Tag Archives: This
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Brad Settlemyer had a supercomputing solution in search of a problem. Los Alamos National Lab, where Settlemyer works as a research scientist, hosts the Trinity supercomputer—a machine that regularly makes the internet’s (ever-evolving) Top 10 Fastest lists. As large as a Midwestern McMansion, Trinity’s main job is to ensure that the cache of US nuclear weapons works when it’s supposed to, and doesn’t when it’s not.
The supercomputer doesn’t dedicate all its digital resources to stockpile stewardship, though. During its nuclear downtime, it also does fundamental research.
Settlemyer wanted to expand the machine’s scientific envelope. So he set out in search of a problem that even Trinity couldn’t currently solve. What he found was a physicist who wanted to follow only the most energetic particles through a trillion-particle simulation—a problem whose technological solutions have surprising implications for the bomb babysitters at Los Alamos.
Settlemyer and his team—a collaboration with Carnegie Mellon’s Parallel Data Lab—had been working for a while on a way to create huge numbers of files very fast. But they didn’t know how far could they push that capability. How many files, and how fast? “We were working on this tech, and we needed a use case,” he says. “What we really wanted to was find something over the top.”
So they started asking around Los Alamos, and found a lab scientist studying “Fermi acceleration,” a speed-up that happens to the particles in supernovae and solar flares. As particles oscillate back and forth, they gain speed along the way—acting kind of like pinballs bouncing between bumpers. The scientist wanted to simulate a plasma, the fourth state of matter that’s just a stew of dismembered nuclei and electrons, and see if its pinballs accelerated this way.
To do so, however, he needed to find out which few thousand particles—out of a trillion or so—accelerated to the highest speeds. “The problem,” according to Settlemyer, “is you don’t know until the end.” That made the particles essentially untrackable under the existing computing limits.
But maybe he and his team could fix that, if they could gin up files fast enough. They’d use a kind of program called a “vector particle-in-cell,” or VPIC code, invented at Los Alamos back [in 1955(http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.470.2911&rep=rep1&type=pdf). This program essentially allows scientists to keep track of individual particles, to see where they go and what they do in a certain situation. In nuclear research, scientists often use particle-in-cell code to understand how plasma mixes with plasma.
That mixing matters for Los Alamos because nuclear bombs produce plasma. Scientists don’t explode bombs with abandon anymore to understand them—as they did in the early days, turning islands into holes. Instead, they simulate bombs’ statuses, and look back at old videos to try to simulate what they see. To date, they haven’t been able to get at all the nuance in the footage. But with slick new simulations, Settlemyer says maybe they can.
But first, they had to test their file-creation speed limits using the physicist’s Fermi acceleration problem.
Here’s how such a simulation would classically work: The supercomputer would essentially take snapshots of all trillion particles at once, throughout the process. To find the most energetic characters in the final picture, and then rewind through their trajectories, the supercomputer would need to dig through each snapshot (each a couple of terabytes) to pull out the path of the relevant particles. “That was a huge cost,” says Settlemyer. Too huge: It would have crashed Trinity.
Settlemyer’s solution was, instead, to create more files with less information: one file for every particle, tracing each one through the entirety of the simulation. If Settlemyer put those files into a searchable index, the scientist could simply ask the computer, “Which of those particles’ lives ends with the biggest bang?”
The scientist can then just pull and parse those personal dossiers. “We’re able to retrieve the data between 1,000 and 5,000 times faster,” adds Settlemyer. Fast enough to make the scientist’s Fermi acceleration research doable. Trinity created a trillion files in two minutes—a world record.
It’s not just an academic achievement. That speed could allow scientists to follow the trajectory of a particle (or 10,000 particles) in a trillion-particle warhead simulation. The warheads whose integrity, remember, Los Alamos is tasked with maintaining.
