Memorable Concerts 2018

Posted February 8, 2019 by meisen
Categories: Music

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Here’s the recap of  my favorite  concerts of 2018. Yeah, I’m late in posting it. But 13 years into writing this annual piece for Isthmus online. I can say my passion hasn’t cooled for live music.

Take a bow Charlie Hunter, Rodney Crowell, UW Opera, Laurie Anderson, Chicago Symphony, Joe Lovano, Vijay Iyer, Dara Tucker, Emanuel Ax, Dave Alvin, Jon Langford, Jimmie Dale Gimore, Gil Shaham, Tracy Nelson, Ben Sidran, Boz Scaggs and, yes, other great artists.

I write:

In the course of 85 or so shows I saw in 2018, I found lots of momentsof transcendence, revelation, pure joy, mindless boogie and dark insights into the crooked timber of human nature.

That’s to say, the music I like is more than notes. It’s more than entertainment. It’s also about casting a spell. Where time seems to be suspended. Where the faithful gather around the campfire to hear stories of danger and epic romance. Where the magic falls gently over us like a mist. I had those moments in 2018.

None more so than hearing John Luther Adams’ minimalist masterpiece Become Ocean performed on April 7 by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra in the Basilica of St. Josaphat in Milwaukee. There was no more perfect match of music and setting than hearing the shimmering tidal-like movements in the glorious domed basilica. The music floated up and around and washed over the audience like the waves of an ocean before slowly receding. Lost in the experience? That was me.

Adams (no relation to minimalist icon John Adams) deservedly won the Pulitzer Prize for Become Ocean in 2014. The Alaska-based composer is mightily influenced by the experience of raw, overpowering nature. This is compelling yet humbling music that left me in a state of awe.

It was my favorite concert of the year.

To read more, please go here.

As you’ll see, all of the concerts s are within driving distance of Madison. That excluded a quick trip to Austin where I managed to squeeze in shows by R&B stalwart Lou Ann Barton, the magnificent Shelby Lynne and Mike Flanigin’s greasy organ trio featuring Jimmie Vaughan. Marvelous one and all.

What Next For WARF?

Posted December 18, 2018 by meisen
Categories: TheDailyPage.com/Isthmus, UW-Madison Research Series

Tags: , , , , ,

Like a giant iceberg in the North Atlantic, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation is intimidatingly large yet mostly  hidden beneath the waves. It  looms over the local tech economy.

In this Isthmus cover story, I take a crack at examining WARF’s ups and downs in moving the discoveries of UW Madison researchers  to the broader world. I find it struggling to maintain its competitive edge, criticised by venture capitalists,  but gearing up its entrepreneurial game under managing editor Erik Iverson.

The story begins:

For an executive who just watched a half-billion dollars swirl down the drain, Erik Iverson is a cool cucumber. Just maybe the right guy at a crucial moment for the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.

Iverson, a youngish 50 and a bit of a jock, is now two years into his role as the change-minded managing director of UW-Madison’s banged-up but still powerful technology licensing operation with 3,000 patents in its portfolio.

That’s to say, Iverson sits atop a 93-year-old independent nonprofit that for decades has been fabulously successful in bringing campus discoveries to the public and, not incidentally, socking away $2.9 billion in assets to benefit UW-Madison.

WARF’s contributions to UW-Madison programs this year? About $86 million, including $12.5 million to subsidize the privately run Morgridge Institute for Research.

But now WARF finds itself vulnerable and somewhat weakened. It faces a transformed marketplace that is not pliable to WARF’s old and settled ways of doing business.

In September a federal appeals court threw out a monumental $506 million award WARF received in a patent-infringement suit brought against Apple. (WARF has appealed the reversal, but Iverson admits such challenges are seldom successful.)

WARF’s licensing revenue dropped from $57.7 million in 2011 to $20 million in 2017 — stark evidence that for the first time in memory it no longer has a lucrative patent burnishing the bottom line. (Zemplar, a kidney disease drug discovered by legendary UW researcher Hector DeLuca, generated a humongous $500 million in royalties before the last of its patents expired in 2016.)

