Friday, December 31, 2004

Voting in the USA: it's much worse than you think

20 Amazing Facts about Voting in the USA

If the statements here are correct, then the voting situation in the US is rather worse than I'd believed -- and I didn't think it was very healthy.

Amazon: the service just gets better Welcome

In the midst of the flurry of vendor issues I've recently posted on (, the 7K AMEX fraud charges), I received a notice from Amazon that an order had shipped. That led me to notice a few things about Amazon, a company I order from several times a month:

1. Their shipping speed has really improved.
2. Almost everything I order is free shipping.
3. Even though free shipping is supposed to delay shipping of multiple items, and even though that was historically a problem, that no longer seems to happen. Amazon splits the shipment and sends items separately.
4. They provide a great record of invoices online.
5. They provide manuals and related items online.
6. Their website has had no glitches in my experience in the past year.
7. The value-add of their customer reviews, and the summary of what people who viewed an item actually bought instead, is extraordinary.
8. Their prices are very competitive and often the best I can find.
9. Amazon is a great place to sell and buy used goods, less hassle than eBay and the prices are not as inflated as on eBay.

They just keep getting better. I recently read a Bezos interview where he noted an internal Amazon study. They decided they while advertising did increase their sales, they got a bigger increase by putting their ad revenue into free shipping and improved service.

Credit card fraud: more on my most recent experience

Faughnan's Notes: CC Fraud Take II

A few more thoughts on this recent $7K fraud experience.

1. How did the crooks manage delivery of the stolen goods? In the Netfill scam there were no good to deliver and the faked transactions were for virtual goods.

2. Why didn't AMEX's fraud alarms go off? I have to assume they disable them, or tune them down, around the holidays. I've had AMEX question my purchase of underwear while traveling on business, but I didn't get a call about 6 separate $550 transactions in one day against one company.

3. Why NEWEGG? Why not spread the transactions around and make the fraud less obvious? Was NEWEGG an easy target for some reason?

4. Was the attack fully automated? That's the most interesting possibiliity. It seemed pretty stylized -- two near identical attacks two weeks apart, each beginning with a domain name change. Problem is, unlike Netfill, this seems to have involved delivery of physical goods. Hard to see how that could scale. I don't think this was an automated attack.

The more I think about the delivery of physical goods problem, the more I'm inclined to think this was a kid somewhere.

Update: This must be the season for credit card fraud -- I might have another one! My son's Brett Favre figure broke; I had trouble finding a replacement on the net and ended up placing an order with My AMEX card was charged the day I placed the order: 12/3/04; it was charged slightly more than expected. Nothing has come from (office is in my old home town: St. Laurent, Quebec). Their web site doesn't have a phone number. A web search finds a worrisome web page of complaints. Hmmm. Suspicious timing?

Le, Guong
3080 Barclay # 6
Montreal, Quebec h3s1j8
5455 Vanden Abeele St.
St. Laurent, QC H4S 1S1

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Bush: into the abyss | Neocons take complete control
.... The rejection of Kanter is a compound rejection of Scowcroft and James Baker -- the tough, cunning, results-oriented operator who as White House chief of staff saved the Reagan presidency from its ideologues, managed the elder Bush's successful campaign in 1988, and was summoned by the family in 2000 to rescue George W. in Florida. When all else failed (the voters, for example), Baker arranged the outcome that put Bush in the Oval Office. In the 1995 memoir of his years as secretary of treasury and state, Baker observed that in the Gulf War the administration's 'one overriding strategic concern was to avoid what we often referred to as the Lebanonization of Iraq, which we believed would create a geopolitical nightmare.' In private, Baker is scathing about the current occupant of the White House, people who have spoken with him have recently related to me. Now the one indispensable creator of the Bush family political fortunes is repudiated.

Those Republican elders who warned of endless war are purged. And those who advised Bush that Saddam was building nuclear weapons, that with a light military force the operation would be a 'cakewalk,' that capturing Baghdad was a 'mission accomplished,' and that the Iraqi army should be disbanded, are rewarded.

Powell, the outgoing secretary of state fighting his last battle, a rearguard action against his own administration on behalf of his tattered reputation, is leaking stories to the Washington Post about how his advice went unheeded. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, whose heart beats with the compassion of a crocodile, clings to his job by staging Florence Nightingale-like tableaux of hand-holding the wounded, while declaiming into the desert wind about 'victory.' Since the election, 203 U.S. soldiers have been killed and 1,674 wounded.

There is no James Baker to save us from an ideologue president. We are into the abyss.

I'm left to hope Bush really can alter reality through sheer force of will. Meanwhile the rest of the world has to start taking adaptive action.

