Re: February 2010

Off-Court Success

Successful, hardworking, savvy, and humble; at the pinnacle of the game; and leveraging his good fortune on the court to have broader impact -- Steve Nash sets the example in many ways ("Transition Game").

Aaron Brookes
Aptos, California

Not Quite Super

As both a consumer of prosthetic arms and an engineer working on the most ambitious prosthetic-arm project in history, I have significant problems with Paul Hochman's portrayal of the clinical state of the industry ("Super Human"). Since I lost my arm in Iraq in 2005, I can tell you that the U.S. government has spared no expense in giving me, and other military patients, the state-of-the-art in prosthetic limbs. My response when someone says about my arm, "Wow, that's really cool," is often the polar opposite of Mr. Hochman's claim: "No, it's not. When it's good enough that you want an elective amputation, then it'll be cool. Trust me, we're nowhere close."

The meme that Mr. Hochman bought into -- that modern technology is righting the wounds of war and others, and that we can "[s]ave [our] tears for Tiny Tim" -- is a happy ending that doesn't yet exist. I was interviewed by 60 Minutes last year. I talked for hours about the nontechnical problems that we were facing just to imagine an advanced arm reaching the marketplace. What came out was about a minute and a half of very carefully worded quotes and voice-over that left the impression that thought-controlled arms were just around the corner, if not here already.

What's the problem? It's the economics, stupid. There are only 193 service members missing arms as of January 2010. Cancer and vehicle trauma, while more significant, don't add many patients to the customer pool, which remains in the tens of thousands in the U.S. Add to this the reality that most insurance companies refuse to pay $30,000 for what they call an "experimental" or "purely cosmetic" myoelectric arm, and that doesn't amount to many customers for an arm that could cost 10 times as much. We need to fix the lack of transparency in the way our government conducts scientific research and address our abysmal failure to translate the results of basic research to the clinic in the absence of a clear economic incentive. If we keep letting people claim these problems are solved, it will become increasingly difficult to ask for money to continue trying.

Jon Kuniholm
Durham, North Carolina
openprosthetics.ning.com

I am an arm amputee and my experience is that current body-powered prosthetics is 1940s technology sold for dream prices that breaks after six weeks, while myoelectrics is 1970s technology sold for astronomical prices that breaks even sooner.

Wolf Schweitzer
Bruettisellen, Switzerland

New Look

I couldn't put my finger on why but for the first time in months, I found myself enthusiastically reading Fast Company. Then I read about the redesign in the editor's letter. We often notice design only when it doesn't work. I can't say whether the redesign is responsible for my renewed interest, or whether it's the content. Either way, keep doing what you're doing. It's working.

Paul Smith
Nevada City, California

I picked up your February issue to read and, squinting through a few pages, decided to toss it in my pile of recycled magazines. You make a reference to new typeface. If by "new typeface" you mean "smaller font," you have not moved in my direction. How about this as a marketing experiment: Publish an issue with two articles in larger type, maybe 12 point. See if you get more reader response to those two articles. I do find your magazine interesting. Hope you will find a way in which I won't have to "work" to read it.

Don Stosberg
Frankfort, Kentucky

Urban Constructs

Thanks for the extremely informative article "The New New Urbanism." I have taught and practiced urban design for more than 15 years, including large-scale projects for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and Oppenoffice. Your article is an indication that we are entering a completely different era of city building.

Erik Sun
Brooklyn, New York

The question is, How do we house the amount of people expected to be born over the next 50 years? There is massive opportunity in existing cities to redevelop old energy-inefficient buildings and vacant parking lots. I agree we will need new cities as well, but why not have mixed-use, reasonably sized, dense development with connected roof gardens, not ridiculous high-rises where we need to pump water 700 feet into the sky every time someone flushes the toilet?

Elliot Young
Portland, Oregon

Foundation Faux Pas

"We Really Need to Talk" has served its purpose -- to spark debate. Nancy Lublin is correct: Marketing is not overhead. If your organization's program is to "activate" people, money spent reaching them is a program cost. Foundations want to fund "new." They should fund "impact" even if that comes in the form of something proven and "old."

James C. Elbaor
New York, New York

We would like to add a suggestion to Lublin's open letter to foundations: Foundations need to make better use of data and make the data transparent. For example, when The Greenlining Institute found that only a tiny percentage of foundation dollars were going to minority-led not-for-profits, our call for foundations to make that diversity data public met strong resistance. But such data could help foundations track their mar-ket performances, especially in a majority-minority state like California.

Orson Aguilar
Berkeley, California

Walk This Way

One flaw in this hospital-of-the-future design ("First, Do No Harm") is that the staff will have to do an unnecessary amount of walking every day, which wastes resources and creates too much wear and tear on the staff. I think you need to consider a star-shaped design, in which the rooms are connected to one great room where the staff is located. This approach will reduce the distance a member of the staff needs to walk every day, compared to the traditional way, with long hallways, lined with rooms on either side.

Martin Johansson
Dublin, Ireland

The American Dream

As a longtime Volkswagen owner, I read "The Germans Are Coming" immediately. After finishing the article, I knew the gap between Stefan Jacoby's vision for VW in America and the reality is larger than ever. Mr. Jacoby need only to drive to his local VW dealer in northern Virginia to see this. That leatherette interior the dealers wanted in the new Golf? Doesn't have it. Nor does it have a center armrest that we've been asking to have for years. Sure, the upscale TDI version has these features, but you'll be paying an almost $5,000 premium for the diesel engine. I want VW to succeed, but Germany, you're making it really hard for yourselves.

Ernie Paskey
Ashburn, Virginia

The real reason Americans will never buy a lot of Volkswagens: the repair bills. I just expect to hear $1,400, at least, whenever I take in my Passat GLX V6. Why does it cost $1,600 for a VW timing belt, but $500 for Mazda's or Mitsubishi's? It's not cup holders that are holding VW back in the U.S.

Janet Ruby
Kansas City, Kansas

Green Goods

It's awesome that Walmart is taking its Sustainability Index so seriously ("Attention, Walmart Shoppers: Clean-up in Aisle Nine"). But once this index is in place and a solid majority of the businesses are following it, then what? "Consume more, it's okay -- these products are good for the environment?" I realize that one of retailers' main objectives is growing basket size, which typically means buying more. I don't see how consuming more sustainable products is going to be so great for the planet.

Marshall Keener
Morristown, New Jersey

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