Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for July 19th, 2014

Reinveting the cooking pan

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Extraordinarily cool. Article here. Video below.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 July 2014 at 2:35 pm

Posted in Recipes, Science

Sources of venture capital have changed and multiplied

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A meme evolving. In the Washington Post Linda Bernardi has a good rundown of the current sources of venture funding, which has moved far beyond the venture capitalists.

Over the last decade the venture capital and funding market has changed dramatically. Whereas in the past venture capitalists were the go-to-guys in the playground, there are new players giving entrepreneurs with many choices. One used to focus their efforts in the famed VC offices on Sand Hill Road, but today it is happening in every corner and coffee shop around the world.

Here are nine of the new entrants into the funding game:

1. Corporations making equity investments in start-ups. These are generally strategic investments and can have potentially huge upsides. Often a precursor for an intended acquisition and could mean a large investment, but the corporation is not interested in leading the round. They are generally passive investors and not on boards.

2. Corporate venture funds. With billions of dollars in reserves, companies are very well equipped to make large venture investments. Most large companies have very large VC operations, i.e. Intel Venture Capital, which has billions of dollars invested in start-ups and larger companies, and runs as a lucrative venture firm. Other companies with major venture operations include Google, Samsung, and many others. This assures a seat at the table for the large corporations and close involvement in innovation.

3. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 July 2014 at 2:31 pm

Posted in Business

The hyping of literary bestsellers

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Very interesting article in the NY Review of Books by Tim Parks:

Is there any consistent relationship between a book’s quality and its sales? Or again between the press and critics’ response to a work and its sales? Are these relationships stable over time or do they change?

Raise your hand, for example, if you know what the actual sales are for Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle. This mammoth work of autobiography—presently running at three five-hundred-page volumes with three more still to be translated from his native Norwegian—is relentlessly talked about as an “international sensation and bestseller” (Amazon) and constantly praised by the most prestigious critics. “It’s unbelievable… It’s completely blown my mind,” says Zadie Smith. “Intense and vital…. Ceaselessly compelling…. Superb,” agrees James Wood. Important newspapers (The New York Times for one) carry frequent articles about Knausgaard and his work. A search on The Guardian website has ten pages of hits for articles on Knausgaard despite the fact that his work wasn’t published in the UK until 2012. In a round-up of authors’ summer-reading tips in the same newspaper, the academic Sarah Churchwell remarks that after sitting on the jury for the Booker prize she looks forward to being “the last reader in Britain” to tackle My Struggle.

One could be forgiven, then, for imagining that this is one of those books which periodically impose themselves as “required reading” at a global level: Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose, Jostein Gaardner’s Sophie’s World, Peter Hoeg’s Smilla’s Sense of Snow, Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom all spring to mind, literary equivalents of internationally successful genre works like Stieg Larssen’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, and E. L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey.

Well, as of a few days ago UK sales of all three volumes of Knausgaard work in hardback and paperback had barely topped 22,000 copies. A respectable but hardly impressive performance. In the US, which has a much larger market, that figure— total sales of all three volumes (minus e-books)—stood at about 32,000. This was despite the fact that with Knausgaard’s growing reputation the powerful Farrar, Straus and Giroux stepped in to buy the paperback rights from the minnow Archipelago and bring its own commercial muscle to bear. On the Amazon bestsellers ranking, A Death in the Family, the first and most successful volume of the My Struggle series, is presently 657th in the USA and 698th in the UK, this despite a low paperback price of around ten dollars.

So what is going on here? Should we be reassured that critics are sticking loyally by a work they admire regardless of sales, or bemused that something is being presented as a runaway commercial success when in fact it isn’t? Wouldn’t it be enough to praise Knausgaard without trying to create the impression that there is a huge international following behind the book? Or do the critics actually assume that everyone is buying it because they and all their peers are talking about it?

The truth is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 July 2014 at 1:39 pm

Posted in Books, Business, Media

Israel attitudes

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James Fallows, in a very interesting and informative post on how the Iron Dome works, included a letter from an American rabbi who wrote about how grateful he was for Israel’s Iron Dome defense as he sat in a bomb shelter in Jerusalem and listened to distant explosions:

I have been in Israel since before the Hamas terror offensive began. I was caught outside when the first azaka (Red Alert siren) went off in Jerusalem. And I have also made a run for the miklat (bomb shelter) in the apartment building where I am living when the siren sounded on a Sabbath afternoon.

On one occasion, I was walking to the Shalom Hartman Institute for a meeting when the siren sounded while I was just a few feet from the Institute’s gated entrance. A father walking with his very young son on the street panicked as the siren went off. I called and waved to him to follow me into the Institute. I ran, along with faculty, administrators, and participants in a Hillel Directors program to the bomb shelter located underneath the Institute’s Beit Midrash (study hall where over the years thousands of Rabbis, Jewish educators and lay people from around the world have studied). All the while, I could hear the breath of that father as he ran behind me holding his son in his arms.

Within the bowels of the bomb shelter we could hear the Iron Dome missiles intercepting the Hamas rockets overhead. The scene was reminiscent of what you might recall from motion pictures about life in a WWII U-boat or submarine when depth charges are dropped from a above and the booms of their explosions sound like they could rattle the teeth out of your head. We counted with our lips and fingers . . . One . . Two . . . Three.

In all, five rockets where fired into densely populated Jerusalem. Three were destroyed over our neighborhood and within half a mile of where we were (when we emerged topside we could see the white wisps that remained from the Iron Dome missiles). Two more Hamas rockets were allowed to fall in an empty field adjacent to the neighborhood of Arnona. Had there been no Iron Dome those rockets would have landed in the midst of apartments buildings, houses, schools, and parks.

My religious tradition claims that if you save one life, it is as if you have saved an entire world. So, as one of thousands who are now living with the threat of terror from the skies, I am interested little in the academic/ theoretical musings related to the so-called ineffectiveness of the system. I am very grateful for the Israeli “know how” that created it, the effective AIPAC lobbying that ensured its funding, and the Congressional and Presidential support that made it available to the citizens of Israel.

Best wishes from Jerusalem,

Fallows followed the letter with this note:

The rabbi sent this note before the horrific recent episode of four little boys, ages 9 through 11, being killed by Israeli shelling as they played on a Gaza beach. I have corresponded often enough with this reader over the years to know that he means his “if you save one life” thoughts to be universal rather than sectarian. So I am sure he understands that there are also fathers and mothers in Gaza holding their little children in their arms—and that because of differences in offensive weaponry, defensive systems (including Iron Dome), and other factors, vastly more of those Palestinian families have been killed through the rocket exchanges. (According to the NYT as I write, so far 214 deaths in Gaza during the recent violence, and 1 in Israel.)

Today, Fallows has another post that includes a video of a jaw-dropping exchange between Wolf Blitzer and Israeli Economics Minister Naftali Bennett. The video is at the link and is difficult to watch. Bennett seems to think that it was Hamas who fired on the 4 children and killed them, and believes that Israel has no responsibility for those deaths whatsoever. Fallows comments well on the situation, and then he includes a letter

from Dr. Hillel Ben Sasson of Jerusalem, who has explicitly asked me to identify him. (“I indeed wish to be mentioned by name, as I believe in the veracity of my claims and am willing to defend them.”) He is director of programs for Molad, an Israeli think tank.

His message is personally very critical of the rabbi, which I know will be wounding. But since I have kept his (the American rabbi’s) identity confidential, and since Dr. Sasson is taking responsibility for his critical views by name, and mainly since his statement is so powerfully argued, it seems fair to give him his say.

Here is Dr. Hillel Ben Sasson’s letter:

Reading the words of the anonymous rabbi in recounting his fear in face the warning sirens alerting Jerusalemites of Hamas rockets, I was both enraged and ashamed.

I was enraged by the lack of comprehension he showed to the situation in which we – Israelis and Palestinians – have been living for as long as we remember. I was born in Jerusalem in 1979 and lived here for most of my life. An officer in the IDF still fulfilling my reserve duty, I have lived through three wars (Lebanon I – 1982; Gulf I – 1991; Lebanon II – 2006), two Intifada uprisings of the occupied Palestinians (1987; 2000) and three military operations in Gaza (Cast Lead – 2008; Pillar of Defense – 2012; Protective Edge – 2014). Some of these I experienced in uniform. I am also raising two young children in Jerusalem.

For us living here, the current military operation and the ongoing drizzle of rockets are neither unbearable nor threatening in an existential way. Iron Dome has enabled Israelis to continue with their normal lives neither terrified nor terrorized. While the Gazans are rained with high-precision ton-heavy bombs falling with no sirens or alert system, we in Jerusalem have heard three sirens in the past nine days, and witnessed no rocket falling.

When the siren went off in that Saturday afternoon mentioned by the rabbi, I was sitting with my family in a park right across to the Shalom Hartman Institute, compared in his narrative to an U-Boat under attack. From the park where we were picnicking, as it happened, I could see the rocket being intercepted several miles south to Jerusalem, above Hebron, and in contrast to the rabbi’s Dresdenian depiction.

In a cross check with a senior Haaretz correspondent, it turns out that none of the rockets even got close to central Jerusalem – hits were located only around Hebron and Ramat Raziel (a village miles to the west of the city) probably a result of shrapnel from Iron Dome’s interceptions. This gets nowhere near WWII (the very comparison is preposterous if not offensive to survivors of that terrible war).

I am enraged because the rabbi is presumably a tourist in my city and country, yet in the name of his spiritual and cultural connection to the holy land he feels free to act as its spokesman. By generalizing his personal sense of fear and acting as a spokesman for those who actually carry the burden of living in Israel, the rabbi grossly exaggerated the impact of Hamas terror on Jerusalem and portrayed it with unduly epic dimensions. In so doing, he distorts the actual power imbalance in this tragic situation, in addition to victimizing me and my fellow Israeli citizens.

As a society, we are a (powerful) side in this conflict, not a helpless victim. To avoid any misunderstanding, I would like to clarify that I am far from disregarding the fear and anxiety felt by many Israelis who are in the line of fire day after day. Writing about Jerusalem however – a city that witnessed three sirens and not even one hit of a rocket – in the way that the rabbi adopted is simply absurd. This absurdity might indicate that his experience is influenced less by concrete reality and more by his already existing perception of victimhood. And this brings me to shame.

The blinding victimhood embodied in the rabbi’s comments is shameful because it points at an abject moral, spiritual and leadership failure. In the very same Jerusalem and on the very same days, young religious Jews have burnt alive an innocent Palestinian teenager, in the name of national revenge. In this very city, racist Jewish hooligans are marching every night, seeking Arab scapegoats, cracking down on other Jews who dare answer back to them, shouting slogans such as “death to the Arabs” and “A Jew has a Soul, and Arab is a son of a whore”.

Where is the cry of this anonymous rabbi against these far more worrisome threats to our existence and future? How dare American rabbis who keep silent these days continue and call themselves religious shepherds? As an observant Jew, I am ashamed at how few were the courageous voices who took into heart the words of Rabbi A. J. Heschel who marched at Selma with Martin Luther King Jr.: “Few might be guilty – but all are responsible”.

The rabbi’s anonymity, it turns out, is but a metaphor for his inacceptable silence on the real enemies of the Jewish society in Israel – the extremist hateful enemies from within.

No, rabbi, you got it wrong. The rockets are not really scary nor are they a true existential threat. Racism, radicalism, and religious intoxication from brute power has become an imminent danger to our old and beloved peoplehood. When people are accustomed to hearing that they are perpetual innocent victims of Palestinian aggression, they eventually translate they frustration into rage and start seeking justice in revenge. If you continue looking up to the sky, you will not notice that the house is already burning from within.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 July 2014 at 12:36 pm

Posted in Mideast Conflict

Last non-shave morning, in a way

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I make a practice of not shaving on Sunday so that once a week I have the pleasure of shaving a two-day stubble. So I wouldn’t be shaving tomorrow in any case; thus this morning is the last day that I’m deliberately skipping a shave. I am very much looking forward to Monday morning, when I will test the efficiency of the Stealth slant (and, for half of the first pass, the efficiency of the 37C).

It will be wonderful to get back to daily shaving, an idea that would not occur to many men. 🙂

Written by LeisureGuy

19 July 2014 at 6:55 am

Posted in Shaving

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