Sunday, July 27, 2014

What if road laws treated bicycles as first class citizens?

Roads were not always the dominion of cars, and traffic laws were not always written only for cars. It took decades, and significant cultural transformation, for pedestrians to become 2nd class citizens.

There’s change in the air though. Sweden launched Vision Zero in the 90s. Dutch experiments showed the safety and health value of segregated bicycle travel. Manhattan launched a bicycle share system with far fewer fatalities than anybody expected. Over my 20 years in the Twin Cities I’ve seen amazing growth in our local bikeways.

States like Idaho (!) are thinking about what traffic laws would look like if they weren’t written only for automobiles. While we pray for autonomous vehicles, and while we build more segregated bicycle trails and better sidewalks, we can also think about what balanced laws would look like. For example… 

Current stateCarNon-car (bicycle, pedestrian, inline skater, etc)
Stop Sign Stop until clear Yield
Red Light Stop until green (no right turn on red) Stop until clear (Stop sign where cross-traffic doesn’t stop)

A car passing a non-car with less than 3 feet of clearance would be penalized as though it had run a red light. All cars would be required to have proximity detectors, and violation of the 3 foot rule would result in an automatic ticket…

See also:

Thursday, July 24, 2014

My home remedy for a volar (palmar) ganglion cyst

Age has many insults. Among the minor ones are lumps and bumps that come and go — like the Ganglion Cyst of the Wrist. These cysts are annoying, common, and weirdly mysterious.
I like the theory that at least some of them are due to a “a rent in the joint capsule … allow leakage of synovial fluid into the peri-articular tissue. Subsequent reaction between this fluid and local tissue results in the creation of the gelatinous cystic fluid and the formation of the cyst wall”. In plain language, some tear in the joint capsule causes joint fluid to leak and the tissue around the join tries to seal the leak with a thick fluid plug.
These usually happen on the back of the wrist, but I’ve had two on the palm (volar) side of my right wrist. One showed up in 2012 and another 2 years later. Oddly enough, I don’t recall seeing many of these during the five years I was a country GP. I’ve probably forgotten em.
When it first happened I researched the medical literature. I didn’t like any of the options - particularly for palm-side (volar) cysts. Surgery is expensive, prone to complication, and not terribly effective. Aspiration (puncture skin, try to suck out thick fluid) did no better — though it can work better on the dorsal side. It wasn’t clear splinting did anything, and smashing the cyst with “a bible” is problematic for dorsal cysts and ineffective for ventral. The best option seemed to be to do nothing and wait. Except that a volar cyst is a real pain when typing - which I do most of the day.
So I made up my own treatment. I taped a coin over the cyst and wrapped it with tape. Something like this:
Which work great for a day or two, until elastic tape and skin traction made for a nasty burn-like dermatitis. Good thing I was experimenting on myself. So then I went on to make a soft fabric strap out of “Get-A-Grip” multi-use velcro straps …
Ganglion Cyst Splint 3
and I taped a quarter to the strap:
Ganglion Cyst Splint 4
No more nasty skin traction (the transparent tape on the top right is tegaderm, treating my iatrogenic dermatitis/burn).
When I did this in 2012 the cyst had been established for a week. The micro-splint relieved typing discomfort and didn’t get in my way. After a few weeks of wearing it, and a regular splint when sleeping, the cyst abruptly flattened. I don’t know if it drained back into the joint, but it felt that way. I wore the micro-splint for a week or so and then forgot about it. I was careful to keep my wrist straight, though not terribly careful. Sometimes I did palmar pushups instead of straight wrist fist pushups.
Now I’ve got another one. I’ve recreated the splint, but perhaps because the cyst was new this time it flattened immediately. Maybe this time I’ll only need the velcro strap/coin for a week or two.
I doesn’t feel as though activity makes much difference — as long as I wear the splint and don’t extend the wrist (as in a palm-down pushup). So my CrossFit pushups are now fist down, and I’m putting my handstand pushups on hold for a few months (I’ll do wall-walk fist down, wrist straight instead — which should be more painful, hence better).
Caveat emptor. This isn’t science, it’s anecdote. If you try it, don’t blame me when your sarcoma metastasizes (not every lump is a benign cyst). 