And for all the celebrations marking the 20th anniversary of UW-Madison researcher James Thompson’s stem-cell breakthrough, WARF has found that the related patents are not the huge moneymakers once envisioned. (Stem cells are basically a tool used in the search for new therapeutics; it’s the successful life-changing treatments, if they emerge, that will be mega-valuable.)

Iverson gets how serious WARF’s challenge is.

“Tech transfer is bloody hard. Really, really hard,” he says of moving basic academic research to the marketplace. “If you can find one diamond in the rough every 10 or 15 years you’re ahead of the curve.”

Yet Iverson, a veteran of Seattle’s vibrant tech scene, is confident that WARF’s newly expanded entrepreneurial program will solidify its success in the 21st century.

That diamond in the rough — the next Zemplar — will be found, he predicts.

To read more, please go here.

This is the last of five stories on tech transfer at UW-Madison. You can find the earlier pieces on this website or check out the special Isthmus landing page.

UW’s Missed Opportunity

Posted December 16, 2018 by meisen
Categories: Development, TheDailyPage.com/Isthmus, UW-Madison Research Series

Tags: , , , , ,

I wrote early about UW-Madison’s Discovery 2 Product program. I was mostly impressed by what I saw as a serious effort to turn UW discoveries into viable  businesses. Given the UW’s paradoxical standing as a top-tier research industry with a ho-hum record  for entrepreneurialism, D2P seemed like a crucially needed step forward.

Three years later I checked back to find that, despite some successes, D2P had fallen out of favor and now “exemplifies what the campus keeps getting wrong on entrepreneurialism.”

From the story:

Over the past five years D2P has — at different times — been heralded, well funded, disparaged, put on ice, reconfigured and revived at a far more modest scale than originally envisioned.

Along the way D2P also became an archetype of both the university’s talent at spinning a good story (UW is flush with publicists) and of UW-style Game of Thrones palace intrigue that sometimes leaves blood on the floor.

The program was created to assist both seasoned faculty researchers and ambitious students to get their bright ideas to market. Its boosters included campus notables Paul DeLuca, spotlighted in our story on UW med school innovations, and Mark Cook, a revered ag school researcher and serial entrepreneur. D2P’s decline, in part, can be connected to DeLuca’s retirement as campus provost in 2014 and Cook’s death in 2017 at age 61. Two important D2P sentinels were gone, and the effort suffered.

“It was slow death by a thousand cuts,” recounts former D2P staffer Will Robus. He cites how budget cuts, a hiring freeze and the overt hostility of its campus overseer, Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education Marsha Mailick, crippled D2P. (Mailick, now retired, declined to be interviewed for this story.)

To find out how D2P went wrong, please go here.

UW Fireworks Over Sponsored Research

Posted December 16, 2018 by meisen
Categories: Tech, TheDailyPage.com/Isthmus, UW-Madison Research Series

Tags: , , , ,

Here’s more in my Isthmus series on the ups and down of UW-Madison’s efforts to popularize cutting-edge research. This online-only story illustrates the campus’ hands-off policy towards participating in industry-sponsored research.

In this story I looked at an example: The Waisman Center’s pointed refusal to work with the Dane County biotech startup Stemina Biomarker Discovery in its search for a blood test to identify children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

In contrast to Waisman, eight other clinical sites, including the University of California-Davis, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Vanderbilt University in Nashville, agreed to conduct  Stemina’s testing.

I report that the early findings of the $8 million study are promising. Certain expressions of autism spectrum disorder could be identified by a blood test.

I write:

This holds the promise of earlier diagnoses and treatment geared to a child’s biology, [Stemina co-funder Elizabeth] Donley says. She told the tech website Xconomy Wisconsin that Stemina’s business division will begin shipping the test to “early adopter” laboratories before the end of the year.

Donley is bullish. “The CAMP study is going to change the way kids are diagnosed. It’s a big deal,” she told me.

