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Interview with David Sax, Apr 11, 2018 audio icon

As the digital era grinds on and the Internet takes over more of our daily life’s activities, something seems to be missing. The technology that was supposed to liberate us from the drudgery of life has become a distraction, which in turn prevents us from enjoying our solitude or companionship.

In an engrossing collection of insightful examples, David Sax depicts how people are increasingly looking for ways to move away from that ubiquitous screen. The screen that has become a veil between ourselves and our friends and family.

In Revenge of Analog, Sax takes readers from one relevant example to another, collecting evidence why and how younger generations are discovering the joy of analog. The concept of digital anything, from audio to video to games, is rooted in offering the ease of use and a vast choice. Still, what this standardized electronic experience lacks is the engagement of playing a vinyl record or experiencing with an imperfect but rewarding Polaroid film.

Make no mistake, the users of these analog devices are not nostalgic-harking senior citizens or Luddites. They are, in fact, in their prime teens or twenties. For the first time they hear the pure sound, see fascinating films, and begin to interact with others while playing board games.

In this fascinating book, Sax explains why newspaper reading is more rewarding than following the news online, partially because it has a beginning and finality that offers a sense of satisfaction. Something that the endless spooling on the Internet can and will never offer.

Add to this the sense of ownership, the ritual of finding and obtaining a tangible object of delight, and it is no wonder why imagination drives creativity and innovation that cannot be codified.

Key Topics :

  • Why are youngsters becoming tired of standardized experiences in digital formats?
  • Why are vinyl record sales soaring?
  • Why is digital efficiency not without sacrifice? ...+
Interview with David Dayen, Apr 10, 2018 audio icon

The global economic crisis in 2007 had its origin in the U.S. housing market, but very few of us know the role played by courts and judges in cascading this crisis to a global proportion.

While battling with the largest banks, three ordinary Americans faced with the prospect of losing their homes helped to uncover a foreclosure fraud that banks never owed up to. Wall Street bankers used securitization to connect global investors with the U.S. home borrowers, transforming in the process banks to loan originators and traders. Naturally, bankers were happy to pass on the loans and mortgages as hot potatoes while collecting fees with the connivance of rating agencies.

For nearly three hundred years, we had preserved the integrity of the home title and the clear ownership claim. However, the securitization process succeeded in destroying that bedrock of free market economy in less than a decade. As a result, more than eight million home titles cannot be traced, and the process is still fraught with inaccuracies and fraud as judges are unwilling to enforce the laws on the books.

David Dayen skillfully narrates with eye-popping details how three individual home owners uncovered the foreclosure fraud while fighting losing battles with the big banks. To make matters worse, neither regulators nor government agencies, judges or local law enforcement officers were willing to help these struggling home owners. Whenever local regulators were getting close to uncovering the fraud, they were quickly silenced by lawmakers in Florida, California, Nevada, and in Washington.

Dayen shines much needed light on the two-tier accountability system under which our judges enforce selective laws, as well as how banks can err and get away with it but a borrower cannot. At the peak of the crisis, judges were foreclosing a house by the minute, yet neither the bank nor the mortgage servicer could prove if they ever had the legitimate claim on the house.

Be prepared to be angrier as you thumb through the travails of these three families, whose lives are being shattered by the foreclosure crisis. And if you think this can never happen to you, think again. 

Key Topics :

  • How did a cancer nurse, a car dealership worker and an insurance fraud specialist help uncover the largest consumer crime in American history?
  • What is a foreclosure fraud and how do banks commit it?
  • Who were the victims of the foreclosure fraud? ...+
Interview with Blaire Briody, Apr 3, 2018 audio icon

In less than a decade, the United States rose to the top of oil producing nations, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Russia. Much of this boom is driven by the discovery of shale oil and the introduction of the hydraulic fracturing process, so much so that nearly 9 out of 10 oil and gas wells in the country use fracking. North Dakota’s Bakken region, which is roughly the size of Delaware, has accounted for more than 40 percent of the growth in U.S. oil production.

Yet, not all is well and very little is said about the dark side of these oil boom towns. Hydraulic fracturing relies on injecting water with different chemicals that contaminate deep water wells, directly affecting the water supply of more than 15 million people.  

Award-winning author Blaire Briody gives a first-person account of life and conditions in Williston, which located on the western edge of North Dakota, at the heart of the oil boom. In this story about the sociology of the modern day gold rush, Briody informs about mineral rights severed from surface rights in a state that is putting farmers living on the property in direct conflict with oil drillers.

Harsh and unpredictable weather conditions, loneliness, long work hours and subhuman living conditions await those attracted to the oil boom in the hope of riches. Briody focuses on the lives of migrant workers who were already struggling as blue collar workers before they arrive in this oil town to bear the brunt of oil field injuries, market volatility and uncertainty due to oil price collapses. Briody’s personal accounts of these oil workers give us an up-close-and-personal look at individuals who are often running away from issues at home only to be gripped by another set of serious problems.