Monday, July 07, 2014

Google shutdown policy - Orkut as a standard?

I played with Orkut briefly, so I received a shutdown notice for the 10 yo service around July 1.

Over the past decade, YouTube, Blogger and Google+ have taken off… We will shut down Orkut on September 30, 2014 …  You can export your profile data, community posts and photos using Google Takeout (available until September 2016). We are preserving an archive of all public communities, which will be available online starting September 30, 2014. If you don't want your posts or name to be included in the community archive, you can remove Orkut permanently from your Google account…

Bit of a comedown for G+ to be mentioned in the same phrase as Blogger, a service that’s always seemed one meeting from extinction.

I don’t remember how much notice we were given prior to the Google Shares/Reader shutdown, but I’m guessing Orkut’s 3 months will be a Google standard. Likewise the 2 years of Google Takeout. The public archive feature may be a case-by-case decision.

What’s next for shutdown? Google Voice is being merged into Hangouts, but I suspect many of the call routing features of GV will go away with a 3 month warning (or perhaps spun off into a business product?). Blogger has been next-in-line for so long it almost seems immortal. G+ Facebook-like features look doomed; seems there can be only ONE Facebook — but the end of Twitter might add a few years to G+ social. Otherwise I’m not sure what’s left to kill — more a matter of less pure ad-support and more a mixture of paying for services and ads.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

How quickly can businesses adapt?

iTunes Radio is at least partly funded by music purchases. But now people don't buy music, they stream it.

Similarly, we rent movies, we don’t buy them. I think people still some game add-ons for their phones, but I don’t think the current business model for game apps is all that healthy. Elite software, like Aperture and even iPhoto, is a dying business. There is now exactly one viable product for prosumer photo management on both OS X and Win 8. Those two platforms cost billions to produce, and they are arguably dying legacy products.
There are answers to all of these business issues, but the cycle times are very short. One obvious answer leads to a sort of death spiral; enter new markets quickly, ride the surge, then walk away with growth phase revenue. Then abandon the product. It’s a potential death spiral because with each cycle a certain percentage of customers drops out from churn fatigue. It’s the technological equivalent of slash and burn agriculture, a strategy that works until one hits a carrying capacity limit.
I wonder how something like this would show up in measures of economic productivity and GDP. It feels a bit “singular”.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Why Apple killed the most important applications on the Mac: Aperture and iPhoto

A bong smolders in the sanctum sanctorum of 1 Infinity Loop, Cupertino California. It’s early 2013 and Apple’s most powerful billionaires are looking ahead. Billions of dollars are overflowing Apple’s bank accounts…

“We’re screwed. Totally f*cked. Gimme that bong”.

“Yeah. I know. It’s bad. Google is gonna stomp us. Android owns the world. Schools are gonna do Google Apps on Chromebooks. We were wrong about phablets and now the iPad is gonna die. There’s no way we can catch up with Google Docs.”

“Yeah, we’ve all seen the numbers. We get a few good years … then boom - we’re Microsoft. Damn. Gimme that …”

“Sh*t. We gotta do something. Google’s got the numbers and the Net — how can we fight that?”

“We got something. We got the hardware. We gotta take a different angle and hope Samsung slits Google’s throat — because they hate Google even more than they hate us.”

“There’s plan B. Ditch everything where we ain’t making big money. That pro-software sh*t - we make more money in a day’s iPhone sales that we make on a year of Aperture. Nobody makes money on high end stuff any more. And look at our iPhoto sales — sucking wind for years. Ditch it, ditch it all. Hell, dump the Mac. We’ll be all “internet of things”…”


“No? Hey you sure you don’t want some of this T ..”


“No and Plan B is suicide. We can’t fight Google there. They’ll slaughter us. We gotta go with Plan A. We gotta make stuff that works for the low end and the geeks. We have to do the whole thing and we gotta stop screwing up the software. We screwed up iTunes. iCloud - everything on iCloud. iPhoto — oh, God, we screwed that one so many ways. - took  two years to fix that. iBook — you ever try using that piece of sh*t?. We got money — but we don’t have time. So we get better.”

“Plan A? That’s bad stuff man. We blow that, we’re done.”