The US hasn’t added new warheads to its stockpile in decades. But based on the nation’s first Nuclear Posture Review since 2010, that may be changing—and bringing more work to places like Los Alamos. “Many hoped conditions had been set for deep reductions in global nuclear arsenals, and perhaps for their elimination,” read a draft of the review. “These aspirations have not been realized. … We must look reality in the eye and see the world as it is, not as we wish it to be.”
More Great WIRED Stories
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Executive Speakers Bureau is one of the most successful speakers bureaus in the U.S. and one of the only speakers bureaus to ever hit the Inc. 5000. Founded by Angela Schelp in Memphis in 1993 (husband and partner Richard Schelp joined as president and co-owner in 2001), Executive Speakers Bureaus offers and books hundreds of keynote speakers nationally and internationally and continues to grow at a pace rarely approached in this competitive industry, nearly doubling its overall revenue and number of bookings in just the last four years, while maintaining a reputation for customer service and community involvement that is widely viewed as second to none.
Micah Solomon, Inc.com: You’ve spoken in passing about the importance of your vision of success. Can you explain what this means specifically as it relates to commercial success?
Richard Schelp, President and Co-Owner, Executive Speakers Bureau: In order to succeed in a competitive marketplace, you need a true plan or strategy. Our ability to anticipate some of the challenges we have had to face in the industry and our understanding of how to address those challenges has kept us ahead of our competitors and driven our success in revenue and profitability.
Solomon: I’ve heard you and Angela speak about the power of your company’s culture and the pride you take in your employees. Can you speak a bit about this?
Schelp: From the beginning the culture of Executive Speakers Bureau has been built around respect for each other, a true sense of team, and the fact that both what we do within our business and in our community affects many people’s lives. Very few work environments can promise its employees this kind of value.
Our employees are some of the best you will see in any industry, and certainly in ours. It is not just a job to them. They are proud of where they work, and they truly feel responsible for the success of Executive Speakers Bureau. This is the reason why they want to stay. They want to see this thing through to the end.
Solomon: What in your and Angela’s prior background led you to be able to take this approach and succeed with the culture of your company and your relationship to your employees?
Schelp: Both Angela and I have a wealth of corporate experience (IBM, AT&T, and other big firms) in which we have both managed and worked for a number of people. When you have seen a lot of examples of great and terrible management, you start to get a feel for what works and what doesn’t. All of the previous managers that I respected established environments in which I felt comfortable going to them, and they were the primary reason for me enjoying my job.
Solomon: Your bureau has grown quite quickly. How is life different now that you are an agency of significant size and pull?
Schelp: Life at Executive Speakers Bureau is definitely a little bit different now that we are much bigger. With that does come a level of responsibility and respect. Because of our increased size, we now have a larger role within our industry association. As a matter of fact, I will become the president of the association next Spring.
Also, in the early years of our bureau we used to base our decisions about processes, documents, fee recommendations, etc. on what the larger bureaus were doing. Now we don’t check with others. We make our decisions based on what we know and what we think makes the most sense. Surprisingly many bureaus are following our lead, and they are calling us to ask how we do things.
Solomon: Many of my readers are entrepreneurs and business leaders themselves. It’s very helpful and enjoyable (!) for them to hear about mistakes you’ve made or tricky situations you’ve endured in the past, what went sideways and how you either dealt with it or learned from it.
Schelp: A few years ago I faced an extremely tricky situation that taught me so many lessons as a business owner in our industry. A high-profile sports figure was supposed to speak for me at a large convention in New York. He decided to fly in on his private plane the morning of the event. However, there was a terrible electrical storm that morning, and his plane was grounded, leaving me without a speaker. I received the call at 6:30AM and the speaker’s presentation was at 10:30AM. I had four hours to find a replacement for a great speaker and get him to the event on time. Immediately I went to work by calling all of the speakers and agents who were high quality and could get there-and, ultimately, I was fortunate enough to find a speaker who my client absolutely loved.
The lessons from this incident were numerous, but most importantly I realized just how crucial it is to have access to many resources, so that an emergency situation becomes doable, otherwise it is impossible. Also, I learned that as long as you are determined and efficient any task can be accomplished.
Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.
In today’s America, we tend to feel gray areas are a touch passé.
You’re either right or you’re wrong. And if you can’t see which you are, then you’re two slices short of a sandwich.
How, though, can you even begin to persuade someone who’s mistaken — or even worse, vehemently disagrees with you?
A new study makes a curious suggestion, one that won’t please everyone.
The study, conducted by Brendan Nyhan of Dartmouth College and Jason Reifler of the University of Exeter, is entitled The roles of information deficits and identity threat in the prevalence of misperceptions.
They’re very polite about the fountains of knowledge pouring into today’s humans.
“Why do so many Americans hold misperceptions?” the researchers ask.
To which I reply: “Why do many Americans now put mis in front of pleasant words, instead of calling them that they really are? Lying has become misspeaking? Oh, I don’t think it has.”
Nyhan and Reifler come to a startling, even painful conclusion: “In three experiments, we find that providing information in graphical form reduces misperceptions. A third study shows that this effect is greater than for equivalent textual information.”
Yes, if you want to persuade your half-cut, halfwitted neighbor or colleague about the parlous state of the world and the dangers of fascism/socialism/democracy/self-help books, your best bet is to show them a chart.
Worse, it seems that a chart is better than even text. Goodness, is that where I’ve been going wrong all my life?
I can, though, already see Jeff Bezos’s eyes rolling into the back of his head and emerging with a very red hue.
As the Amazon CEO explained in his latest letter to shareowners: “We don’t do PowerPoint (or any other slide-oriented) presentations at Amazon. Instead, we write narratively structured six-page memos. We silently read one at the beginning of each meeting in a kind of ‘study hall.'”
So no slides or charts and graphics for Bezos. All he wants is a short story. Could he, perhaps, misperceive the benefits of charts?
Still, charts surely can’t be so effective, otherwise everyone would have tried them.
Moreover, it’s not as if you can create a chart to describe every false belief. How, for example, do you create a chart for a CEO who simply thinks his touch and feel is always right?
Nyhan and Reifler explain that a considerable reason why people hold on to false information is purely psychological. It confirms their world view.
“On high-profile issues, many of the misinformed are likely to have already encountered and rejected correct information that was discomforting to their self-concept or worldview,” they say.
Yes, but it’s not as if that nice man on CNN with his Election Night charts has ever persuaded many people, is it?
Expect, though, the rising stars in many companies now rushing to create charts in order to show that they’re right and their brain-manacled bosses are wrong.
Expect, too, that American politics will now be revolutionized with the presentation of definitive charts of right and wrong.
You think I’m wrong about that?
Send me a chart to show me why.
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Apple’s shares were down almost $ 2, or 0.9% on Friday to $ 191.70 while the NASDAQ was up 10 or 0.14%. At the low point, the company’s shares were down almost $ 4 or 1.9%. The main driver for the stock’s weakness was a report from Nikkei Asian Review that the company would order 20% fewer new iPhones to be built vs. last years 100 million iPhone 8, 8 Plus and X orders.
The report from Nikkei says “For the three new models specifically, the total planned capacity could be up to 20% fewer than last year’s orders” and “The U.S. company last year placed orders to prepare for production of up to 100 million units of the new iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X, but this year Apple currently expects total shipments of only 80 million units for new models, two people said.”
There are a few unknowns from the report, which could make for an apples to oranges comparison.
- Does the order timeframe match the same months as last years?
- Does the 80 million match what was initially ordered for the 8, 8 Plus and X (which was reported to be decreased) or the final tally?
- The report also says “could be up to 20%”
- Over the years many production cut rumors have turned out to be false
- Earlier this year there were multiple reports, including from Nikkei, that the production for the iPhone X had been cut, which turned out to be incorrect or misleading to Apple’s results
- Depending on what new models are introduced, demand for older models including the 8, 8 Plus and especially the X could still be strong enough to make up for what is being implied as lower total sales
I don’t believe Nikkei has the best track record scooping Apple’s iPhone production and eventual sales . It was just on January 30 this year, two days before the company announced its December quarter results, that it predicted that iPhone X production would be cut by half for the March quarter.
When Apple announced its December quarter results the iPhone inventory levels were at the low-end of its 5 to 7 weeks target, and the March quarter revenue guidance of $ 60 to $ 62 billion bracketed the $ 61 billion estimate. The stock initially fell but after a week rallied and climbed above the price when Nikkei came out with its article.
Add to that Tim Cook saying the X had been the best selling iPhone “each and every week in the March quarter, just as they did following its launch in the December quarter.” These didn’t match well with an iPhone X cut.
All new iPhone models could be available in September
The Nikkei report included “Apple’s supply chain was told to prepare earlier for the two OLED models, in hopes of avoiding a delay similar to last year’s, two industry sources said.”
This actually makes sense. I’m not surprised that the iPhone X’s availability was later than the 8’s due to incorporating an OLED screen. Just because the iPhone’s cadence has essentially been every 12 months doesn’t mean that production systems can meet that timeframe when new technology is introduced. Now that Apple’s production partners have experience with manufacturing tens of millions of OLED iPhones, moving to the next version shouldn’t be as challenging.
Tim Cook’s warning
Even back in 2013, Tim Cook warned investors about putting too much credence into supply chain checks. On the January 2013 financial results conference call, he said, “I suggest its good to question the accuracy of any kind of rumor about build plans. Even if a particular data point were factual, it would be impossible to interpret that data point as to what it meant to our business. The supply chain is very complex and we have multiple sources for things. Yields can vary, supplier performance can vary. There is an inordinate long list of things that can make any single data point not a great proxy for what is going on.”
In the early 1500s, England faced an existential economic crisis: Demand for their most lucrative export, woolen cloth, was plunging in Europe. They needed to find new markets for their product –and fast.
So a group of merchants set their sights on the vast market of Cathay –the word used at the time to refer to China –then the largest economy in the world, with nearly 30 percent of global GDP. (By comparison, India during this period produced roughly 20-25 percent of global GDP. England was peripheral to the world economy, producing an inconsequential 1 percent of global GDP.)
These English merchants sent expeditions in search of a new overland sea route that, they hoped, would take them over the European continent to China, enabling them to avoid having to sail through waters controlled by the Spanish and the Portuguese, their arch rivals.
After failing to reach Cathay (though they did make it as far as Moscow), they decided to turn westward, eventually reaching the shores of America, where they established small trading outposts and, eventually, full-fledged colonies.
This is how the tale begins in a captivating new book by Simon Targett and John Butman, New World, Inc.: The Making of America by England’s Merchant Adventurers. Through meticulous research and a flair for bringing a colorful cast of long-deceased characters back to life, Targett and Butman tell the story of the founding of one of history’s most successful startups: America.
“It’s the ‘prequel’ to the Pilgrims,” Targett told me in a recent podcast conversation. “You can’t really understand America today if you only go as far back as the Pilgrims. Of course they are an important part of the founding. But there were many trips for 70 years before the Pilgrims, who eventually arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620. As we delved further, we tracked and traced an unbroken chain of voyages. And we felt the story of these merchant adventurers –what we call the ‘forgotten founders’ – provide a better narrative.”
Targett and Butman relate the fascinating and largely untold story of the earliest days of globalization, of innovation and entrepreneurial risk-taking, and of the creation of some of the earliest venture-financed companies in the world.
“What they did initially was to setup a company,” explains Targett. “This we think of as perhaps the forefrunner of all modern corporations. It was called ‘The Mysterie, Company, and Fellowship of Merchant Adventurers for the Discovery of Regions, Dominions, Islands, and Places Unknown.'”
This was a period when the newly-coined word, “company,” was just starting to become a part of the English language. In a fascinating bit of etymology, Targett explains how the word was formed through the conjunction of the Latin words, “com,” meaning “together,” and “panis,” meaning, “bread.” Together, the word loosely means, “the breaking of bread together.”