The New Wild West was the 2016 finalist for the Lukas Work-in-Progress Award from Columbia Journalism School and Harvard’s Nieman Foundation. Additionally, Briody received the Richard J. Margolis Award for social justice reporting in 2014.

Key Topics :

  • What is fracking and how did the shale oil revolution come about?
  • What led to the shale oil boom and how has it impacted local economies?
  • What kind of people were attracted to the shale oil boom? ...+
Interview with Dale Pollak, Apr 2, 2018 audio icon

Buying a car can be a gut-wrenching experience with so many models and options to choose from. And that is well before price negotiations have even started. For decades, dealers have been accustomed to setting the right price at the right time. However, dictating terms of negotiations is now under a full-blown attack in the new reality of consumers empowered by the Internet.

Dale Pollak lays out a straightforward and convincing overview of what dealers are facing now and how these newly empowered customers are ratcheting down margins. The authors provide a backdrop of how a decades-old symbiotic relationship between dealers and auto makers is coming under increasing strain as both parties are struggling to keep their business models intact.

Increasingly, consumers are shopping for cars online, stopping at the dealer only to collect cars – a process that is invetably forcing more and more dealers to operate on razor thin margins, mostly relying on servicing and repair revenues. Those who succeed actually do so through increased levels of efficiency rather than through selling more vehicles.  

Key Topics :

  • How have auto makers and dealers evolved in the current symbiotic relationship?
  • Why does the Internet make it harder for car dealers?
  • Why does transparency remain elusive? ...+
Interview with Michael W. Hudson, Mar 26, 2018 audio icon

Before the housing crisis erupted in late 2007, there was a decade-long period of subprime lending targeted at the most vulnerable members of society. The elderly, those facing financial difficulties, and families in transition were forced to pay significantly higher borrowing costs to compensate for their poor credit rating scores.

However, the subprime mortgage lending gathered momentum in the late 90s after Wall Street streamlined the securitization process, and provided a gusher of capital to the non-bank financial companies that operated outside the purview of financial regulators.

With a sharp escalation in the availability of capital, all that subprime lenders had to do was to find borrowers and sell loans back to Wall Street. Bankers worked overtime to mint new securities from these loans and sell for a fee to unsuspecting global investors. Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns, among others, provided ample capital through their partners or subsidiaries, repackaging these loans to investors and earning hefty fees in the process. The only problem was that the borrowers did not have a clue what they were getting into—something that in many cases was an outright fraud or deception.

In The Monster, award-winning reporter and author Michael W. Hudson narrates a fascinating web of deception and collusion between politicians and subprime lenders while regulators looked the other way. The predatory lending has its origin in the rush to find a customer at any cost in order to sell the loans immediately to investors with very little consequences.

In this remorseless race lenders had only one goal in mind: keep borrowers in debt forever and refinance their customers again and again while financial regulators focused on the “safety and soundness” of lending institutions and not how they treated their customers. During the peak years between 2004 and 2006, subprime lenders were raising and selling more than $700 billion dollars of loans a year before the faulty model collapsed under the heavy weight of mounting loan defaults.

Key Topics :

  • What is predatory lending?
  • Who were the key players involved in subprime lending?
  • Why would borrowers with a good credit score sign up for a subprime loan? ...+
Interview with KJ Fallon, Mar 23, 2018 audio icon

Not only has coffee-drinking gained the status of a morning ritual for most Americans, but admirers of the invigorating beverage are increasingly opting for gourmet variety. Whether at home or in the office, coffee machines are ubiquitous, and their latest version has, in fact, arrived home via office.

In Coffee for One, author and reporter KJ Fallon chronicles the rise of single-serve machines and the fierce competition between companies and entrepreneurs battling for supremacy in offices and in retail stores. While expensive single-serve machines have been around for nearly three decades, the rapid growth in Silicon Valley provided a new and growing market for these appliances.

Keurig was the first to spot and ride the rising office demand for the machine, solving many technical challenges along the way in lowering the cost. Along with Keurig, Nestle, Kraft, and Sara Lee battled to gain the attention of retail customers, each with its own differing strategies. However, in the end it was Keurig that led the market with a unique approach.

Although the spectacular rise of Keurig rivals the success of iPhone device made by Apple, Inc in the last two decades, many still fail to realize the impact the single-serve coffee brewer has had on our lives. 

Key Topics :

  • Why do Americans love coffee and cherish their morning brew?
  • What led to the development and acceptance of single-serve coffee machines?
  • What is a single-serve coffee maker and why did Silicon Valley employers begin to love it? ...+
Interview with Richard Schmalensee, Mar 6, 2018 audio icon

Matchmakers have been around since the dawn of time, but in recent years they have turbocharged their business growth leveraging all the latest technologies.

Matchmakers, marketplace operators or platform developers are all focused on connecting demand with supply, offering access to two groups and often subsidizing one to ignite the business. OpenTable, Uber, Amazon Marketplace, GrubHub are just some of these successful matchmakers.

Richard Schmalensee and David S. Evands, authors of Matchmakers: The New Economics of Multisided Platforms, give a systematic account of multisided markets with a thorough explanation of deeply rooted historic origins where appropriate. In this easy-to-read book, the two distinguished economic advisers compile several examples of successful marketplace operators to illustrate how startups can learn from these businesses and boost their own chances of success. 

Key Topics :

  • How do traditional and matchmaking business models differ?
  • What is the deep rooted history of multisided business models?
  • How can new startups learn from successful multisided platforms? ...+
Interview with Witold Rybczynski, Feb 26, 2018 audio icon

Not many of us pay attention to the architecture surrounding us in our daily lives as we stream in and out of supermarkets, gas stations and other commercial and public places. Much of the architecture we inhabit is increasingly defined by the technology of the time along with the pace of change of activities we like to engage in.

Mysteries of the Mall, a collection of essays from previously published works of architect and author Witold Rybczynski, offers a lucid guide to various architectural developments. In thirty-four essays laid out in four parts, Rybczynski delves into the way we live today, our urban conditions, the art of the building and place makers. The book offers a moving commentary on architectural trends, movements and an accounts of some of the most influential architects over the past five decades.

Rybczynski’s strong interest in the lived experience of architecture and in spaces where form follows function, namely food courts, offers a lively read and raises many important questions. The essay on engineering firm Arup, sheds much needed light on nearly seven decades of work that makes some of the most complex building stand today.

Spaces are not always identified by their physical features as by the events that take or took place. Rapid changes in cities make these spaces acquire significance in one period before they lose it in another. While seaports, railroads and factory complexes created concentration in large cities, recent technological development has supported dispersal. This chain of evolution, invention and change has often been the pattern that drives urban renewal.

Rybczynski’s essays in the fourth part of the book focus on place makers, weaving together stories of common vision from the architectural and development work done by Turner, Durwood and Pritzker.

Key Topics :

  • What is the contemporary American architectural landscape and what are its complexities and beauties?
  • How does knowing the name of a space become a key factor in learning to recognize and use it?
  • What were Tocquville’s observations? ...+
Interview with Daniel L. Everett, Feb 15, 2018 audio icon

All animals communicate, yet only humans have language. With this sophisticated verbal instrument, we convey our inventions, progress and accumulate knowledge, an innate human faculty.

In How Language Began, Daniel L Everett, a linguistics professor with decades of field research experience, argues that, while there are no speech fossils, artefacts of sufficient complexity reveal that language is not such a recent development in human history. Shaped by evolution and invention over hundreds of thousands of years, language materializes communication by incorporating symbols that have culturally agreed meaning and culturally accepted form.

In this engrossing book, Everett suggests that “language began with Homo erectus more than one million years ago, and has existed for 60,000 generations,” unlike other scholars who maintain that it emerged with Homo sapiens about 50,000 to 100,000 years ago. Additionally, Everett dissents from traditional views and argues that what is perceived as a “language instinct” is, in fact, a culturally acquired invention.

Everett has spent more than 30 years in the Amazon rainforest studying a remote tribe called the Pirahã, a hunter-gatherer community of only several hundred people living in the tradition of their ancestors. Using this invaluable research to develop his broader theory of language, Everett emphasizes that early symbols of language were developed by common experience, which provided the necessary impetus for accumulating knowledge and advancing culture. In other words, culture and language are inseparable. 

Key Topics :

  • Why do animals communicate but only humans have language?
  • What are the origins and nature of language?
  • How does the brain make language possible? ...+
Interview with Richard O. Prum, Feb 13, 2018 audio icon

In his seminal work, On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin laid the foundation of our understanding of biological evolution with the theory of natural selection and the “survival of the fittest” principle. A little over a decade later, Darwin went on to expound his views on sexual selection, which were, however, strongly rejected by his peers at the time.  

Richard O. Prum, an ornithology professor at Yale University and a widely-respected evolutionary biologist, has written The Evolution of Beauty in defense of Darwin’s views of co-evolution from both natural and sexual selection, with a strong emphasis on female choice in mating. Based on his keen observation of birds and animal behavior, Prum elaborates on his anchor theme of the female sexual preference as a major influence on behavior and evolution, and, last but not least, natural beauty. 

Key Topics :

  • What are two main theories of evolution?
  • What are Charles Darwin’s natural selection and sexual selection theories?
  • Why does the “survival of the fittest” principle not account for ornaments seen in many birds and animals? ...+
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