(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘industry

“My favorite food from my homeland is Guinness. My second choice is Guinness. My third choice – would have to be Guinness.”*…

As Will O’Brien explains, Ireland’s most famous brewery has been ahead of the curve for 250 years…

Taken over its entire history, Guinness may just be the most successful company Ireland has ever produced. In 1930, it was the seventh largest company in Britain or Ireland. It is one of our oldest companies of note. Considering that it predates the Bank of Ireland and the State itself, it could even be said that Guinness is the longest-running successful large institution in Ireland.

The key to Guinness’ robustness has been innovation. Through a series of key innovations, Guinness was able to stay on top despite (among other things) a famine, mass emigration, two World Wars, a civil war, and the changeover from British to sovereign rule. Guinness is responsible for changes in workplace relations, several foundational advances in the physics of brewing, and even the famous Student’s t-test in statistics. Indeed, Guinness has been one of the key drivers of innovation in Ireland.

A determined founder began Guinness with a vision and took a bold decision with a 9000-year lease. The company then started a brewery which defied nearly every norm in workplace relations. They used the scientific method to radically rethink how beer is brewed and served, and created a world-class brand & marketing operation.

When Guinness released a subtly different pint glass several years ago, traditionalists decried it as blasphemous. The irony is that the brewery that creates this drink has eschewed tradition for over 250 years…

Lessons are where one finds them: “No Great Stagnation in Guinness,” from @willobri.

* Peter O’Toole

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As we contemplate continuity, we might recall that it was on this date in 1903 that the first U.S. patent for instant coffee (No. 735,777) was issued to Satori Kato of Chicago, Illinois. The application was filed in April of 1901, when his Kato Coffee Company introduced the product at the Pam-American Exposition in Buffalo.

A brochure for the Kato Coffee Company, from the 1901 Pan-American Exposition

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

August 11, 2022 at 7:59 am

“Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance”*…

Employees at the BMIT data centre in SmartCity Malta, 22 June 2017.

Hot, strenuous and unsung. As Steven Gonzalez Monserrate explains, there is nothing soft and fluffy about the caretaking work that enables our digital lives…

The ‘cloud’ is not an intangible monolith. It’s a messy, swelling tangle of data centres, fibre optic cables, cellular towers and networked devices that spans the globe. From the tropical megalopolis of Singapore to the remote Atacama Desert, or the glacial extremes of Antarctica, the material infrastructure of the cloud is becoming ubiquitous and expanding as more users come online and the digital divide closes. Much has been written about the ecological impact of the cloud’s ongoing expansion: its titanic electricity requirements, the staggering water footprint required to cool its equipment, the metric tonnes of electronic waste it proliferates, and the noise pollution emitted by the diesel generators, churning servers and cooling systems required to keep data centres – the heart of the cloud – operational 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

But less has been written about those who work inside the machinery of the cloud. Though often forgotten, this community of technicians, engineers and executives is integral to the functioning of our increasingly digitised society. They are the caretakers of the digital, the wardens of our data, and the unsung heroes working tirelessly to sustain an ever-expanding array of digital objects, including our emails, cat videos, maps, non-fungible tokens, metaverse avatars, digital twins and more. The idea of digital caretakers might conjure science fiction images of empty, towering warehouses stacked with racks of automated machines. But these workers are very much flesh and blood. The silicon milieu they’re part of is as human as it is mechanical. From their vantage, the cloud is not merely an infrastructure they maintain, but a way of life, an identity, a culture of stewardship – replete with its own norms, rituals and language…

Explore that fascinating culture: “The people of the cloud,” from @cloudAnthro in @aeonmag.