“Plan A. And we’re gonna start with stuff we shoulda owned. We’re gonna start with photos. Nobody can manage their photos. People take thousands and lose ‘em all when they drop their phone in the toilet. Photo geeks have thousands in Aperture and they lose ‘em all - no backups.”

“Hah! You think we can do this? We had a great app with iPhoto, but we couldn’t add Library Management because that was an Aperture thing. Then we were five years late with a single iPhoto to Aperture library. We made iPhoto stupider, but we couldn’t make it easy to use. Sh*t we were idiots.”

“Aperture! Hah, that was joke. How many geeks every figured how to use our keyword tree? Even Brainiacs didn’t get that one. Where’d we buy that crap UI from anyway? Looks like something from NeXT.”

Screen Shot 2014 07 04 at 9 00 29 PM

Enough. We do Plan A. We’re gonna make a single application that works with a Phablet or an iMac, one app that scales from kids with phones to camera geeks. Elite and civilian — all of ‘em. We’re gonna burn our bridges — we’re gonna make it official. iPhoto and Aperture are dead.”

“Wow, we’re gonna have a lot of mad customers. But, hell, what are they gonna do? It’s easier to change gender than to move from Aperture to Lightroom — and Adobe ain’t gonna last much longer anyway. There’s no money in pro software, and they got nothing else.”

“So how do we do it? We should be classy. Let folks know we’ll keep the apps going until everything’s set. They’ll be bummed, but we know how to do this right.”


“No?! What do you mean no?!”

"We gotta make Google think we’re idiots. We’ll let it slip out through some blogger mac geeks read. We’ll give ‘em nothing. We’ll make it look like we’re pissing off our best customers. Google won’t suspect a thing. Hell, what are they gonna do? Go to Lightroom?!”

“Pass me that bong”.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Tax refund fraud targets health care workers, exploits big hole in IRS security

I missed this last year, but it’s worth knowing about. The usual suspects are exploiting weak security on tax returns; they steal identities, file returns, get refunds. Often targets physicians for obvious reasons — they tend to have large refunds and physician information is notoriously easy to steal from low security licensing databases.

If it were a corporation with this kinds of security weakness they’d be sued out of existence, but we can’t sue the Feds. 

The IRS is very slowly rolling out a PIN to include with returns to establish (relative) authenticity. There were arrests in late 2013 but this fraud is only going to grow over the next few years unless the security upgrade is accelerated. That would require serious bipartisan political pressure.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Online textbooks are awful. It's time to kill the publishers.

My daughter and I are using “Holt” [1] Mathematics Course 3 for her summer math work. It’s quite a good printed textbook; a used 2007 edition cost about $10 on Amazon.

Her school doesn’t expect parents to buy the used textbook, however. They expect us to use the same material through Holt McDougal Online. Alas, unlike the printed text, the online textbook experience is miserable. Holt is serving up low to medium resolution bitmaps that are barely legible on screen or if printed. Our school district’s acceptance of this awful experience reinforces my fear of their iPad for all learning program. They are not ready for this.

It’s not just the schools that aren’t ready. The big publishers who control school textbooks have had decades to do computer based textbooks — and their products are still lousy.

We need alternatives to the traditional publishers. We need nations, states, provinces and startups to fund new textbooks that are digital from the start. This will kill Holt et al — but we have no choice. They can’t do this. They need to go away.

[1] Publisher names change constantly.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Secular stagnation and the Beveridge curve - the role of frail boomer parents

American unemployment, as economist’s measure it, is back to our post-2000 “norm”. On the other hand economic growth is low; our last quarter would make a fine start to another recession. Krugman et al debate the cause of “secular stagnation” in general, and strangely low labor force participation and Beveridge Curve shift in particular.

The usual suspects are globalization and “IT” (increasingly “AI”, politely referred to as “robots”). I also suspect the dominance of the dysfunctionally powerful modern corporation plays an important role along with the related the rise of economic parasites.

Income inequality is inducing economic distortions that likely also contribute, though I think that effect is partly offset by corporate power. Slowdowns in scientific discovery and technological innovation aren’t helping.

That’s a long list - as one would expect in an eco-econ world where we have to treat economies as ecologies. It takes a lot to change a self-correcting system.

