Data Sheet—How Thomas Edison Used Vaporware to Thwart Rivals

This morning I offer a hodgepodge of items from things I’ve been reading about.

I briefly covered the 2015 trial of Ellen Pao versus Kleiner Perkins, her VC employer she sued for gender discrimination. She lost that suit, but now she’s having her say in full, and I highly recommend the excerpt from her new book, Reset, in the current issue of New York Magazine. Her first-person account of her experience is riveting and saddening. Never mind the litigation. No one should be treated the way she says she was.

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What is so exciting about Chinese capitalism is the raw tension between state control and unbridled—even ebullient—capitalism. If you haven’t read it yet, please enjoy this New York Times piece about Beijing’s efforts to stop too-long, silly, political or otherwise objectionable names.

The article made me think of my grandfather, a Russian immigrant who traveled the U.S. in the 1930s visiting de-commissioned military bases, buying their apparel and other wares wholesale and then selling them retail in a Chicago story he called the Military Supply Co. When that business played out he got into the trophy and engraving business, which for a while continued to be called by its camouflaged-inspired name. Then, sensing opportunity, my grandfather, an American original who had changed his birth name from Moishe to Jay Stuart, also changed the name of his business to A-AAA Engraving. The reason? Long before Google he wanted his Yellow Pages listing at the very top of list when people sought trophies or engraving services. Certainly no government agency stopped him.

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I also highly recommend this wonderful review of a new book called American Eclipse about the frenzy of the rare celestial occurrence we experienced this week, but from the late 19th century. Two nuggets that apply so well today: The great inventor Thomas Edison, it seems, was a fan of what would later be known as “vaporware,” or announcing products that weren’t nearly ready for public consumption. As well, women who were scientists felt it was important to visibly demonstrate their seriousness of purpose to a dismissive male majority.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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Lastly, Yesterday's Data Sheet introduced The Ledger, Fortune's new initiative covering blockchain, fintech, and more. Unfortunately, we gave you a bum link. Here is the correct link with more details on The Ledger.

Adam Lashinsky
@adamlashinsky
adam_lashinsky@fortune.com

NEWSWORTHY

Strange bedfellows. Walmart and Google are teaming up to challenge Amazon in the realm of shopping via digital assistant. Amazon's Echo can take voice-dictated shopping orders fulfilled by Amazon.com. Now Google's assistant will let customers shop at Walmart with their voice.

Another rectangular slab. Samsung is expected to unveil its Galaxy Note 8 phone at an event in New York today. The device is rumored to have a 6.3-inch screen, a dual lens rear camera and, hopefully, a much safer battery than the previous model. Meanwhile, wondering about all the new features expected to be in the new iPhones next month? Bloomberg has a round up. And looking out to 2018, the site Phandroid has some rumors about the Galaxy S9.

Pain in the hard drive. Backing up all the data on your computer used to be a pain until the advent of easy to use, affordable cloud services like CrashPlan. Whoops. Code42, the company that runs the popular backup site, said it's ending the consumer version of service. The Wirecutter has a useful rundown of the alternatives.

Haven't I read this before? The New York Times reports that Apple has scaled back its self-driving car effort. You may have read that last year in a similar piece by Bloomberg.

Gold watch time. Some longtime techies announced they would retire. Stacy Smith, who started at Intel in 1988 and served for 9 years as CFO, will depart at the end of January, the company said. And GoDaddy CEO Blake Irving, who also worked at Xerox, Microsoft and Yahoo in his career, will step down at year end.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

More than a few recent think pieces have argued that the dominance of big tech giants like Facebook, Google, and Amazon might be crushing competition and innovation in the economy and prompting the need for greater regulation. Professor Joshua Gans at the University of Toronto's Roman School of Management has an interesting history lesson that may help inform that debate.

It was just 50 years ago that famed economist John Kenneth Galbraith published his book, The New Industrial State, warning that technology was allowing a few dominant firms to quash competition and innovation. Some are still with us, like AT&T and IBM. Some are dead or dying, like Sears and Kodak. As Gans observes:

Suffice it to say, the dominant corporations of 1967 did not have quite the control over their destinies that Galbraith was convinced of. His theory predicted that the most valuable companies would be those with the most revenue to spend on large capital investments and workforces. That turned out not to be the case. The winners today aren’t Galbraithian.

BEFORE YOU GO

With tonight's Powerball top prize hovering at over $700 million, or a meager $443 million if you take the all cash upfront option, the Washington Post's Wonkblog has the story of how we got here. That is, how the lottery has made the game increasingly tougher to win to create bigger payouts that, in turn, attract more players. Odds of winning tonight? One in 292,201,338. Good luck!

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman. Find past issues, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters.

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