Of course, English merchants had supported and funded voyages for decades, and these had often been funded either by private individuals or private syndicates. “But the idea of going across the world required a higher level of organization and financing, so they set up this company which not only allowed them to pool their resources, but also allowed them to attract their resources from people who didn’t want to get involved in the mundane running of company.”
Like the startups of today, most of which are statistically prone to flop, failure was very much a part of the story. “It’s remarkable how many setbacks these people experienced and yet they continued to believe there was a pot of gold or a fortune to be made at the end of it,” observes Targett. “And, in a way, that driving spirit was key to these people. It’s another feature of a modern America that we feel needs to be traced back to before the Pilgrims.”
Targett compares these risk-taking, adventurous ‘forgotten founders’ of 16th and 17th-century England to one of the boldest entrepreneurs of our era, Elon Musk. “To some extent the people that we write about, these ‘forgotten founders,’ were venture capitalists. They were very much the Elon Musks of their day. Just as he is dreaming of new worlds, in his case Mars, their new world was America. And he’s pulling together some of the best minds to help him design some of the rockets and the spaceships that will be needed. Likewise, the merchants pulled together the very best minds of their days, the scientists, the navigators, the buccaneers, the marketers.”
“These ‘forgotten founders’ and the people they sent across were the first people to really experience and live the American dream. These were the people that often went across with nothing but made their place and made their home. They didn’t all make fortunes but they found a life, they found a place in society.”
For anyone who follows NBA basketball, there’s a war going on right now.
Meanwhile, in the Western Conference, it’s exactly the same scenario.
The Golden State Warriors are loaded to the gills with superstars like Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, but they play like a well-oiled machine. James Harden, meanwhile, is one of the most talented players we’ve seen in years and a likely league MVP–his dribbling and shooting prowess makes you do a double-take. Yet, it’s hard to ignore the fact that everyone else on the Houston Rockets (except Chris Paul) is often on the court standing around, waiting to see what happens. Four teams, but two completely different strategies. We’ll soon find out which strategy will prevail in the next few days.
The war raging between “team” and “superstar” has been around awhile. In business, you might be tempted to rely on a small group of overachievers. Yet, nothing quite compares to a larger group of people all working together in perfect synergy.
I was watching the Cavaliers the other night and realized the “old school” approach of driving the lane, passing the ball to the superstar on almost every play, and hoping that one person scoring 42 points is a good strategy matches up perfectly with how some leaders operate in business. “Give the ball to the superstar” is a common tactic.
It doesn’t really work, and part of the reason has to do with how teams function. In my own experience, individuals who can ramp up sales quickly are like a meme or a viral marketing video. It’s a big hit, but it doesn’t really lead to long-term success. I agree James is one of the best ever, but you could easily argue that one-guy-driving-the-lane has not worked. It has not helped the Cavs win an NBA Championship. Only when James surrounds himself with exemplary players, not pawns in a chess match, does he usually win the final series.
It won’t help your prospects as a leader, either. Teams in business who work together are far stronger, far more productive, and find far more success than a couple of greats.
Here’s an example of what I mean.
In one startup, I remember hiring someone who had exceptional graphic design skills. She could make Photoshop dance. And, she could crank out brochures and other items faster than anyone else. At meetings, she was always a little bored. But the other team members were also hungry to learn. Over an entire year, the other team members eventually learned how to use the design apps, shared ideas with each other, found workarounds, and built up their repertoire. In meetings, they would come up with far better ideas as a group. That one superstar was wildly talented, but had to rely on her own prowess.
Eventually, we ended up switching her to a different department, one that needed a solo producer. The rest of the team flourished, grew creatively, and became way more productive. There’s something about how a team of, say, five people working together creates more productivity than five individuals working alone. Each person fuels the entire team, generates new ideas, and pushes every project forward.
Watching the Cavs lately reminds me of that designer. Just give the ball to LeBron is not a great strategy against teams like the Boston Celtics. It becomes one against five. We’ll see how it all works out, but I’ll still hold to my view. Teams win in the end.
I’m a baseball fan. When I lived in the Bay Area, I was a season ticket holder to the San Francisco Giants. And every baseball fan knows about Pete Rose, the preternaturally talented player who scandalized his sport when it was revealed he bet on baseball, including games involving his own team. Now, no one is contemplating allowing players or managers to bet on games in their own sport. But the Pete Rose story serves as a grim reminder of what can happen with sports gambling.
The trouble is that sports gambling is fun! The thrill of making some dough on your team just adds to the excitement of the sport. It’s also hugely profitable for business and government. So when the Supreme Court of the United States released their decision on Murphy vs. NCAA last week, the gambling-loving world rejoiced. SCOTUS determined that the 1992 federal law called Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PAPSA) violated the Constitution’s anti-commandeering clause, thus striking down the law.
Mark Conrad is a professor of law and ethics at Fordham University, where he has taught in the School of Law and in the Gabelli School of Business. He’s also the director of Gabelli’s Sports Business Concentration, and is the author of The Business of Sports -; Off the Field, In the Office, On the News. Professor Conrad was kind enough to share with me some of his thoughts on this landmark decision.
1. Nothing’s Actually Changed…Yet.
The Court’s decision caused an avalanche of news and commentary, but, “At the moment, not much has changed,” says Conrad. The decision opened the door to huge change, but nothing is actually different yet. Conrad explains, “The court declared unconstitutional the Federal law that prohibits sports gambling. It did not sanction or permit sports gambling.” So what happens now? Conrad says no one really knows: “It is now up to the states, or the federal government, to decide.” Here’s where it get interesting!
2. The Devil Is in the Details.
“This story is only beginning,” says Conrad, who also has a degree from Columbia’s School of Journalism. “No state has enact a gambling scheme, although New Jersey may soon,” he says. The question is what happens next. For starters, Conrad asks, “Will states legalize it? And if so, which ones, and when?” Next comes the what. Conrad wants to know, “Will it apply to all sports or just pro sports?” And finally, the how. Conrad ponders: “What will be the license fees for companies wishing to do business in the state? Taxes? Anti-corruption measures?” The potential complexities are endless.
3. Congress May Not Be Done.
The Court may have struck down Congress’ PAPSA law, but that doesn’t mean Congress can’t still have the final word. Conrad explains, “The problem with PAPSA was it prevented states from exercising their powers. The law did not mandate a ban on sports gambling – rather, it told the states they were not allowed to enact laws ‘authorizing’ such gambling schemes.” The problem was the way this law was structured, but not the idea behind the law. In fact, Conrad says, “The decision did state that Congress has the power to enact a ban on gambling.” It’s possible Congress could throw some very cold water on all the excitement.
4. Integrity May Be an Issue…Or May Not.
The potential implications for the integrity of sport are fascinating. As with any gambling, there’s risk of corruption. Conrad recalls, “It has occurred in the past, notably in point-shaving in college sports.” But cheating isn’t a given. “In fact, the risk of corruption may decrease with a properly regulated integrity oversight,” Conrad explains. There are examples the US could look to for inspiration. Conrad says, “The UK model has worked well. The betting companies engage in analytics and metric systems to police suspicious gambling patterns and report these anomalies.” The key is not to over-regulate or over-tax it, which may push otherwise legal gambling underground.
5. This Decision Could Have Major Implications for State Versus Federal Authority.
“This is the underlying constitutional issue in this ruling,” Conrad explains. “Ultimately, it is a constitutional law case regarding state powers under the Tenth Amendment.” Here’s his plain-English explanation of the finer constitutional points: “PAPSA was problematic because it ‘commandeered’ states rights. Instead of banning sports gambling, it said could not enact laws authorizing gambling. It’s a subtle difference, but a constitutionally defective one.” This is an important decision in part of a greater shift. According to Conrad, “It continues a trend to give greater deference to state sovereignty.” It will be fascinating to watch as the complexities continue to develop.