Archives for September 2011


FACT: “A 35-ton container of coffeemakers can leave a factory in Malaysia, be loaded aboard a ship, and cover the 9,000 miles to Los Angeles in 16 days. A day later, the container is on a unit train to Chicago, where it is transferred immediately to a truck headed for Cincinnati. The 11,000-mile trip from the factory gate to the Ohio warehouse can take as little as 22 days, a rate of 500 miles per day, at a cost lower than that of a single first-class air ticket. More than likely, no one has touched the contents, or even opened the container, along the way.”

The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger
by Marc Levinson

In April 1956, a refitted oil tanker carried fifty-eight shipping containers from Newark to Houston. From that modest beginning, container shipping developed into a huge industry that made the boom in global trade possible. The Box tells the dramatic story of the container’s creation, the decade of struggle before it was widely adopted, and the sweeping economic consequences of the sharp fall in transportation costs that containerization brought about.

Published on the fiftieth anniversary of the first container voyage, this is the first comprehensive history of the shipping container. It recounts how the drive and imagination of an iconoclastic entrepreneur, Malcom McLean, turned containerization from an impractical idea into a massive industry that slashed the cost of transporting goods around the world and made the boom in global trade possible.

But the container didn’t just happen. Its adoption required huge sums of money, both from private investors and from ports that aspired to be on the leading edge of a new technology. It required years of high-stakes bargaining with two of the titans of organized labor, Harry Bridges and Teddy Gleason, as well as delicate negotiations on standards that made it possible for almost any container to travel on any truck or train or ship. Ultimately, it took McLean’s success in supplying U.S. forces in Vietnam to persuade the world of the container’s potential.

Drawing on previously neglected sources, economist Marc Levinson shows how the container transformed economic geography, devastating traditional ports such as New York and London and fueling the growth of previously obscure ones, such as Oakland. By making shipping so cheap that industry could locate factories far from its customers, the container paved the way for Asia to become the world’s workshop and brought consumers a previously unimaginable variety of low-cost products from around the globe.

“One of the most significant, yet least noticed, economic developments of the last few decades [was] the transformation of international shipping. . . . The idea of containerization was simple: to move trailer-size loads of goods seamlessly among trucks, trains and ships, without breaking bulk. . . . Along the way, even the most foresighted people made mistakes and lost millions. . . . [A] classic tale of trial and error, and of creative destruction.”—Virginia Postrel, New York Times

We invite you to read Chapter 1 here:

Astronomer Ray Jayawardhana will discuss his new book STRANGE NEW WORLDS at the American Museum of Natural History/Hayden Planetarium on October 3

If you are in the New York City area this Monday, October 3, please come out to the Amercan Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium to see author and astronomer Ray Jayawardhana discuss his new book STRANGE NEW WORLDS: The Search for Alien Planets and life beyond Our Solar SystemThe event begins at 7:30 PM for the Hayden’s renowned Fronters in Astrophysics lecture series.

To whet your appetite, check out Ray’s recent talk at Google below.

“Father and the Führer’s War” from Endeavors at UNC–Chapel Hill

From Endeavors, a UNC-Chapel Hill magazine:

When his mother died in 1965, Konrad Jarausch gave away all her possessions except a few paintings, some photographs, and a brown briefcase full of letters. “I held onto them because they were the only link to my childhood, a way of keeping my mother’s memory alive,” he says. “And I suspected that if I wanted to meet my father later, I might be able to do so through these letters.”

Jarausch eventually read these letters in 2005 and discovered not only a wealth of family history, but also a unique soldier’s perspective on life at the Western front during WWII:

For Jarausch, the letters shatter the myth that ordinary army units were innocent. Regular soldiers, not just the SS, caused the deaths of millions of POWs, rural Russians, and Jewish civilians.

This discovery moved Jarausch to assemble the letters into a book — Reluctant Accomplice. Read more about Konrad Jarausch and the stash of letters that represent his only connection to his father here: They also have some terrific artwork — sketches and personal photos — from Jarausch’s own archives.

“Richard Crossley is on a mission to make birding cool.” Why, yes he is.

Here is a great article about Richard and his passion for all things birding:

With the knowledge of a scholar, the zeal of an evangelist, and the optimism of a press agent, Crossley is now on a mission to make birding cool. If he has anything to do with it, the image of the meadow-dwelling nerd with backpack, bifocals and binoculars will soon be extinct.

What do you think? Can birding be cool? How can birders make the sport more visible and attractive to the masses?


Exclusive Foldit Excerpt from Reinventing Discovery

Read an exclusive excerpt from Reinventing Discovery: When Amateurs Rival Professionals [PDF].