I think we can add more though - including the intersection of demographics and medicine.

Once upon a time, as “recently” (cough) as when I started medical school in 1982, parents died in their 60s and 70s. They weren’t as vigorous as today’s 70 yo’s but they weren’t particularly frail either. They ate poorly, smoked and exercised little — but that’s not enough to make someone frail. It just means that elders died relatively quickly of cancer, heart disease, and organ failure. Dementia was starting to become more common, but it wasn’t universal.

Today’s Boomer parents are different. They stopped smoking 20 or 30 years ago. They’ve had more education and they’ve benefitted from bypass surgery and far better medications for lipid and blood pressure control. Their diets are lousy and they never exercised much — but they’re not nearly as obese as we will be.

So they tend to last — into their 80s. Which is pretty much the end of the road for the human machine. So Boomer parents get to be frail - and demented. That’s an entirely different care burden than any previous generation has known - and it’s hitting the boomer peak of today’s demographic curve. As always, the burden falls largely on women.

The frailty burden is genuinely new. It’s not big enough to explain all of our economic transformation, but I think it plays a significant role.

Fortunately, there’s an obvious fix - and an investment opportunity.

I expect to see massive solar powered robotic dementia care facilities opening across the empty spaces of America — probably as extensions of Google’s data centers. With robotic caretakers, waste water recycling, soy lent green synthetic protein, and high bandwidth connections to companion AIs and VR-integrated remote children this should be quite pleasant.

I’m looking forward to my pod. (Oh, sh*t, I’m in it right no…..)

See also


Friday, June 27, 2014

A warning to family physicians doing educational modules - cultural competency isn't your worst option

The American Board of Family Medicine requires recertification every seven years. The standard modules are rigorous; perhaps absurdly so. They often require answers taken from the medical literature that have a reliability half-life of about 8 months. (That is, half these answers will be incorrect within 8 months of initial publication.)

I'm not warning family docs about those exams however. I'm warning docs who don't actively see patients about something far worse.

If you don't see patients, you need to do one of 3 "alternative modules". As of June 2014 the choices are:

  • cultural competency
  • hand hygiene
  • information management (MIMM)
Emily did hand hygiene. It was annoying and hard on the hands, but pleasantly mindless.

I'm a computer geek, so I thought information management might be interesting.

Oh, fool that I was. I am a broken man on a Halifax pier. Halfway through the exercise I fell sobbing to the floor, begging Emily to end my suffering. By the end, I thought of Winston Smith.  I have foresworn my career. Never again shall I speak of the role of software in medicine. I shall become an itinerant monk, clothed in rags, ranting before the doors of America's medical schools...

Do cultural competency.

You're welcome.

Apple kills Aperture. Observations.

In an alternate universe….

Today in a terse but clear posting on the Aperture web site Tim Cook apologized for the difficult decision to end Apple’s competition in the professional and prosumer photography market. He promised to fully cooperate with Adobe on a migration path to Lightroom that would convert Aperture non-destructive edit metadata to Lightroom format. All image metadata would be preserved. Group, Album and Smart Album functionality would suffer, but Adobe promised to improve their tools to ease the transition. Aperture sales were immediately discontinued. Support through Yosemite and ongoing RAW image updates for new cameras was promised through 2016. Users were saddened but appreciated Apple’s professional approach….

That would be a pleasant universe.

Meanwhile, in the real world, the announcement that Aperture was dead, and that Apple was effectively abandoning professional photography, appeared via Jim Dalrymple’s blog. Aperture remained on sale in the App Store while muddled Apple clarifications showed up in various blogs. Some said saying there would be support through Yosemite, others hinted at helping Adobe with migration to Lightroom. As end-of-life announcements go it was a complete screw-up.

Oh - but users of Logic Pro and Final Cut Pro “should not worry about their apps—they will continue as normal”.


The impact on heavy users of Aperture is heard to overstate. That’s why Gruber’s “that’s the way the cookie crumbles” earned his feed a Gordon-death-click. Maybe I’ll return someday, but The Loop covers the same ground and is a bit less irritating - albeit equally uncritical of Apple. I’m sure Gruber is devastated.

