really interesting piece on the redesign of the $100 bill, as well as a brief history of the evolution of currency in the United States. The article is written by Stephen Mihm, an associate professor of history at the University of Georgia and the author of A Nation of Counterfeiters (I haven’t read this book, but after reading this thoughtful article, I have put the book on my to-read list). The two most interesting tidbits below.

On private currency that circulated in the United States during the Civil War era:

Santa Claus, sea serpents and rampaging polar bears, to name a few—showed up on these private currencies.

What’s the new redesign of the $100 bill?

The centerpiece of the redesign is a purple strip that runs from top to bottom of the bill. The strip is coated with hundreds of thousands of microscopic lenses in the shape of the number “100” and what seems to be the Liberty Bell. Thanks to some complex optics, these thousands of lenses combine to create a single, larger image. When the bill is angled one way or another, the strip comes alive, making it seem as if the images can move.

(2) “The Virtual University” [The American Prospect] – a thought-provoking piece by Anya Kamenetz on why cash-strapped colleges should embrace the online classroom. What are your thoughts on this topic?

(3) “Reinventing NASA” [The Washington Times] – an excellent op-ed piece, written by the president of Georgia Institute of Technology, Dr. George “Bud” Peterson, about the current state of NASA, and its future potential. [via]

The key takeaway, I think:

A commitment to working with start-up companies to develop the technologies and hardware necessary for success will inspire and create a new generation of businesses and technology-focused jobs and will nurture and strengthen our top research institutions. With this new emphasis, NASA will return to its roots as an important catalyst for innovation and economic expansion for the U.S. economy.

Readings: Eyjafjallajökull Volcano, Dung and Coffee, Killer Quakes

Here’s the most interesting stuff I read over the weekend:

(1) “How an Icelandic Volcano Shut Down Europe’s Airspace” [Der Spiegel] – The furious Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland has erupted, and the result is the grounding of thousands of flights across Europe. Since flights are grounded, some people were forced to take more creative ways of getting to their destination:

British comedian John Cleese of Monty Python fame found himself stuck in Oslo. He hired a taxi and was able to reach Brussels for a fee of €3,800 ($5,100).

Der Spiegel does an excellent job of breaking down the story. On a related note, there were a lot of photographs being shared on the web related to the event, but I wanted to create a most representative and compelling set of photos of the Eyjafjallajökull eruption. I posted a gallery on Flickr: Eyjafjallajökull Volcano (worth a look for some incredible images).

(2) “From Dung to Coffee Brew With No Aftertaste” [New York Times] – the most expensive coffee in the world comes from a wild source. A wonderful read!

(3) “Killer Quakes on Rise With Cities on Fault Lines” [Bloomberg] – we’ve had major earthquakes in Haiti, Baja, and most recently, China so far this year. Are we experiencing more earthquakes as of late than usual? A good point by the author:

The difference between a major earthquake and a significant one is whether it occurs near a population center. Seismic events that people feel are newsworthy, those that shake fish or cows are not. Those that collapse cities are especially destructive in lives and rebuilding costs.

But perhaps the most telling line of the piece:

Never before has it been possible to kill 1 million people in a single earthquake, but cities are now big enough to make this possible.

Readings: Goldman, Tweeting Library, Mona Lisa, Jefferson County, Billionaire’s Yacht

Here’s what caught my attention over the last few days…

(1) “S.E.C. Accuses Goldman of Fraud in Housing Deal” [New York Times] – this was the biggest bombshell of the day, and it sent the markets tumbling. GS stock finished $23.57 lower than it started at the beginning of the day, a drop of nearly 13%.

(2) “How Tweet It Is! Library Acquires Entire Twitter Archive” [Library of Congress] – in what appears to be a belated April Fools’ joke, the blog of Library of Congress announced that every single public tweet since Twitter’s inception in 2006 will be archived. The announcement was posted on Twitter and the news spread like wildfire through the Twitterverse. I understand that there is a benefit to archiving public tweets, but it remains to be seen what the Library of Congress will do in order to allow filtering the tweets. Something else I’m curious about is how the Library of Congress (or whoever manages this overwhelming project) will differentiate the public vs. non-public tweets: Twitter users can set their accounts to public or private at will, so it’s unclear what will happen to those tweets which used to be private but are now public or vice versa.

(3) “Stealing Mona Lisa” [Vanity Fair] – a fascinating piece about the world’s most famous painting. Did you know that Pablo Picasso was brought in for questioning after the Mona Lisa was stolen in the early 1900s? It’s true! And in case you’ve ever wondered what it’s like seeing the world’s most famous painting, here’s what the scene looks like at the Louvre Museum.

(4) “Looting Main Street” [Rolling Stone] – a provocative piece by Matt Taibi, exploring the rise and fall of Jefferson County, Alabama. [via]

(5) “Baccarat Meets Bomb-Proof Glass on the High Seas” [Wall Street Journal] – it’s simply known as the “A,” but this $300 million yacht, owned by Russian billionaire Andrey Melnichenko, defies definition. It’s extravagance unparalleled.

Readings: Alexander Ovechkin, College Life, Five Guys Burgers, Nuclear Devastation

Here are some interesting articles I’ve read over the weekend.

(1) “Load up on Life, Not Classes” [The Tech] – a sound editorial at MIT’s student newspaper. The paragraph below is applicable to any kind of learning, and independent of where you end up going to college.

So much learning in college takes place outside of classes. By getting involved in extracurricular like clubs, sports or music groups, you learn to work with and communicate with other people — and initially, they’re usually strangers. You will learn to accomplish goals alongside people you like, but you’ll probably meet other people you don’t like. This is how the real world works, and MIT is a great place to get practice.

(2) “Alexander Ovechkin, the Mad Russian” [New York Times] – a most interesting article about the life and times of NHL’s best player, Alexander Ovechkin. In case you aren’t familiar with Ovechkin:

In 2005-6, he was the N.H.L. rookie of the year, scoring 52 goals, tied for third most in the league. In the 2007-8 and 2008-9 seasons he led the league in goals, with 65 and 56, and won back-to-back M.V.P. awards. He has been at, or near, the top of the scoring chart this year and is on track for another 50-goal season.

On Ovechkin’s most memorable, absolutely insane goal:

Ovie doesn’t just score often, he scores memorably. Against Phoenix in January of his rookie year, there was what is now known simply as the Goal. Going one on one against the Coyotes’ defenseman Paul Mara, he got knocked down and landed on his back but kept the puck on the end of his stick and, as he slid backward, flung it over his head and into the net. This magical feat was viewed so often on YouTube that Caps officials estimate ticket sales went up 15 percent as a direct result.

The following paragraph profiles other Ovechkin goals, and I’ve linked to the respective YouTube videos below:

There are now so many celebrated Ovie goals on YouTube that connoisseurs can argue over them like stamp collectors comparing the 1840 British Penny Black, say, with the 1868 Franklin Z-Grill. Which is better? The goal against Buffalo in December 2008, when he slipped the puck around a defender’s legs, fell and then, while sliding on his stomach, whipped a shot through the goalie’s leg pads? Or the one against Detroit in January 2009, when he dragged the puck between his own legs, faked a backhander and then drilled a shot into the top of the net? What about the stupefying goal against Montreal the following month, when, catching the Canadiens on a bad line change, Ovechkin spun 360 degrees, passed the puck to himself off the boards, got knocked on his side and while skidding across the goal mouth lifted a shot over the goalie’s outstretched leg? Against the New York Rangers in early February, he scored a one-hander, pushing the puck between the skates of the defenseman Michal Rozsival, picking it up on the other side and then stabbing it with one arm past the Rangers’ goalie, Henrik Lundqvist.

Also of interest is this TSN video highlighting Ovechkin’s top ten goals.

I think what makes Ovechkin appealing to the hockey fan (not just a Capitals fan) is because he’s extremely approachable and personal:

Unlike most Russian players, who are paired with a Russian-speaking minder when they come to the N.H.L., Ovie insisted on an English-speaking roommate, and his English has become steadily better (though he does refer to the Verizon Center’s corporate suites as “suits”). In January, he was made captain of the team, in part because he’s such a presence in the locker room. He seldom ducks an interview, a chance to appear in a commercial or a request to make an appearance for a charity. According to Nate Ewell, the Capitals’ director of media relations, it’s hard to persuade Ovie to say no to anything. Off ice, he enjoys full rock-star privileges. He lives in an immense pad and markets his own line of Ovie-wear. He enjoys techno-pop, fast cars, beautiful women, torn Dolce & Gabbana jeans and loud parties.

The entire NYT Magazine piece is a pleasure to read, and I encourage you to check it out.

(3) “How I Did It: Jerry Murrell, Five Guys Burgers and Fries” [Inc Magazine] – an excellent interview with Jerry Murrel, founder of Five Guys, one of the best burger joints in the United States. Three quotable gems from the interview (on soliciting reviews, creating ownership in the company, and how the name Five Guys came to be):

  1. We have never solicited reviews. That’s a policy. Yet we have hundreds of them. If we put one frozen thing in our restaurant, we’d be done. That’s why we won’t do milk shakes. For years, people have been asking for them! But we’d have to do real ice cream and real milk.
  2. We try to make kids feel ownership in the company. Boys hate to smile. It’s not macho. And it’s definitely not macho to clean a bathroom. But if the auditor walks in and the bathroom isn’t clean, that crew just lost money. Next thing he knows, the guy who was supposed to clean the bathroom has toilet paper all over his car and a potato in his tailpipe.
  3. Our lawyer said “You need a name.” I had four sons — Matt, Jim, Chad are from my first marriage, and Ben from my second to Janie, who has run our books from Day One. So I said, “How about Five Guys?” Then we had Tyler, our youngest son, so I’m out! Matt and Jim travel the country visiting stores, Chad oversees training, Ben selects the franchisees, and Tyler runs the bakery.

(4) “Dark Element” [Walrus Magazine] – a heartbreaking account of Zhovti Vody, a Ukrainian prairie city (built in the Soviet era to supply ore for nuclear weapons) on its deadly legacy: cancer and devastation. Still, life must go on, as this poignant photo essay demonstrates.

Readings: Apple’s iPad, Photography, Superstar Effect, Unpaid Internships

Here’s what I have been reading over the weekend:

(1) “Apple IPad’s Debut-Weekend Sales May Be Surpassing Estimates” [Business Week] – the numbers are in, and it looks like Apple had a spectacular weekend in terms of iPad sales.

The iPad’s initial sales may have reached 700,000 units, Piper Jaffray & Co.’s Gene Munster said in an interview today. The Minneapolis-based analyst previously predicted sales of 200,000 to 300,000, while Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.’s Toni Sacconaghi projected 300,000 to 400,000.

With the cheapest iPad selling for $499 and the top of the line model selling for $829, one can make an early estimate from retail sales of the iPad in just one weekend. If you assume that the average iPad sold for $600 (taking account three things: taxes, that Apple sold a significant number of 32GB and 64GB iPad models as well the 3G iPad models, and that shoppers probably bought accessories and other items from Apple in addition to the iPad), and the number is astonishing: at least $400 million of revenue this weekend.

(2) “Is Photography Over?” [San Francisco Museum of Fine Art] – a spectrum of answers from critics and photographers on the state of photography.

(3) “Tiger Woods and the Superstar Effect” [Wall Street Journal] – an excellent piece by Jonah Lehrer on this interesting effect observed in sports, schools, and businesses. This is an interesting discovery:

The same phenomenon seems to also affect students taking the SAT. In a paper released last year, researchers from the University of Michigan and the University of Haifa compared average SAT scores with the average number of students in test-taking venues in all 50 states, and found that students who took the SAT in larger groups did worse. They concluded that the mere knowledge of their competitors—the sight of all of those other students scratching in their answers in the same room—decreased motivation.

(4) “Growth of Unpaid Internships May Be Illegal, Officials Say” [New York Times] – a timely article about students trying to find jobs and sometimes choosing to work for free. I was surprised by this quote from an N.Y.U. student:

It would have been nice to be paid, but at this point, it’s so expected of me to do this for free…If you want to be in the music industry that’s the way it works. If you want to get your foot in the door somehow, this is the easiest way to do it. You suck it up.

It seems like such a resigned attitude. Can that possibly be true of the music industry?