This week, it seems as though everyone is talking about an amazing breakthrough in AIDS research that was made possible by an online game called Foldit. Foldit is a terrific example of how open science can be a “research accelerator” and illustrates the benefits of crowdsourcing in high level research. But how does it work? Why is it so successful? And how can we get more of it to happen? Foldit is part of a larger revolution happening in science and Michael Nielsen’s new book Reinventing Discovery: The New Era of Networked Science explains it all.

“For many participants, Foldit … [isn’t] a guilty pleasure, like playing World of Warcraft or other online games. Instead, [it’s] a way of contributing to something important to society,” writes Michael Nielsen in this exclusive free excerpt from his new book Reinventing Discovery: When Amateurs Rival Professionals [PDF].

Reinventing Discovery: The New Era of Networked Science ships soon and you can pre-order a copy on our web site or via your favorite online retailer.

I also ran across a great web site at Scientific American where they profile these types of online collaborations. Check it out here.

Astronomer Avi Loeb describes how the first stars and galaxies formed

Before we get all the way back to the Big Bang, there may have been a time when stars like our Sun and galaxies like our Milky Way did not exist, because the Universe was denser than it is now. Harvard professor Avi Loeb explores how and when the first stars and galaxies formed in this talk taped at the Santa Barbara Museum of Science.

We are the publishers of Loeb’s recent book titled, appropriately enough, How Did the First Stars and Galaxies Form?

This Week’s Book Giveaway

This week’s book giveaway is Rome: Day One by Andrea Carandini, translated by Stephen Sartarelli.

Andrea Carandini’s archaeological discoveries and controversial theories about ancient Rome have made international headlines over the past few decades. In this book, he presents his most important findings and ideas, including the argument that there really was a Romulus—a first king of Rome—who founded the city in the mid-eighth century BC, making it the world’s first city-state, as well as its most influential. Rome: Day One makes a powerful and provocative case that Rome was established in a one-day ceremony, and that Rome’s first day was also Western civilization’s.

Historians tell us that there is no more reason to believe that Rome was actually established by Romulus than there is to believe that he was suckled by a she-wolf. But Carandini, drawing on his own excavations as well as historical and literary sources, argues that the core of Rome’s founding myth is not purely mythical. In this illustrated account, he makes the case that a king whose name might have been Romulus founded Rome one April 21st in the mid-eighth century BC, most likely in a ceremony in which a white bull and cow pulled a plow to trace the position of a wall marking the blessed soil of the new city. This ceremony establishing the Palatine Wall, which Carandini discovered, inaugurated the political life of a city that, through its later empire, would influence much of the world.

Uncovering the birth of a city that gave birth to a world, Rome: Day One reveals as never before a truly epochal event.

“Dateline Rome, April 21, 753 BC. Andrea Carandini, archaeologist extraordinary, burrows down through thirteen meters of fill to hit pay dirt—Day 1 of Urbs Roma. What could be more exciting! History and archaeology rub shoulders with Freudian psychology as Carandini, a native of Rome, takes us on an enthralling guided tour through the material and written sources for the primal moment of the City that would create a World, our world. Urbi et Orbi, indeed.”—Paul Cartledge, University of Cambridge

The random draw for this book with be Friday 9/30 at 3 pm EST. Be sure to “Like” us on Facebook if you haven’t already to be entered to win!


FACT: “The use of large-scale testing grew exponentially in the United States after World War I, when it was demonstrated that a mass-administered version of what was essentially an IQ test (what was then called ‘Army Alpha’) improved the accuracy and efficiency of the placement of recruits into the various military training programs. The precursors of what would eventually become the SAT were modeled on Army Alpha.”

Uneducated Guesses: Using Evidence to Uncover Misguided Education Policies
by Howard Wainer

Uneducated Guesses challenges everything our policymakers thought they knew about education and education reform, from how to close the achievement gap in public schools to admission standards for top universities. In this explosive book, Howard Wainer uses statistical evidence to show why some of the most widely held beliefs in education today—and the policies that have resulted—are wrong. He shows why colleges that make the SAT optional for applicants end up with underperforming students and inflated national rankings, and why the push to substitute achievement tests for aptitude tests makes no sense. Wainer challenges the thinking behind the enormous rise of advanced placement courses in high schools, and demonstrates why assessing teachers based on how well their students perform on tests—a central pillar of recent education reforms—is woefully misguided. He explains why college rankings are often lacking in hard evidence, why essay questions on tests disadvantage women, why the most grievous errors in education testing are not made by testing organizations—and much more.

No one concerned about seeing our children achieve their full potential can afford to ignore this book. With forceful storytelling, wry insight, and a wealth of real-world examples, Uneducated Guesses exposes today’s educational policies to the light of empirical evidence, and offers solutions for fairer and more viable future policies.

“[T]hought-provoking. . . . He questions the anecdotal and statistical evidence that underpins many of today’s education policies and reform efforts.”—Library Journal

Uneducated Guesses is an insider’s look at using test scores to make high stakes decisions in education. In this rigorous, refreshing rebuttal of conventional thinking, Wainer argues that in the world of education policy, we all would be better served by examining the evidence that demonstrates that our ideas will improve the systems we’re trying to transform.”—Dennis Van Roekel, president, National Education Association

We invite you to read the Introduction here:

An Eye on the Sky

With NASA’s Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) plummeting to earth on Friday, September 23rd (U.S. date), you’re probably going to be watching the sky. It could be quite the light show depending on where you are and where it falls. Not to worry, NASA says the public safety risk is extremely small. The satellite will break up into pieces during re-entry, but not all of it will burn up as it re-enters earth’s atmosphere adding to the excitement of watching the sky. NASA is posting UARS updates to their website and you can follow it here: .

Around the world, armchair astronomers will also be keeping a close eye on the sky. Did you know back in the 1950’s thousands of ordinary people across the globe seized the opportunity to participate in the start of the Space Age? Known as the “Moonwatchers,” these largely forgotten citizen-scientists helped professional astronomers by providing critical and otherwise unavailable information about the first satellites. In Keep Watching the Skies!, Patrick McCray tells the story of this network of pioneers who, fueled by civic pride and exhilarated by space exploration, took part in the twentieth century’s biggest scientific endeavor. You can read chapter one at:

Moonwatchers witnessed firsthand the astonishing beginning of the Space Age. In the process, these amateur scientists organized themselves into a worldwide network of satellite spotters that still exists today. Drawing on previously unexamined letters, photos, scrapbooks, and interviews, Keep Watching the Skies! recreates a pivotal event from a perspective never before examined–that of ordinary people who leaped at a chance to take part in the excitement of space exploration.

Keep Watching the Skies!
The Story of Operation Moonwatch and the Dawn of the Space Age

by W. Patrick McCray

“You’re not the next Mark Zuckerberg.” Shamus Khan delivers this cynical news in a funny convocation

This speech was taped at Williston Northampton School. Shamus Khan is the author of Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul’s School.

Can George Clooney convince you savings are sexy?

Norway’s biggest bank DnB NOR is banking on customers, well, banking on their clever new commercial to promote personal savings accounts. In it, a dazed newlywed wakes up in a luxurious white hotel room after a night of partying only to discover that eternal bachelor George Clooney has put a (giant diamond) ring on it:

The tag line reads, “Some people are lucky in life. For the rest of us, saving up can be smart.” DnB NOR’s ad has gone viral this week, with major newspapers such as Britain’s Independent and Australia’s Telegraph and gossip bloggers such as Perez Hilton posting it to the delight of their readers across the globe.

Funny viral video aside, countries in Europe and Asia share a common modern history of promoting small saving, which is the subject of Princeton professor Sheldon Garon‘s forthcoming book, Beyond Our Means: Why America Spends While the World Saves. Garon’s sweeping transnational history shows how nations such as Germany and Japan have encouraged a culture of thrift by supporting government and private institutions that single-mindedly promote popular savings and wage savings campaigns.

Do you think U.S. banks should start personal savings campaigns featuring stars like Clooney? Tell us what you think in the comments section, and become an early fan of Garon’s forthcoming title on Facebook.

Is Berlusconi creating a new “royal court”?

This is the argument of Maurizio Viroli’s The Liberty of Servants, a new book that is featured in this terrific article by Rachel Donadio in today’s NY Times. Donadio writes:

To a growing number of critics, the lurid party details, as well as a semi-conspiratorial attitude in which criticism is seen as disloyalty, are the latest evidence that the Berlusconi government, although democratically elected, has devolved into something from a different age: a royal court, in which everyone, from his coalition partners to his attractive young guests, serves at the pleasure of the prince.

And while this court system may have functioned fairly well in earlier centuries, it fails miserably when confronted by the multitude of economic challenges faced by Italy (whose credit rating, much like the US, was recently downgraded by the S&P and whose borrowing rates are rising). So, how is the royal court system preventing change and allowing Berlusconi to stay in power?

As Donadio explains, “the government’s success is tied less to external economic reality than to internal political calculation.” A point that Maurizio elaborates by saying, “Usually a court systems falls when the ‘signore’ is no longer able to offer protection, benefits, money.”

This explains why Berlusconi endures in spite of a falling approval rating in Italy, according to Donadio who writes, “his loyalists are standing by him — at least for now — because none of them has enough power to replace him. All are tied to Mr. Berlusconi, sometimes through complex personal arrangements that transcend institutional roles, as some of the wiretaps indicate.”

Read Donadio’s complete article (which includes excerpts from wire tap transcripts) here:

To read a chapter from Maurizio’s incredibly timely book, please visit this site: Chapter 1 (PDF)