Three Mile Island Lessons for COVID-19: FEMA and Me

Forty-one years ago this summer I was a young investigator working in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and Washington, DC for the President’s Commission on the Accident at Three Mile Island, a big federal investigation chaired by Dartmouth Professor John Kemeny, who is best known as the father of the BASIC programming language. I learned a lot that summer and fall not only about nuclear accidents but about how governments and industries respond to crises. Some of those lessons apply to the current COVID-19 pandemic, which is also being poorly managed. This may surprise you (that 41-year-old lessons can still apply) but governments, especially, change at a glacial pace.

The two […]

Sometimes We Get Lucky: ProjectN95.org

Last weekend I participated in two investing panels for my friend Anina.net’s global online fashion conference. Anina is the pretty girl next to me in the picture atop this page. My second panel was the final event of the conference, so Anina and I stayed on the line to talk a bit afterward. She had been up for 72 continuous hours. Oddly, what we discussed were N-95 respirator masks, which are in such short supply thanks to COVID-19.

Anina lives in Beijing and China is starting to get back to work as the country slowly backs-off from its draconian coronavirus shut-down. Some businesses are retooling to address global coronavirus needs and one […]

What an Epidemic is Really Like

Downton Abbey, episode 2.8.  

Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham : “Wasn’t there a masked ball in Paris when cholera broke out? Half the guests were dead before they left the ballroom.”

Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham :   “Thank you, Mama. That’s cheered us up no end.”

A few decades ago I covered a cholera epidemic in Bangladesh. Forty thousand dead. The last time I thought about that trip was while watching the Downton Abbey episode quoted above.

Downton writer Julian Fellowes clearly knows nothing about cholera. 

Nobody dies of cholera at masked balls because people shit themselves […]

How to save 400,000 lives per year (four million in the world)

When I wrote recently that my predictions for 2020 would include some things I hoped would happen, this was the column I had in mind. What follows is a prediction that will definitely not happen unless someone decides to make a change.

Everybody dies.

But not everybody has to die young or in middle age from many of the diseases that afflict our society. In the United States, our single leading cause of death is heart disease with 650,000 deaths per year. Heart attacks cause more than 400,000 deaths alone. With approximately 800,000 heart attacks per year in the U.S., 50 percent of heart attacks lead directly to death. […]

Prediction #6 — AI comes of age, this time asking the questions, too

Paul Saffo says that communication technologies historically take 30 years or more to find their true purpose. Just look at how the Internet today is different than it was back in 1988. I am beginning to think this idea applies also to new computing technologies like artificial intelligence (AI). We’re reading a lot lately about AI and I think 2018 is the year when AI becomes recognized for its much deeper purpose of asking questions, not just finding answers.

Some older readers may remember the AI bubble of the mid-1980s. Sand Hill Road venture capitalists invested (and lost) about $1 billion in AI startups that were generally touted as […]