Lessons from the airtravel debacle of Christmas 2004: the risks of efficiency

The Cincinnati Post - Comair computer crash

Air travel this past Christmas was awful. I was on a simple direct flight from NWA, but we experienced 1-3 hour delays in both directions, one from a flaw in luggage loading, the other a mechanical. Workers were burned out everywhere, from food services to flight workers -- even the toilets were trashed.

We were lucky. US Air was disabled by labor strife (I'd assume the flight attendants figure their jobs are toast anyway, so they might as well try to take out the airline). Comair was disabled by a software bug. The simple answers are "better software" and "some airlines need to go away".

But maybe there are deeper lessons to learn:
.... Tom Parsons, of Bestfares in Arlington, Texas, said the lesson he learned long ago was to avoid northern connections during the winter.

'I still can't believe what happened to Comair. You notice that Delta is sitting in the background, saying that's Comair, that's Comair,' Parsons said.

He said part of the problem is that airlines have stripped down so far that they were near 100 percent capacity for holiday rushes.

'The systems are geared to run 100 percent, and hopefully nothing goes wrong. This time, just too many things hit (Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky airport). Each one became part of the domino effect. We now know not to connect through Cincinnati in the winter or to fly Comair or U.S. Air,' Parsons said.
Maybe the deeper lesson is the risk of high-efficiency systems. Most highly efficient systems have little redundancy and unused capacity. If something goes wrong, they are prone to lockup and collapse. The same thing happened to our electrical grid in the northeast about a year ago.

In theory a system could be both adaptive and efficient -- able to run without much redundancy but also able to quickly configure to adopt to changing circumstances. In theory. In practice I work in developing complex software to augment clinical work. I worry about the risks of increasing efficiency by reducing redundancy.

I think again (and again) of an odd lecture I attended at the annual scientific assembly of the American Academy of Family Practice. I don't know how the speaker got on the schedule, his topic we rerisks associated with complex and stressed systems -- not a very clinical topic! He was inspired by a popular book of the time. I enjoyed the presentation by a fellow physician-crank. I think he (and the book he'd read) were right then, and they're right now. We pay a price by sacrificing redundancy and adaptability in favor of efficiency. It's a lesson Rumsfeld ought to have learned from Iraq (he's an idiot however, so he probably hasn't learned anything). It's a lesson we ought to learn from evolution, where highly adapted and specialized animals disappear when their ecosystem is disrupted. (Too bad this lesson is lost on the anti-evolutionists.) There are real benefits in the long term to adaptability, to excess capacity, to shock absorbers, to redundancies.

Unfortunately the market is a tool for solving local minima equations. It does not necessarily reward the ability to tolerate infrequent system shocks.

Be the Best You can Be: endocannabinoids, Buspar and behavioral disorders

Be the Best You can Be: Endocannabinoids, buspirone (Buspar), and behavioral disorders in children with ADHD, PDD, EBD (explosive child)?

A highly speculative posting from a non-expert. An intriguing domain ...

Miracle surgery for migraine?

BBC NEWS | Health | Surgery 'helps combat migraines'Coincidentally, I'd just finished an interesting CME on headache when I saw this:
Surgery and botox injections can help treat migraines, a US study says.

Researchers injected about 100 patients with botox to find out which muscles triggered the migraines and then used surgery to remove the muscles.

The surgery reduced the intensity and frequency of migraines in 92% of patients and eliminated them altogether for a third of people involved.

The research, published in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery journal, also cut the number of sick days taken.

A 33% lifetime cure for migraine? That would be miraculous. I'm skeptical. My bet:

1. This was a very select group. They had to respond to botox before surgery. The BBC reporter missed this. Since about half the population gets migraines, I'd bet this is a small subgroup who have an unusual migraine trigger. So even if it works, perhaps 1/10 to 1/20 of identified chronic migraine patients would be candidates.

2. I'd be astounded if the results will be this good in f/u studies. We know that migraine, like most pain conditions, is very susceptible to "placebo" affects. (We don't know what this "placebo" affect is -- it's very powerful and if we could master it then it would be very valuable. It's hard to manage though.) I bet a randomized placebo-controlled trial will show benefit in about 1/3 of 1/15 migraineurs (1/50!) and longtime cure in 1/10 of those treated (1/150 of migraineurs).

Ok, maybe I'm a Grinch. I knew of some neurologists years ago who were quite keen on these types of therapy, including using pre-botox interventions to kill some of these peripheral nerves. ENT surgeons, esp. in the 60s and 70s, used various similar interventions for cluster headaches (some used cocaine back then -- but it had its own problems). This wouldn't be the first time that an old intervention would be shown to have real value. And, on the other hand, we know that migraine prophylaxis drugs basically suck. (They are so ineffective that one suspects the entire value of many of them is from the placebo effect.)

We'll see ...