[The Waisman Center’s Albee] Messing is not impressed. When I contacted him in August, he sent me a statement that he said represented his thinking as well as the judgment of the Waisman Center and UW Health:

“We share the goal of developing diagnostic methods that allow early identification of individuals at risk for these disorders. However, the approach advocated by Stemina Biomarker, Inc., a for-profit company that necessarily combines scientific and commercial interests, is not one that the scientists at the Waisman Center believe to be valid.”

Donley was furious.

She emailed Messing, copying the chancellor and others: “You know nothing about our approach because you never looked at it. You know nothing about our .. study because you never participated in it. You know nothing about the results or what we’ve accomplished because you’ve never seen them.”

There were more fireworks and also a retracted statement from Messing. To read more, please go here.

UW Success… And Failure

Posted November 12, 2018 by meisen
Categories: Development, TheDailyPage.com/Isthmus, UW-Madison Research Series

Tags: , , , , , ,

In this dispatch on UW-Madison’s struggle to champion its groundbreaking discoveries and inventions, I frame the issue in these terms:

“UW-Madison is one of the great universities in the world, spending more than $1 billion in research funding a year. But increasingly there are complaints of sclerotic bureaucracy hampering research, indifference or hostility to business-supported projects, and an undistinguished record of launching tech startups from that bounty of research.

This story holds up the UW medical school  as a campus leader in commercializing  research, particularly with GE medical scanning devices. I explain how the creation of a health-care cluster in the west end of campus has paid off in better medical care by bringing together researchers, UW Hospital clinicians, patients and medical students.

This is the good news.

The bad news is how [other] business relationships continue to vex the campus. More typical is UW’s failure to reach a research agreement with the Ford Motor Co.

The auto giant had wanted a “master agreement” with UW-Madison that set the terms for joint research projects not just for a particular department or center — as is the Madison custom — but across the full campus, which has upwards of 200 separate research entities.

Ford’s interest is potentially huge for UW. The auto industry is facing an existential crisis as Silicon Valley disrupters — including Google’s Waymo, Uber, Lyft, Tesla, and others — try to push their way into the car industry’s driver’s seat. Led by a TED-talk kind of innovative leader named James Hackett, Ford continues to look for more strategic/holistic relationships with top-tier universities for research….

In late 2017, Susan LaBelle, then head of the UW’s Office of Corporate Relations, cited the failed Ford contract in a candid memo to her boss, Charles Hoslet, in explaining the “stagnant corporate sponsored research at UW-Madison.”

….That’s a big problem for Ford. “Almost all top-tier research universities are now willing to negotiate cross-campus master agreements,” says Ed Krause, Ford’s global manager for external alliances. He describes negotiating with the campus as “uniquely difficult.”

To read more, please go here.

UW-Madison’s Research Challenge

Posted November 9, 2018 by meisen
Categories: Tech, TheDailyPage.com/Isthmus, UW-Madison Research Series

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I’m late in posting the stories I’ve written for Isthmus on UW-Madison’s struggles as a great research university to get its inventions and discoveries into the broader world.  Here’s how the first story begins:

It’s a story that Madison loves to hear.

Two plucky entrepreneurs, Kevin Conroy and Manesh Arora, are hired in 2009 to revive a moribund health-tech startup in Boston. They have the temerity to move it from the best-known metropolis in the country for medical innovation to the much smaller Madison, where Conroy had run Third Wave Technologies. Their company had but two employees.

“Without the UW-Madison, Exact Sciences would not be in Madison,” Conroy says flatly. “We came here because the UW’s biochemistry program is one of the top in the country. It enabled us to hire really strong Ph.D. level scientists.”

Flash forward nine years: Exact Sciences has about 1,600 employees, 200 job vacancies, a stock market valuation of around $8 billion, and a fast-selling non-invasive colorectal cancer test called Cologuard. Other cancer tests are in the works.

Exact Sciences personifies the rise of the new Madison. It rides a wave of tech innovation that is closely tied to the UW’s fabled research prowess. But Cologuard was not tested at UW Hospital and Clinics, as you might expect, but at Mayo Clinics, which is Exact Sciences’ long-time partner. Exact’s other medical trials were conducted at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

Three years ago, when I wrote a mostly upbeat Isthmus cover story on technology transfer at UW-Madison, Conroy was a brooding presence. Doing clinical trials with the UW School of Medicine and Public Health was just too complicated, too prone for delay with the clinical trial review board, he complained. Both Anderson and Mayo were easier to work with “for a company operating at the speed of light.”