I won’t dwell on the migration path ahead, though it makes my excruciating transition from iPhoto look like a walk in the park. As of today none of my 20,000 or so non-destructive image edits will convert to Lightroom, much less album/image relationships, image/project, folder/image/project, folder/project comments, geo-tags and more. I won’t even mention Videos (which were never well supported in Aperture or iPhoto).

I’m not doing anything for a while, but one immediate impact is that I won’t be buying any camera that Aperture doesn’t currently support. If Aperture will indeed work on Yosemite then I’ve got years to convert — and I won’t be upgrading to Yosemite if there’s any doubt about Aperture support. (Which means no major Apple hardware purchases next year.)

Beyond Apple’s announcement fiasco, I was struck by the generally dismissive commentary — as though it were a trivial move to go to Lightroom. Happily, now that I’ve killed Daring Fireball, I can say the blogs I follow are relatively realistic about the impact of Aperture’s demise.

It’s not just Aperture users who have grounds to worry. Given Apple’s software record over the past 5 years (iBooks, iMovie, Podcast, Aperture 1, etc) what’s the chance Photos will be safe for serious iPhoto users before 2018? iPhoto users are back in Apple photo management limbo.

On a larger front I’ve written before of Data Lock, and of how the “Cloud” is making data lock even stronger. I knew the risk I took with iPhoto 2 11 years ago [1]; a path that has led to the dead end of

The way Apple executed Aperture’s termination is a rich lesson in the consequences of data lock (a risk I understood when I signed up with iPhoto long years ago). Does anyone think it will be possible to move from Apple’s next generation Photo app to Lightroom? That’s a far harder problem than moving from Aperture to Lightroom — and that’s nearly inconceivable at the moment.

I can’t do much about the way Apple handled this transition — other than spare myself the temptation of a camera purchase. I can, however, reduce my purchases of Apple products — especially Apple software. I have no faith in Apple at all.

[1] From my ancient web page on digital photography

Problems: iPhoto 2 through 5

iPhoto has longstanding problems. I knew of them when I started with iPhoto 2, but I took the gamble that the large user community, and the prominence of Apple's multimedia iLife suite, would pressure Apple to improve the product. That hasn't worked. If you're a PC user you should not switch to a Mac for digital photo management, instead I'd recommend Picasa (free from Google). If you're a Mac user, take a close look at iView MediaPro -- though that's a risky choice too (small market, hard for vendor to compete against iLife).

If you proceed with iPhoto, know the risks …

Data Lock - You can check in, but you can't check out.
You can export images -- though it's tricky to export both originals and modifications. You can't, however, migrate your albums, smart albums, comments, keywords, captions, etc. etc. I thought iView MediaPro would take advantage of this and sell and import utility, but they haven't. So when you use iPhoto, you marry iPhoto…

Update 6/28/2014Clark Goble responds with more eloquence

as Apple pushes more and more the lock-in of iCloud, of iBooks, and of iTunes video, why should we trust Apple if they don’t have a way to get the data out? This is the thing that some activists have preached for years and most of us have discounted.5 But now I think it’s a real question Apple has unintentionally made very significant. Why should I trust Apple not to lose interest in iBooks if sales drop? (Which apparently they have) iTunes Music isn’t a big deal because there’s no DRM. But the rest? Why should I store files in iWork?

Can we trust Apple? The cavalier way Apple is responding is telling us, no we can’t. And that’s a shame because they could easily have made this announcement in a way that said we could

I particularly appreciated his footnotes…

… I remember Apple fans ridiculing people trusting Microsoft with Plays For Sure DRM when that product collapsed and people lost their data. Many of those same people are pretty flippant about locked data today. ↩

I doubt rumors of Apple adding a Lightroom export will include being able to port both your raw data files and the adjustments you made to the files. You’ll either have to export as TIFFs or lose your adjustments simply because the math won’t be exactly the same. Heck, I’m skeptical they’ll export anything beyond metadata and files… 

Friday, June 20, 2014

We are older than the universe

There are seven billion humans alive now, each the star of the show.

In a decade we will, collectively, gather 60-70 billion years of experience. The universe, by comparison, is a mere 13.8 billion years old.

Our collective memory is much greater than the age of the universe.