Apposite: “The Maintenance Race,” from Stewart Brand (@stewartbrand)

* Kurt Vonnegut

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As we contemplate continuity, we might spare a thought for Richard Arkwright; he died on this date in 1792. An inventor and entrepreneur, he was a leader in the early stage of the Industrial Revolution. Arkwright was the driving force behind the development of the spinning frame, known as the water frame after it was adapted to use water power; he patented a rotary carding engine to convert raw cotton to ‘cotton lap’ prior to spinning; and he was the first to develop factories housing both mechanized carding and spinning operations, combining power, machinery, semi-skilled labor and the (then-new to England) raw material of cotton to create mass-produced yarn. Indeed, His organizational skills earned him the honorific title “father of the modern industrial factory system.”

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“By temporarily disrupting the order of the brain, a new order forms. And that order may have incredible value at either the level of mental health and psychology or the level of creativity.”*…

But, Zoe Cormier warns, if the means of that constructive disruption are industrialized and turned into aggressively-marketed products, we could be in for trouble…

Welcome to the strange new world of “psychedelic capitalism,” where dozens of start-ups have already raised millions (and in some cases billions) of dollars to commercialize psilocybin (the psychedelic ingredient in magic mushrooms), DMT (found in the Amazonian brew ayahuasca), mescaline (peyote’s active component), and LSD—despite the fact that all of these “classic psychedelics” are still ranked as Schedule I drugs under the federal Controlled Substances Act. Manufacturing any of these drugs without a license can still land you a long prison sentence. But marketing one, even though they all remain illegal and none have passed all the clinical trials required for approval? That can make you a millionaire…

The days when mind-bending psychedelics were seen as appealing only to drug dealers, nut jobs, and hippies are over. Today, serious-minded people interested in randomized controlled trials and stock valuations are leading the charge.

The “psychedelic renaissance” we’ve awaited for half a century—the promised era when acid, shrooms, and peyote would be brought back into legitimate research and legal access—is finally here. But will it turn out to be worth the wait? Or the hype?

Because it’s not like we ever stopped enjoying them: In the West, hippies, scientists, “healers,” and others have used psychedelics continuously for seven decades. And before we got our hands on them, Indigenous cultures used psychedelics for thousands of years as ritual sacraments. Now dozens of start-ups want to standardize, commercialize, alter, patent, and market these ancient compounds—and they stand to make a fortune doing so.

Will old-school profit-centered tactics bring down decades of dogged work by activists, scientists, and reformers to have these drugs reassessed for their virtues? Will we experience another nasty, research-smothering backlash?…

The profiteers have arrived; get ready for Psychedelics Inc.: “The Brave New World of Legalized Psychedelics Is Already Here,” from @zoecormier @thenation.

* Michael Pollan, in conversation with Tim Ferriss on Ferriss’ blog

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As we tune in, we might spare a thought for Ellen Swallow Richards; she died on this date in 1911. The first female student admitted to MIT, she became its first female faculty member. A chemist, she did pioneering work in sanitary engineering, but is best remembered for her experimental research in domestic science, which laid the foundation for the new science of home economics, of which she is considered founder. She was one of the first ecofeminists, believing that women’s work within the home was not just vital to the economy, but also a critical aspect of our relationship to the earth.

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“If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today’s ideas were invented, and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today.”*…

From the Wright Brothers’ patent filings (source)

… It’s illuminating to point out that all three transformative technologies of the twentieth century – aviation, the automobile, and the digital computer – started off in patent battles and required a voluntary suspension of hostilities (a collective decision to ignore patents) before the technology could truly take hold.

The Wright brothers won every patent case they fought, and it did them absolutely no good. The prospect of a fortune wasn’t what motivated them to build an airplane, but ironically enough they could have made a fortune had they just passed on the litigation. In 1905, the Wrights were five years ahead of any potential competitor, and posessed a priceless body of practical knowledge. Their trade secrets and accumulated experience alone would have made them the leaders in the field, especially if they had teamed up with Curtiss. Instead, they got to watch heavily government-subsidized programs in Europe take the technical lead in airplane design as American aviation stagnated.

If you are someone who believes that the Internet and computer software are a transformative technology on a par with aviation, you may find it interesting to note that there is now a patent cease-fire in effect in the world of software, the occasional high-profile infringement case notwithstanding. The reason for the cease-fire is simple: if companies like IBM, Xerox, and Sun were to begin fully enforcing their patent portfolios, it would mean an apocalypse of litigation for all software developers. Everyone understands that the health and growth of the Internet are contingent on ignoring the patent system as much as possible.

At the same time, more patents are being granted than ever before, for broader claims, and with an almost complete disregard for prior art. Entire companies – and not just legal firms – are basing business models on extracting money from the patent system without actually creating any products. And the boundaries of patent law are expanding. For the first time in history, it’s possible to patent pure mathematical ideas (in the form of software patents), or even biological entities. The SARS virus was patented shortly after being isolated for the first time.

But if the patent system doesn’t even work for the archetypal example – two inventors, working alone, who singlehandedly invent a major new technology – why do we keep it at all? Who really benefits, and who pays?…

Learning from (the unhappy experiences of) the Wright Brothers– Maciej Cegłowski explains why the U.S. patent system is counter-productive: “100 Years of Turbulence.” Eminently worthy of reading in full.

See also, Bruce Perens: “Software Patents vs. Free Software.”

* Bill Gates, Challenges and Strategy Memo, Microsoft, May 16, 1991

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As we apply our intellects to intellectual property, we might recall that it was on this date in 1976 that Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne signed a partnership agreement that established the company that would become Apple Computer, Inc.– a company all about the IP– on January 3, 1977.

Wayne left the partnership eleven days later, relinquishing his ten percent share for $2,300.

Apple in Steve Job’s parents’ home on Crist Drive in Los Altos, California. Although it is widely believed that the company was founded in the house’s garage, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak called it “a bit of a myth”. Jobs and Wozniak did, however, move some operations to the garage when the bedroom became too crowded.

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“I used to work in a fire hydrant factory. You couldn’t park anywhere near the place.”*…

 

industrial photography

In 1966, German photographers Hilla and Bernd Becher set out in a Volkswagen for six months to photograph the monolithic architecture of coal mines in England and South Wales. In tow was their toddler, Max; their 8×10 camera; and a darkroom housed in a caravan. The couple had married five years earlier, beginning a four-decade-long partnership from which an entire school of photography would develop, hallmarked by its deadpan, studious view of the world and often rigorous sets of rules…

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More of Hilla and Bernd Becher’s work, and a consideration of its impact, at “The Photographer Couple Who Turned Industrial Architecture into Fine Art.”

See also the Tate’s appreciation.

* Steven Wright

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As we try to find art in commerce, we might recall that it was on this date in 1908 that Harvard University established the Harvard Business School.  Originally created by the humanities faculty, it received independent status in 1910, and became a separate administrative unit in 1913.

This school of business and public administration was originally conceived as a school for diplomacy and government service on the model of the French Ecole des Sciences Politiques. The goal was an institution of higher learning that would offer a master of arts degree in the humanities field, with a major in business. In discussions about the curriculum, the suggestion was made to concentrate on specific business topics such as banking, railroads, and so on… the school would train qualified public administrators whom the government would have no choice but to employ, thereby building a better public administration…    [source: Esther Yogev, “Corporate Hand in Academic Glove: The New Management’s Struggle for Academic Recognition—The Case of the Harvard Group in the 1920s,” American Studies International (2001)]

But in the event, things took a different turn: just as Harvard’s medical school trained doctors and its law faculty trained lawyers, its new business school blazed a new trail by educating young people for a career in commerce.  Indeed, from the start, HBS enjoyed a close relationship with the corporate world.  Within a few years of its founding, many of its alumni became business leaders and began hiring graduates and other alumni for positions in their firms… a practice that has continued– and grown– to this day.

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Baker Library at HBS

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

April 8, 2020 at 1:01 am

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