Conroy was heard. Exact Sciences is now doing preparatory research with the UW med school, but not yet a full-blown federally approved clinical trial.

Conroy sees progress. He considers himself a UW-Madison booster. But his impatience remains, and he’s definitely not alone in feeling the campus doesn’t yet have its act together on embracing the 21st century innovation economy. “C’mon, we can do better,” he says, sounding like a football coach at half-time.

To read more, please go here. And while you’re at it keep an eye out for other stories in the series.

Cocktail Revelations

Posted October 15, 2018 by meisen
Categories: Divertissement, TheDailyPage.com/Isthmus

Tags: , , , , , ,

I’ve been working on and off for months on a major writing project. I think it will be a big thing. But, sorry, this story has nothing to do with it. Nope, this one is all about the pleasures of drinking Boulevardiers and fat-washed martinis with your friends. Also in reading  Kingsley Amis’ earnest defense of social drinking in his magnum opus, Everyday Drinking. Not to mention I report on the good Oxford scholars who emphasize the “social” in social drinking:

Dear readers, put down your phones! Science says you should drink with your friends. Seriously. I have in my hand the printout of “Functional Benefits of (Modest) Alcohol Consumption” written by seven Oxford University researchers. They say that drinking with your buds at the local pub may be linked to an improved sense of well-being.

Okay, that’s not exactly a big surprise. But confirming the obvious is what college professors sometimes do. And I know you’re thinking what I’m thinking: Just how do I get a piece of this research money? But the investigators also found, according to Oxford publicists, “that people who have a [pub] that they visit regularly tend to feel more socially engaged and contented and are more likely to trust other members of their community” while those who don’t “had significantly smaller social networks and felt less engaged with, and trusting of, their local communities.”

Yes, it’s the fellowship (and sistership) of drink.

Oh, there’s so much more in my story. Including revelations that could  change your life! (Or not.) Go here for more.

Questions for Candidates

Posted May 7, 2018 by meisen
Categories: Development, Politics, TheDailyPage.com/Isthmus

Tags:

Not long ago, the Wisconsin Policy Forum released a seriously wonky and widely ignored paper on levy limits. Even the mention of this arcane tax issue would send most people scurrying to FaceBook for relief. But while the topic is boring it is also important.

Since 2006 Wisconsin has dampened the state’s high property taxes by limiting  municipal property tax increases to the rate of new construction in the community. At first, the consequences were muted because virtually all parts of the state were enjoying a building boom. But very quickly, the WPF researchers found, the state was hammered by two recessions, and new development was “increasingly isolated, with relatively few communities experiencing even modest growth.”

This core truth was the starting point of “The Two Wisconsins” series I wrote last year for Isthmus. It  highlighted how a vast swath of the Dairy State is still mired in recession. I followed up with a recent column that argued the state’s gubernatorial candidates need to be challenged on how they would help the state’s left-behinds get on their feet.  I wrote:

The heart of the Wisconsin gestalt in 2018 … is the economic chasm dividing the state. Simply put, the good times celebrated in Dane County, the Milwaukee suburbs, the Fox River Valley and a few other lucky communities are not shared in the forgotten precincts of rural and inner-city Wisconsin….

Lost in the huzzahs of Wisconsin’s record-low jobless rate and other benchmarks of success is the stubborn fact that the recessionary downturn that took hold at the turn of the century never ended for the state’s left-behinds. Too often, these are neighborhoods of troubled schools, dead-end or non-existent jobs, broken dreams and lots of drug overdoses.

The candidates need to be judged on how they would create broad-based Wisconsin prosperity.

To see how I lay out the issues, please go here.

