Wednesday, July 28, 2021

I Got a Pig: Reflections From the Cutting Edge of Cardiac Innovation


A cat will look down to a man. A dog will look up to a man. But a pig will look you straight in the eye and see his equal.” -- Winston Churchill

Of all the innovations I've been exposed to through the years, from TempTales and modern air conditioning to cotton gins and Hamilton, the one closest to my heart is the 23MM Epic Supravalve. 

Six months ago today, surgeons at Beth Israel Deaconess in Boston cracked open my chest, switched on their magic heart-lung machine, cut out my wonky, calcified aortic valve, and sutured in a new, porcine Epic Supravalve.

In another place or time, I might have received a bovine valve, or even one taken from a cadaver. Was I a little younger, I might have chosen a valve made out of carbon. 

But as it happened, on January 28, 2021, lying on an operating table not far from Fenway Park, I got a pig.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

"Innovation on Tap" Excerpt # 9: Willis Carrier, Entrepreneur (119 Years Later)

The seventh chapter of "Innovation on Tap" is the story of entrepreneur Willis Carrier and the birth of modern air conditioning, which celebrates its 119th anniversary today. The excerpt below moves the story ahead some 13 years, to the launch of Carrier Engineering Corporation as a standalone company by Willis and his partner, J.I. Lyle.

While we think of HVAC today as a multi-billion dollar, global, growth industry, the story of Carrier’s launch—in the teeth of World War I, when global trade had ground to a halt--reminds us of just how nimble, innovative, and entrepreneurial Willis and his partners had to be to succeed. 

For more on Carrier and its storied history, see here.


Carrier Engineering Corporation (CEC) opened for business on July 1, 1915. It was a classic start-up. Willis Carrier rented two rooms in the Mutual Life Building in Buffalo for himself, a secretary, and one draftsman. “We ended up with second-hand furniture—two desks, a drafting board and stool and a few files," his secretary recalled. "We had two wicker chairs for visitors, and Mr. Carrier’s friends would ask him if he had swiped them from a tavern.”

Carrier Engineering raised enough cash to run the business for six months without a sale. "This was certainly cutting it pretty fine," Willis recalled. And, for eighteen days, the new company languished. But what World War I had taken away, it suddenly returned. 

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Tweets for Tweets (4): My Favorite Bird Photos of H1 2021

Common Grackle, stained-glass variety

The first six months of 2021 were a blur. I checked into Beth Israel in Boston at the end of January to have my wonky aortic valve replaced and, ever since, have been working out my new normal. 

That's in addition to finding the other, post-COVID, new normal that we've all been seeking. 

Hoping we're post-COVID, of course.

Birding turns out to be the perfect activity for someone ordered by his cardiologist to walk an hour every day. And with Audubon trips just resuming, everything in the first half of 2021 has been local, gentle, and mostly solo.

I'm looking forward to the second half of 2021. Meals at restaurants. Gettysburg visits. Puffins. Old Colony cemetery walks. Nantucket. Book-talks for Innovation on Tap. The next book. A new white paper or two. A blog post or three. A wedding. Maybe a West Coast junket. My new porcine valve--monitored by Sensitech, I assume--needs only to open and close 1.3 million times to get me through to New Year's. 

Piece of cake. 😎🐷

Below are some of my favorite bird photos from the first six months of 2021.

Snowy Owl

Chipping Sparrow in full camo


Saturday, February 20, 2021

The Luxury of Feeling Good (Redux 2021)

As I recuperate from recent surgery, still too green around the gills to research and write an entirely new blog post, I'm re-upping this post from August 2016. I will never again take the luxury of feeling good for granted.

I'm also thinking today of long-haul COVID survivors, hoping we can find a way to heal them.

(August 2016) A few weeks ago I took an Amtrak round-trip to New York City.  I enjoy riding the train, which gives me four undisturbed hours each way to work.  On this particular day, however, I was feeling just a wee bit green, like that time I should have gotten off the sailboat 15 minutes earlier than I did. 

I knew I was in trouble when I opened my iPad and tried to read.  A little rumbly.  A little hazy.  A little green.  I closed the cover, and my eyes, and thought happy thoughts. 

Maybe it was too much sun the day before, or maybe something I ate. Maybe it was simply the human condition.  Whatever the case, I was just slightly off my game that day—not too sick to cancel the trip, but not quite well enough to be comfortable and productive.

There exists in our modern world the presumption--or maybe better--the luxury of feeling good. Some combination of healthy food, enough sleep, exercise, aspirin, and access to real medical care when required have been foundational to my decades in the workforce.  Yours too, undoubtedly.  I know there are unfortunate people who suffer without relief, but most of my co-workers through the years have been able to function comfortably on a daily basis thanks to the many blessings of modern life, from coffee to cold packs to dentists to Tylenol, that keep us upright and productive.

What makes the luxury of feeling good so special is that we are among the very first generations of humankind to expect each day to be pain-free and generally comfortable.

Expecting to Die on Your First Job

Monday, December 28, 2020

Tweets for Tweets (3): My Favorite Bird Photos H2 2020

Harbor Seal off Salisbury Beach, checking me out
For many of us, the second half of 2020 meant staying as far from microscopic, aerosolized harm as possible. For 50 million Americans, birding turned out to be a silver lining, an activity suited for a world where COVID favored crowded indoor venues. I count myself among that lucky 50 million.

Unlike H1 and my excursion to Colombia (see first half-2020 favorites here and 2019 favorites here), H2 2020 instead involved exploring some of the birding locations on the North Shore of Boston. Fortunately, these locations are also some of the best birding spots in America. 

Hosting 365(ish) species annually, Plum Island/Parker River National Wildlife Refuge is usually ranked in the top 5 birding locations in America.  An 11-mile long barrier island, it's a collection of beaches, sand dunes, salt marshes and pannes, freshwater impoundments, and maritime forests. It's bonkers during spring and fall migration, a good spot to see Snowy Owls and Rough-legged Hawks in the winter, and a breeding area for the endangered Piping Plover. 

Salisbury Beach State Reservation sits across the mouth of Merrimack River from Plum Island. It's another site ideally suited for birdwatching, though (for me), a preferred cold-weather site after the RVs have disappeared. Great rafts of Eiders and Scoters float around harbor seals. Snow Buntings practice their takeoffs and landings. In irruptive years like 2020, flocks of Crossbills feast in the pines. And, like Plum Island, Salisbury can host Snowy, Saw-whet, Long-eared Owls, and Eagles . . .

Salisbury is where I saw the Eagle surfing an ice floe from the Atlantic down the Merrimack River in December 2019.

My home base for birding is the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary, Mass Audubon's largest sanctuary and part of the Eastern Essex County Interior Forest Important Bird Area. Its magnificent 2,800 acres are also the hub for a collection of sanctuaries that, though I'll spare you the details, made getting out during COVID not just possible but pleasurable. (One of these sanctuaries, Rough Meadows, took me back to my business school days and one of business history's greats, Professor Alfred Chandler. I wrote about my visit to that sanctuary here.)