Puny universe.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Don't lose the birthdate for your Fakebook account

Yahoo! has been an excellent spam-mail service. I use my Yahoo email whenever I want to avoid spam — such as when I have to deal with Ticketmaster.

I have a “spam” Facebook account too — I use it for sites that trade services for the right to access my Facebook timeline, friends, etc. My Fakebook account has no friends and no information, nothing except a birthdate that turns off the most obnoxious Facebook ads (70+). I’m happy to give it out.

Alas, I forgot the birthdate I made up. So when I tried to use my Fakebook account from a new machine I couldn’t answer Facebook’s authentication test — even though I knew the password. My account was locked out.

Fortunately it worked from home, and I’ve since added my Fakebook birthdate to my password database.

Now you know — when you create a Fakebook account, don’t forget the birthdate.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Beats and Hachette, Amazon and Apple

The only way I can make sense of the Beats acquisition is to assume that Apple is responding to landscape changes like the end of broadcast television, the rise of Comcast [1], and Amazon's Hachette-crushing book monopoly.

Beats makes sense if Apple intends to go direct to Creatives and bypass the usual channels and distributors. In that case they need an LA beachhead. It makes sense for Apple to start with music - they have a history there just as Amazon has a history with books.

The next step would be for Beats to contract for video/film properties for distribution to AppleTV/iPad - and Android/Microsoft.

I'm not optimistic about books. I don't think Cook is more of a reader than Jobs was.

[1] "the largest mass media and communications company in the world by revenue"

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Who killed American broadcast TV time-shifting -- and how did they do it?

I’ve been gnawing on this story for a year or two, figuring that sooner or later a real journalist would solve the mystery for me. That hasn’t happened, or perhaps Google’s increasingly lousy search results [1] just can’t find the article.

So it’s time for me to try to solve the mystery. Who killed broadcast (over-the-air, OTA) TV time-shifting in America?

Yes, there was a murder. Americans used to easily time shift broadcast television. From 1975 to through the 1990s we use VCRs (a marvelously complex device). In 1999 ReplayTV and TiVo introduced products that could digitize analog television and store data on an internal hard drive; early versions would even automatically delete commercials, which produced some tension. During the early 00s we saw many simple devices for digitizing analog signals, typically sold for under $100. 

During this golden age of OTA time-shifting there was some serious tension— especially when ReplayTV auto-zapped commercials (and was litigated to death). A series of court cases walked a fine balance between consumer and corporate interprets. Then, around 2007, it all went to heck, and low cost time-shifting was doomed. 

So what happened to change things in 2007?

The precipitating event was digital TV — after long delays it was coming to the US. Not just coming, but coming in high definition with an unencrypted signal that would be trivially easy to capture as binary MPEG — much easier than digitizing an analog signal or building a VCR. It costs only a few dollars to add recording to a digital TV (storage extra) [5], and a tuner and encoding device could profitable be sold for under $50 (storage extra). There was no easy way to prevent capture and HD res redistribution of an NFL game or a broadcast movie. This was disruption on a colossal scale, the same kind of disruption that transiently [2] broke the music business.

In this case impending doom focused minds - and, in America, the threat was crushed. As of May 2014 there’s exactly one company offering a quality OTA HDTV recorder, TiVo, and their current entry level product costs $700 [6]. Worse when TiVo goes out of business today’s devices will stop working (older devices will still work).

This surprises a lot of people who bought OTA DVR devices between 2007 and 2012. They think products like Elgato’s EyeTV are still sold. Well, they are, just not in the US:

Screen Shot 2014 05 24 at 5 04 44 PM

Elgato does still sell products that stream to iPads; just not to a television — and they’re not the only ones. It’s the same story with devices like Simple.TV and Tablo. They may stream to an iPad or Android tablet [3], but direct connections to a TV are off-limits. There’s no HDMI out;  Tablo’s excuse for the missing HDMI is amusingly coy. I assume there’s something about omitting a direct connection to a television that dodges the TiVo patent and “TiVo tax”. The only subscription-free devices I could find with HDMI out were the expensive and poorly reviewed Channel Master DVR+ (lousy tuner, and I suspect soon to sued into the ground) — and a rapidly iterating array of very low quality pure-China patent-dodging devices (sue them and they come back under a different name).

So murder was done, but we still don’t know who - and how. We know of at least 3 suspects with abundant motivation and shady records: Comcast/NBC, Viacom/CBS, and DIsney/ABC. All three had motivation, and the means of the US patent and legal systems….

Digital video recorder - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

On July 14, 2005, Forgent Networks filed suit[31] against various companies alleging infringement on U.S. Patent 6,285,746 [teleconferencing!], entitled “Computer controlled video system allowing playback during recording”. The listed companies included EchoStar, DirecTV, Charter Communications, Cox Communications, Comcast, Time Warner, and Cable One.

… Motorola requested that the United States Patent and Trademarks Office reexamine the patent, which was first filed in 1991, but has been amended several times.[32]

On March 23, 2007 Cablevision Systems Corp lost a legal battle against several Hollywood studios and television networks to introduce a network-based digital video recorder service to its subscribers.[33] However, on August 4, 2008, Cablevision won its appeal. John M. Walker Jr., a Second Circuit judge, declared that the technology "would not directly infringe" on the media companies' rights.[34] An appeal to the Supreme Court was rejected.

In court, the media companies argued that network digital video recorders were tantamount to video-on-demand, and that they should receive license fees for the recording. Cablevision and the appeals court disagreed. The company noted that each user would record programs on his or her own individual server space, making it a DVR that has a "very long cord."[34]

In 2004, TiVo sued EchoStar Corp, a manufacturer of DVR units, for patent infringement. The parties reached a settlement in 2011 wherein EchoStar pays a one-time fee (in 3 structured payments) that grants Echostar full rights for life to the disputed TiVo patents upon first payment(as opposed to indefinite and escalating license fees to be constantly renegotiated), and Echostar granted TiVo full rights for life to certain Echostar patents and dropped their counter-suit against TiVo.

In January 2012, AT&T settled a similar suit brought by TiVo claiming patent infringement (just as with Echostar) in exchange for cash payments to TiVo totaling $215 million through June 2018 plus “incremental recurring per subscriber monthly license fees” to TiVo through July 2018, but grants no full lifetime rights as per the Echostar settlement.

In May 2012, Fox Broadcasting sued Dish Network. Fox argued Dish's settop box with DVR function, which allowed the users to automatically record primetime programs and skip commercials, was copyright infringement and breach of contract. In July 2013, the 9th circuit rejected Fox's claims.

No, I can’t tell who won either — Wikipedia links out in a bewildering array of suits like including…

Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios, Inc.
Sega v. Accolade
Cartoon Network, LP v. CSC Holdings, Inc.
CoStar v. LoopNet
Fox Broadcasting Co. v. Dish Network, LLC 

My best guess is that the our “murder” suspects came to a mutual agreement with TiVo and other patent holders to build a solid patent wall - augmented by DMCA’s ability to block bypass solutions [8]. That patent collection and a limitless legal defense fund ensured the end of low cost OTA digital TV recording in the United States. The HD digital apocalypse was averted; at $700+ a device TiVo is no threat — it’s just a patent holder and patent licensor whose primary value is keeping a lid on OTA recording…

  • TiVo Settles Patent Suits with Cisco, Google and Time Warner Cable | Variety … “The payments from Google and Cisco bring the total from awards and settlements related to the use of TiVo’s patents to roughly $1.6 billion, including previous deals with Dish Network, AT&T and Verizon, according to TiVo…TiVo entered into cross-licensing agreements with Google and Cisco and agreed to grant Arris Group (which acquired the Motorola set-top unit from Google) a limited license to four patents…

We have a body, motive and means — but only circumstantial evidence. With a bit of digging we could build a real case, but there’s a minor detail I’ve left out of the story.

The minor detail is that nobody cares - the victim was a homeless bum. Americans who don’t pay for Cable TV are either poor non-voters or relatively wealthy skinflint whackos - like us. Of the whacko cord-cutting skinflint contingent, only a small portion really want to do time-shifting. If not for our #1 son’s sports love we wouldn’t even bother with a TV antenna (the other kids watch iTunes rental movies once a week or so, I don’t watch TV at all).

So we’re talking a niche of a niche. Meanwhile there’s enormous economic pressure to turn broadcast spectrum into IP traffic - and end broadcast TV altogether. Sooner or later the market will find a way to do that; today’s DVR murder will be just a minor foreshadowing of the end of broadcast TV.

Still, it’s a fascinating story — to me at least. I love figuring out how “the system” solved the HD TV apocalypse - even if the results frustrated my family. Honestly it makes me feel better about global warming — complex adaptive systems can be extremely inventive.

In the meantime there’s a bit more story to play out. The combination of a Roku 1 ($50, HDMI) and Tablo TV ($210, no-HDMI) [7] will be interesting to watch — not least for the expected blizzard of lawsuits. Chinese manufacturers may improve the quality of their false-flag patent-dodging devices. MythTV might revive (announcements stopped 9 months ago), or maybe small businesses will sell Raspberry Pi solutions. Perhaps niche manufacturers will split the “smart” TV; a standalone digital tuner with HDMI output to receiver and downstream display and sound would make it much easier to hack a DVR into the mix …

See also

- fn -

[1] Another story that’s not been told. Is it just me, or is Google search really going South? If so, why?

[2] And therein is a lesson about managing disruption. Sure, the music business was on the rocks — but then file sharing services were slowly beaten into the ground. At the same time CDs started to disappear, as first digital downloads and then streaming took over. With CDs gone and file sharing essentially crushed, revenues are set to return. Streaming prices will rise, DRM may return to downloads, and the disruption will be history.

[3] Walmart now sells a 7” tablet for $70.

[4] $300 on Amazon for a device that should cost a fraction of that price. I assume much of that is patent fees.

[5] Our Samsung Smart TV ships with a USB connector for external storage and a remote with a record button - both disabled in the US.

[6] Yes, $700, as below. Of course it’s usually sold with a mandatory subscription, so this cost is paid out over a few years. The initial retail price is only a downpayment. One teardown estimates the TIVo Roamio costs $170 to make, but of course most of us would be happy with a less deluxe advice. We don’t know how much money TiVo pays for patents or to run their listing service.

Screen Shot 2014 05 24 at 8 51 38 PM

[7] Canadian, which may help with the expected litigation. Tablo can be used without a subscription, so although it’s far more expensive than it should be for our purposes, the combined cost of Roku and Tablo is still less than 1/2 the cost of a TiVo. I suspect much of the cost is direct patent fees and costs secondary to patent workarounds.

[8] DMCA made it illegal in the United States to interfere with an encryption chain; I suspect that law prevented some patent block workarounds.


Some people solve Rubik’s cube. That never interested me much; I like to puzzle out this kind of story. I think I’m done gnawing this bone, but if I find a better discussion of what happened I might add some updates. Meanwhile I’m looking for pre-2010 Elgato and TiVo devices — I may even try a Hauppage Windows device in a VM.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Reconstructing our medical evidence base by algorithmic trust assignment across the medical literature

Over the past two decades it has become apparent that the knowledge base for clinical medicine has been corrupted by publication bias, positive result bias, the increasingly strained competition for funding and tenure, and a non-trivial amount of outright fraud.

Perhaps as a result of these problems we see a very high level of research result contradiction and retraction. Sometimes it seems everything we believed in 1999 was reversed by 2014. Retrospective studies of the sustainability of medical research has taught us that the wise physician is better to read textbooks and ignore anything that doesn't get to the front page of the New York Times.

For those of us who grew up on evidence-based medicine in the 1980s, and who proselytized the value of literature currency in the 80s and 90s, these have been humbling times. Humbling times that I wish the creators of the AHA's new statin guideline remembered. (More on that later, perhaps).

We can't change the past, but what do we do with the medical literature we've inherited? It is vast, but we know the quality is mediocre. Can we salvage the best of it?

Maybe we can borrow from the metadata techniques of the NSA and the NLP methods used by banks looking for suspicious language in financial reports. We have quite a bit of metadata to work with: authors, institutions, funding sources, time of publication, and more. We have full text access to most abstracts. We know the history of authors and institutions. We have citation links. We know particularly problematic research domains. We know that mice studies with male researchers may suffer from pheromone induced mouse trauma.

If we were to mine the literature with modern metadata and language processing tools, could we algorithmically assign trust ranks to the entire research literature? We'd then know what we don't know...