I’ll Drink To That

Posted February 27, 2018 by meisen
Categories: Divertissement, TheDailyPage.com/Isthmus

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I’ve always liked the camaraderie of sharing a good drink with friends and family. It’s one of life’s pleasures. Work hard, take care of business. You got to do all that. But these off-duty moments while sharing casual talk and small intimacies are experiences I savor.

All the better I can report, Dane County is in the midst of an unprecedented burst of creativity in brewing, distilling and winemaking. Lots of  opportunities, in other words, for folks like me to share the fellowship of an adult beverage.

As I wrote in an Isthmus cover story:

Just go strolling on Madison’s near east side. Late this fall I was out walking the dog one night when I stumbled upon — in a tucked-away industrial court — the brand new $1.2 million State Line Distillery, 1413 Northern Court. Glory! Founder John Mleziva even allows dogs in the tasting room. (And quite the room it is: An artfully designed space with weathered barn lumber and a great piece of abstract art representing whiskey making by Madison’s Leslie Smith III.)

As Fred Swanson points out, a Madison “Beverage Row” is busily taking shape on the east side. A 15-minute walk from State Line sits the Old Sugar Distillery tasting room, 931 E. Main St., which offers a full sampling of its whiskey, rum, brandy and specialty spirits. Or how about perambulating to Bos Meadery, 849 E. Washington Ave., for its fermented honey drink? As for craft breweries, you can’t swing a dead cat on the east side without hitting a growler: I count 10 eastside craft beer tap rooms.

Drive a little farther out and you find Dancing Goat Distillery in Cambridge and Driftless Glen Distillery in Baraboo. And if you head south or go west in Madison and Dane County it’s more of the same. Lots of brew pubs, a smattering of distilleries and more wineries than you would think possible in our cold climate.

Hey, it’s a good thing. And not just because Wisconsinites enjoy a good buzz. Whether it’s a distillery, brewery or winery, all of these makers are idiosyncraticspecific in their missions, and forceful in staking a claim to the Wisconsin terroir. Yeah, it gets down to our identity. And when you consider how so much of small town Wisconsin didn’t share in the economic recovery, and is losing its best and brightest young people to big cities, championing local identity seems no small matter.

Brian Cummins, who founded Great Northern Distilling in Plover, near Stevens Point, makes this case. He points out how Great Northern is one of six beverage makers in the Central Wisconsin Craft Collective producing beer, wine and spirits — all within a 30-minute drive of one another in Point, Plover, Amherst and Rosholt.

Take the tour. They’re proud of their work.

“We’re part of the new creative community,” says Cummins, underlining how quality of life goes up for everyone in a region when there are such artisan producers. “It’s something to point to that makes their towns unique.”

Creative placemaking is what keeps young people in the community, he adds. “For us in central and northern Wisconsin, we need to maintain our millennials. It just can’t continue to drain to Minneapolis, Madison and Milwaukee.”

 

To read more (and to learn how a great tasting event called Distill America has led the way), please go here.

Wynonna to Kamasi: Favorite 2017 Shows

Posted January 9, 2018 by meisen
Categories: Music, TheDailyPage.com/Isthmus

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

I’ll just spill it out…some the musicians whose concerts I enjoyed most in 2017:

Jon Dee Graham. Steve Reich. Herb Alpert and Lani Hall. Wynonna. Hayes Carll. Frank Catalano and Jimmy Chamberlin. Yo-Yo Ma and Esa-Pekka Salonen. Alejandro Escovedo.  Andrew Cyrille and Bill McHenry. Sinkane and Bassel & The Supernaturals. Kahil El’Zabar and David Murray. And most of all: Kamasi Washington.

As I explained in my annual Isthmus roundup:

Somehow I saw around 100 live shows near and far in 2017. That’s a record in the 12 years I’ve been chronicling my annual listening habits. What follows are my 16 favorite nights.

To be upfront, these impressions are a fan’s notes. I’m not a critic or a musician and have less technical musical knowledge than your typical four-year-old Suzuki violin student. But I love being in the musical moment, and I have wide tastes. Like other concert nerds, I’m willing to travel for tunes; so you’ll see some shows are within hailing distance of Madison.

To get the full 5,000-word treatment, please go here.


%d bloggers like this: