Economist 10/2/15

  1. Lufthansa announced that it would begin to offer broadband internet on short-haul and domestic routes, with the first planes being fitted with the technology in summer 2016. This is significant because European carriers have been laggards compared with American ones in this respect.Then earlier this week, Virgin America announced that it is teaming up with Netflix, an online video service. Netflix subscribers are to receive complimentary access to movies and television shows on its planes. Virgin America, which claims to be the only carrier to offer Wi-Fi on all of its planes, recently signed a deal with Viasat, a satellite-maker that will allow it to offer faster onboard internet.According to a survey by TripAdvisor last year, only 10% of Americans are prepared to pay for onboard Wi-Fi.Hence the airlines will have an incentive to get as many passengers logged on as possible; that means prices will tumble.
  2. IBM Watson has undertaken a successful test-run of a real-world application, by encoding the expertise of the doctors and nurses at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre, in New York, for use by other medics, but it has yet to make real money. A year ago, in the hope of doing so, IBM made Watson available for general business use, letting firms create and market their own Watson-based apps. Some 350 have now signed up to do so.Ross Intelligence, in Toronto, is doing something similar for lawyers. They can pose to its Watson app obscure questions on bankruptcy, and receive answers complete with citations and useful readings from legislation or case law.IBM itself makes money from this by the simple expedient of charging firms for access to Watson, according to a standard menu of fees. Transcribing a minute of speech costs 2 cents. Help with a decision (such as choosing a bottle of wine) costs 3 cents. A personality analysis is 60 cents.
  3. On October 3rd 1965 President Lyndon Johnson signed the Immigration and Nationality Act into law, sweeping away a system that favoured white Europeans over other races. One of its main consequences was the beginning of mass immigration to America from Asia.But on average Asian-Americans are unusually well educated, prosperous, married, satisfied with their lot and willing to believe in the American dream: 69% of Asians, compared with 58% of the general public, think that “most people who want to get ahead can make it if they are willing to work hard.”: 49% of Asian-Americans have a bachelor’s degree, compared with 28% of the general population. Whereas Asian-Americans make up 5.6% of the population of the United States, according to the complaint to the Department of Education they make up more than 30% of the recent American maths and physics Olympiad teams and Presidential Scholars.
  4. Why do they do so well? Amy Hsin of the City University of New York and Yu Xie of the University of Michigan examined the progress of 6,000 white and Asian children, from toddlers through school, to find an answer.Their data suggested that Asian outperformance is thanks in large part to hard work. Ms Hsin and Ms Xie’s study showed a sizeable gap in effort between Asian and white children, which grew during their school careers.The Asians were likelier to believe that mathematical ability is learned, not innate; and Asian parents expected more of their children than white ones did.Asian-American parents are a lot likelier to spend at least 20 minutes a day helping their children with their homework than any other ethnic group.Thanks to such pressures and hard work, many Asian-Americans do end up in top universities—but not as many as their high-school performance would seem to merit. Some Asians allege that the Ivy Leagues have put an implicit limit on the number of Asians they will of Thomas Espenshade and Alexandria Walton Radford of Princeton, who looked at the data on admissions and concluded that Asian-Americans need 140 SAT points out of 1,600 more than whites to get a place at a private university, and that blacks need 310 fewer points.
  5. It is true that although Asian-Americans do remarkably well at school and university, and have high average incomes, in the workplace they are under-represented in top jobs. A “bamboo ceiling” seems to apply. Asians do well in the lower and middle levels of companies and professions, but are less visible in the upper echelons.Buck Gee, Janet Wong and Denise Peck, Asian-American executives who put together data from Google, Intel, Hewlett Packard, LinkedIn and Yahoo for a report published by Ascend, an Asian-American organisation, found that 27% of professionals, 19% of managers and 14% of executives were Asian-American.At the very top of the tree, Asian-Americans are nigh-invisible.High-flying Asian-Americans, like the three authors of the Ascend report, suggest that cultural patterns may contribute to the group’s under-representation at the top. “There’s something in the upbringing that makes Asians shy,” says Mr Gee. “Engineers are nerds, but within that self-selected group of nerds, Asians are even more nerdy.” “We’re brought up to be humble,” says Ms Wong. “My parents didn’t want to rock the boat. It’s about being quiet, not making waves, being part of the team. In corporate life, you have to learn to toot your horn.”

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