Wrigley Field, Cubs v. Brewers

I’m at Wrigley Field this afternoon for Cubs v. Milwaukee Brewers. Milwaukee is about 90 minutes north, and we drove into Chicago the other day. Basically the equivalent of New York/Philadelphia. It felt like a neighborhood game, and was nearly a thrashing except for the Brewers late-effort to bring it from 13-1 to 13-6 in the 9th inning. Beautiful but somewhat chilly day. Lakeview immediately around Wrigley is changing quite a bit.


Distinctive communities

Conor Dougherty writes on one of Silicon Valley’s secret ingredients:

Workers around the country are increasingly being asked to sign noncompete agreements devised to keep them from leaving their job for a rival company. It’s a trend that has extended down the economic ladder to people like hairdressers and dirt-shovelers who are unlikely to possess trade secrets.

But Californians don’t have to worry about it. California law prohibits noncompetes, and this ban is often cited as key to the development of Silicon Valley. To learn more about how this law helped create the modern technology industry, we talked to AnnaLee Saxenian, dean of the U.C. Berkeley School of Information and author of “Regional Advantage: Culture and Competition in Silicon Valley and Route 128.”

Q. How important was California’s ban to the development of the Valley?

A. If there had been aggressive enforcement of noncompetes, Silicon Valley would probably not be what it is today. But the dynamism goes beyond the legal context. From the very early days there was a sense in the Bay Area that people were in it together and trying to build something different, and they built a culture where it was O.K. to share information more openly and it was O.K. to leave to start something new.

Q. What famous company might we not have?

A. In 1956, eight top engineers left the Shockley Semiconductor Lab in Palo Alto to start the Fairchild Semiconductor Corporation. While they were labeled at the time as the “traitorous eight,” virtually all left within the subsequent decades to start yet another generation of ventures.

By the time that Fairchild’s Robert Noyce, Andy Grove and Gordon Moore left to start the Intel Corp in 1968 there were more than a dozen other “Fairchildren” in the region. A 1986 genealogy included 126 semiconductor companies that could be traced directly to Fairchild.

In the early days engineers would say, “I work for Silicon Valley.” And the idea was that they were advancing technology for a region, not any single company’s technology. We often think in the U.S. that people or companies create success, but what Silicon Valley shows us is that often it’s communities of people across a region.

Q. There was a recent case in which Google, Apple and others were accused of “an overarching conspiracy” to lower wages for engineers by agreeing not to poach each other’s workers. What does that tell you about how California companies feel about the ban on noncompetes?

A. Essentially they’re becoming the older, more inward-looking companies that early versions of themselves rejected. Maybe it’s natural, but it’s a real departure from the earlier culture of the Valley, which recognized that people will come and go but ultimately we’ll all be better off.

Far more valuable than buzzy ambitions like “becoming a more innovative community” would be investigating specific historical moments that defined your community as it exists today. Then determine whether it makes sense to advance/conserve that historical differentiator for your community, or try something new. And not necessarily on a city council level, but rather on a personal level. If you do something great, others will be attracted to it.


Jobs v. careers

What’s the difference between a job and a career? A job pays, but a career fulfills. That’s how I think about it.

We talk a lot about the “job market,” but why not think about the “career market”? Ben Casnocha has written about the value of being in “permanent beta.” And Anya Kamenetz wrote on “The Four-Year Career” a few years ago:

Shorter job tenure is associated with a new era of insecurity, volatility, and risk. It’s part of the same employment picture as the increase in part-time, freelance, and contract work; mass layoffs and buyouts; and “creative destruction” within industries. All these changes put more pressure on the individual–to provide our own health care, bridge gaps in income with savings, manage our own retirement planning, and invest in our own education to keep skills marketable and up to date. …

[Adam Hasler’s] interests are transdisciplinary–he’s what might be called a “T-shaped person,” with both depth in one subject and breadth in others. He demonstrates cross-cultural competency (speaking fluent Spanish, living abroad) and computational thinking (learning programming and applying data to real-world problems). The intellectual voracity that drove him to write 50,000 words on Western cultural history while running a coffee shop is a sign of sense making (drawing deeper meaning from facts) and excellent cognitive load management (continuous learning and managing attention challenges). Above all, Hasler’s desire to synthesize his knowledge and apply it to helping people, and his ability to collaborate with those who have different skills, shows a high degree of social intelligence. In the future, says Gorbis, “everything that can be routinized, codified, and dissected will eventually be done by machines. Social and emotional intelligence is what humans are uniquely good at–at least for the next decade or two.”

A career with “transdisciplinary” experience—”both depth in one subject and breadth in others”—seems like the key for the future.


Sebastian Kurz

An interesting/short piece on Sebastian Kurz, the youngest Foreign Minister in Austria’s history:

If you met Sebastian Kurz in an Austrian café over a pint of lager, you probably wouldn’t guess what he does for a living. Judging by his smart suit and slicked back hair, you might take him for a budding lawyer or banker, maybe even a model on a Brooks Brothers shoot. But this fresh-faced blonde is Austria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Kurz, now 28, was only a year younger when he took the job— and became the youngest cabinet member in the history of the Austrian republic. Europe’s youngest foreign minister, too, who landed in international news when his country hosted the recent Iran nuclear talks. Indeed, his rise has been meteoric, and not just because of his youth and good looks. As it turns out, Kurz has a preternatural ability to hold the spotlight, to remain the star of the ruling conservative People’s Party, thanks to some bold thinking. As the whole of Europe struggles with immigration and jihadism, Kurz intends to make his little country into a model melting pot. Perhaps this is a strange ambition for a right of center leader, but, he says, “There’s really no other choice.”

To be sure, Austria is not exactly a political heavyweight. When most people consider Austria– if they consider it all– they think of it as a southern appendage of Germany. Its population is a mere eight million, a tenth of its neighbor to the north. Yet its small size and high proportion of immigrants may make Austria a sort of microcosm or petri dish for the demographic remaking of Europe. Almost one in five residents were born outside the country.


BugPAC’s victories

I was happy to see that my friends at BugPAC in State College were able to celebrate last night after the Pennsylvania primaries. Three of BugPAC’s four candidates survived primary season and will appear on the November general election ballot, though Michael Black will be appearing as a Republican after falling to Don Hahn in the Democratic primary last night. Evan Myers and Dan Murphy will appear on the Democratic ticket for borough council spots. BugPAC can also celebrate an incredible increase in voter participation among Penn Staters, which is worth celebrating in and of itself:

With a surge of absentee ballots cast in the primary election Tuesday, BugPAC may be on its way to fulfilling its slogan of reclaiming State College. The political action committee, with strong ties to Penn State, has campaigned to secure the Democratic nominations of candidates who aim to “make State College more inclusive” of diverse residents.

In 2015, only 30 absentee ballots were cast in the Borough of State College for the municipal primary, according to Centre County election coordinator Jodi Neidig. That number is up to 193 this time around. With most students away on summer vacation, BugPAC has worked over the past few months to register and equip voters with absentee ballots. “For a primary, that’s exceptionally high,” Neidig said.

Every vibrant college town should have a BugPAC of its own.


Contrasts not quite so sharp

Check out Aaron Jasinski’s A Prayer to Memory:


Doesn’t this capture a bit of the wonder of childhood? When the world felt wide and mysterious and indeterminate. I want to more consciously rekindle the wonder that makes our youth so remarkable, and this piece has that effect on me.

(Of course, the nature of reality remains mysterious and indeterminate even as we grow and our confidence in our scientific knowledge grows. Scientific advancements cannot answer the essential nature of reality—into the reason for nature.)

The piece also reminds me of something from C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy novels, of a passage from Chapter 13 in the final book in the series, “That Hideous Strength: A Modern Fairy-Tale for Grown-ups:”

“Have you ever noticed,” said Dimble, “that the universe, and every little bit of the universe, is always hardening and narrowing and coming to a point?” …

“If you dip into any college, or school, or parish, or family—anything you like—at a given point in its history, you always find that there was a time before that point when there was more elbow room and contrasts weren’t quite so sharp; and that there’s going to be a time after that point when there is even less room for indecision and choices are even more momentous. Good is always getting better and bad is always getting worse: the possibilities of even apparent neutrality are always diminishing. The whole thing is sorting itself out all the time, coming to a point, getting sharper and harder…”

“Everything is getting more itself and more different from everything else all the time…”

This piece captures what I imagine was that point that lingers someplace in our memories when everything was a bit softer. When there was more elbow room. When the contrasts weren’t quite so sharp. When everything was a little less itself yet when the incredible felt closer to reality.


‘History of Penn State’ course

A few years ago a number of students and alumni came together with a vision for a new course at Penn State—specifically a course on Penn State itself. After years of friendly pushing and relationship-building the course is almost here, and Penn State News has spotlighted the course:

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A course examining the history of Penn State from its founding as the Farmers’ High School in 1855 to its evolution as one of the nation’s leading research universities will be offered for the first time this fall.

History 197, “The History of Penn State,” will chronicle and evaluate changes that have taken place at Penn State over the past 160 years and explore them in the context of larger historical and socio-economic developments in American higher education during that time. In particular, the course will study the conduct, leadership, and educational vision of notable Penn State presidents, faculty, alumni and coaches; dimensions of student life (including student protest); race and gender relations; athletics; and the challenges of University life, research and admissions in the post-World War II era.

“The History of Penn State” grew out of discussions with several Penn State alumni who serve on the board of the Nittany Valley Society (NVS), which works to “cultivate appreciation for the history, customs, and spirit of the Nittany Valley.”  NVS Board member Steve Garguilo, 2009 alumnus in information sciences and technology, provided financial support for the course through the Stephen D. Garguilo Nittany Valley Society University History Endowment.

“This course has been a long time coming,” notes Michael Milligan, Penn State senior lecturer in history, who created and will be teaching the course. “Using Penn State as the backdrop, I want students to be able to analyze and interpret significant developments not only in American higher education, but in American history as well.”

I hope to sit in on this course this fall. I hope it becomes one of the great courses at Penn State. I hope it stays a part of the available curricula for generations.

The first class offering has 49 seats, and as of today roughly half those seats have been registered. Here’s how it appears in Penn State’s registration system:

The course description reads:

This course examines in a selective fashion the history of Penn State. The time period extends from mid-19th century origins as the Farmers’ High School to the multi-faceted, modern research university of the early 21st century. The course will study the conduct, leadership and educational visions of notable Presidents and faculty; dimensions of student life (including student protest); race and gender relations; athletics; and the challenges of university life, research, and admissions in the post-World War II era. The Penn State experience will be examined in the context of larger historical developments in American higher education, student life and attitudes.

The course will take a distinctly historical angle: with emphasis placed on chronicling and evaluating change over time and thoughtful consideration of a diversity of voices and perspectives. A wide variety of primary and secondary readings will be assigned, and students will write several papers (including a short research paper). Undergraduates of all majors are welcome.


Mother’s Day and peace

There’s an historical plaque commemorating the founding of Mother’s Day in Center City, Philadelphia right at City Hall, near the old Wanamaker’s building. It credits Anna Jarvis for the founding of the day, and Anna Orso writes on the fascinating history of both Anna Jarvis and the generations-long effort by different women to create a “Mother’s Day” on the national calendar. Julia Ward Howe’s earlier efforts are fascinating:


While Jarvis is seen as the founder (more on that later…), the Philadelphia Encyclopedia notes Jarvis wasn’t the first person to propose a day honoring moms, and wasn’t even the first person in Philadelphia to do so.

In 1870, Julia Ward Howe — the composer of the Battle Hymn of the Republic — put a “Mother’s Day Proclamation”in Women’s Journal, a weekly publication in Boston. It was titled “Appeal to Womanhood Throughout the World,” and it called on women to use a day denoted “Mother’s Day” to promote peace following the Civil War.

Howe wanted Mother’s Day to be celebrated on June 2. Per the Encyclopedia, several cities did hold special services on that day between 1873 and 1913, but the holiday didn’t reach widespread audiences and was considered “too radical” by some. Still, “in Philadelphia, the Universal Peace Union (UPU), a group dedicated to ending war and eradicating the American military, faithfully celebrated Howe’s holiday for four decades.”

It makes sense that Mother’s Day would be a response to war. Incredible that there is no Universal Peace Union today, given that our military presence and active war involvement is in many ways higher than ever in our history. We have Mother’s Day, but we still need peace.


Philadelphia architecture

I snapped this earlier this week walking to the train from my office. It’s just off the Ben Franklin Parkway, and you see the Comcast tower on the left. I’m not sure of the name of the building in the middle. The building with the balconies is called The Windsor, I think.

This scene stood out to me because it captures three eras of Philadelphia architecture in one scene. You see the early 21st century on the left, the late 20th century on the right (maybe the 1970s, specifically), and probably the early 20th century in the middle. It reminded me of Broad Street Station. I grew up hearing stories about it from my grandmother; it was built in the 1881 by Frank Furness, and it was a Center City masterpiece. Peter Clericuzio shared this watercolor of Broad Street Station from the Athanaeum’s exhibit, information on the exhibit below:


The introduction of railroads in the 1830s initiated a revolution in the development of American industry, land use, and social patterns. The new technology challenged the nascent American professions of architecture and engineering to create entirely new building and structural types to meet railroad needs— passenger waiting stations, bridges, train sheds, repair shops, grand downtown depots, and even bedroom suburbs. For more than 100 years, Philadelphia’s most important designers met this challenge, including William Strickland, Thomas U. Walter, John Notman, Theophilus P. Chandler, the Wilson Brothers, Frank Furness, Horace Trumbauer and Paul P. Cret. This exhibit features drawings, prints, photographs, and manuscripts that document how these Philadelphia architects and engineers transformed not only their own city, but much of the American landscape.

Broad Street Station was demolished in 1953, just three years after my grandmother graduated from Penn. It was a part of her life for her first ~20 years, and then it was gone. Replaced with far worse architecture, in the same bargain that destroyed New York’s Penn Station and replaced it with what’s there at present: a corrosive force on public life and anyone’s experience of entering the city. That’s what Suburban Station’s underground chambers do today in Philadelphia. We still have 30th Street. Jefferson Station isn’t terrible.

Something I learned recently was that the Spirit of Transportation in 30th Street was just one of four grand reliefs that were a part of Broad Street Station. I suppose the other three were probably destroyed, but I wonder…


A people’s essence

Last year I quoted a review of Pierre Ryckmans’s writing:

In one of [Ryckmans’] most interesting and provocative essays on Chinese culture, he tries to find an answer to an apparent paradox: why the Chinese are both obsessed with their past, specifically their five thousand years of cultural continuation, and such lax custodians of the material products of their civilization. India and Europe are full of historic churches, temples, cathedrals, castles, forts, mosques, manor houses, and city halls, while contemporary China has almost nothing of the kind. … People in the Chinese cultural sphere, and perhaps beyond, did not traditionally share the common Western defiance of mortality. The idea of erecting monumental buildings meant to last forever would have seemed a naive illusion. Everything is destined to perish, so why not build impermanence into our sense of beauty? The Japanese took this aesthetic notion even further than their Chinese masters: the cult of cherry blossoms, for example, fleetingness being the essence of their unique splendor. … But if even the strongest works of man cannot in the end withstand the erosion of time, what can? [Ryckmans’] answer: “Life-after-life was not to be found in a supernature, nor could it rely upon artefacts: man only survives in man—which means, in practical terms, in the memory of posterity, through the medium of the written word.” As long as the word remains, Chinese civilization will continue. Sometimes memories replace great works of art.

Pierre Ryckmans suggests a people survives in its memory, but Will Durant suggests a people might also survive through a combination of their sheer essence and a responsiveness to change. In Will Durant’s 1935 Our Oriental Heritage, the first of his The Story of Civilization series, he writes on China, among other ancient civilizations. (The Story of Civilization series is praised  for its sweeping, glittering approach to history, or “composite history.” Not simply great in fact, but great too in analysis that’s timeless.) In his closing reflections on China, Durant’s keen ability to distill to the essence is evident. He’s writing about China prior to World War II, the rise of Communism, the Cold War, or the globalized economy:

One wonders for a moment whether China can ever be great again, whether she can once more consume her conquerors and live her own creative life. But under the surface, if we care to look, we may see the factors of convalescence and renewal. This soil, so vast in extent and so varied in form, is rich in the minerals that make a country industrially great. …

As industry moves inland it will come upon oars and fuels as unsuspected now as was the mineral and fuel wealth of America was as undreamed of a century ago.

This nation, after 3,000 years of grandeur and decay, of repeated deaths and resurrections, exhibits today all the physical and mental vitality that we find in its most creative periods. There is no people in the world more vigorous or intelligent. No other people so adaptable to circumstance, so resistible to disease, so resilient after disaster and suffering, so trained by history to calm endurance and patient recovery.

Imagination cannot describe the possibilities mingling the physical, labor, and mental resources of such a people with the technological equipment of modern industry. Very probably such wealth will be produced in China as even America has never known, and once again as so often in the past China will lead the world in luxury and the art of life. No victory of arms or tyranny of alien finance can long suppress a nation so rich in resources and vitality. The invader will lose funds or patience before the loins of china will lose virility.

Within a century China will have absorbed and civilized her conquerers and will have learned all the technique of all that transiently bears the name of modern industry. Roads and communications will give her unity and economy, thrift will give her funds and a strong government will give her order and peace.

Every chaos is a transition. In the end disorder cures and balances itself with dictatorship. Old obstacles are roughly cleared away and fresh growth is free. Revolution, like death and style, is the removal of rubbish, the surgery of the superfluous. It comes only when there are many things ready to die.

China has died many times before, and many times she has been reborn.