Dyer on the humanization of Hitler

Mass murder in the name of a principle is as human as apple pie, borsht and steamed rice. Treating the perpetrators as space aliens simply disguises the nature of the problem. The potential mass killers live among us, as they always have. They often have perfectly good manners, and some even have high ideals. And the only way the rest of us have to keep them from power is to remember always that the end does not justify the means.

I think I wrote too harshly of Dyer earlier today. I'm reading through his 2004 material and finding quite a few gems. Evil is an everyday, human affair. Considering how awful we are now, it is chilling to think of how nasty we were when we ate Neandertal.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Credit Card Fraud: Take Two

Credit Card Fraud Page

In 1988 I was a minor victim of an international credit card fraud scam. The perps had set themselves up as a California bank, then legally purchased a large number of credit cards (banks can do those things). They then ran small fraudulent transactions (fake net porn transactions) against tens of thousands of cards around the world. They were shut down, but I doubt any of the crooks did jail time. The fraud was interesting because it foreshadowed a range of techniques that have since been deployed around the net.

At that time I also learned how very frail our credit card infrastructure is. A system built for physical person-present transactions does not migrate well to the net.

One of the recommendations I made, based on that experience, was to use AMEX and thus take advantage of a more centralized approach to fraud management.

Today, six years later, I discovered another interesting pattern of fraudulent charges on my AMEX account!

On Dec 14th/15th, and again on Dec 23/24th, there appear a series of charges that look like this:

2. NEWEGG COMPUTERS: 6-7 charges of about $550.

So with two sets of the above there's about $7030.00 in fraudulent charges.

So now I'll get to see how well AMEX actually works. Thus far I'm spending a fair bit of time waiting on the phone as my call percolates through their fraud division. More updates to follow.

Update: AMEX took about a half hour to get me through to the person who managed it. They didn't ask me any questions; they marked the transactions as fraudulent and are sending me a new card. Unfortunately when AMEX sends an "expedited" card it's a temporary CC number -- pretty useless for me. So there will be a one week delay -- they should do better.

I'll post later on how well AMEX handles this.

I wonder if the DOTREGISTRAR.COM transaction was to enable a temporary mail redirect. Online vendors often use email to establish "identity". It's a frail system, and suspect the thieves probably used a throwaway domain to defeat the identity management. Looks like a pretty cookie-cutter theft, it might have been done by kids or professionals.

Update 1/17/05: AMEX took a while to answer the phone, but they dealt with the problem very quickly. They asked me about 3 questions and reversed everything. They sent an "affidavit of fraud" but didn't even bother to have me sign it.

Unfortunately even though AMEX can Fedex a card in 24 hours, it's a temporary number and hence useless for my online purchases and subscriptions. It takes them a week to send a permanent card.

Thinking about the scam, it's probably what's known now as an 'eBay operation'. Get the goods and sell them on eBay.

On the evolution of reality

Natural selection acts on the quantum world

Looks like the anti-Darwinists will have to put their stickers on physics texts after their done with the economics library.
Natural selection acts on the quantum world
Philip Ball, Dec 23, 2004

A team of US physicists has proved a theorem that explains how our objective, common reality emerges from the subtle and sensitive quantum world....

... certain special states of a system are promoted above others by a quantum form of natural selection, which they call quantum darwinism. Information about these states proliferates and gets imprinted on the environment. So observers coming along and looking at the environment in order to get a picture of the world tend to see the same 'preferred' states.

If it wasn't for quantum darwinism, the researchers suggest in Physical Review Letters, the world would be very unpredictable: different people might see very different versions of it.

... Because, as Zurek says, "the Universe is quantum to the core," this property seems to undermine the notion of an objective reality. In this type of situation, every tourist who gazed at Buckingham Palace would change the arrangement of the building's windows, say, merely by the act of looking, so that subsequent tourists would see something slightly different.

... The Los Alamos team define a property of a system as 'objective', if that property is simultaneously evident to many observers who can find out about it without knowing exactly what they are looking for and without agreeing in advance how they'll look for it.

Physicists agree that the macroscopic or classical world (which seems to have a single, 'objective' state) emerges from the quantum world of many possible states through a phenomenon called decoherence, according to which interactions between the quantum states of the system of interest and its environment serve to 'collapse' those states into a single outcome. But this process of decoherence still isn't fully understood.

"Decoherence selects out of the quantum 'mush' states that are stable, that can withstand the scrutiny of the environment without getting perturbed," says Zurek. These special states are called 'pointer states', and although they are still quantum states, they turn out to look like classical ones. For example, objects in pointer states seem to occupy a well-defined position, rather than being smeared out in space...

...Now, Zurek and colleagues have proved a mathematical theorem that shows the pointer states do actually coincide with the states probed by indirect measurements of a system's environment. "The environment is modified so that it contains an imprint of the pointer state," he says.

Yet this process alone, which the researchers call 'environment-induced superselection' or einselection, isn't enough to guarantee an objective reality. It is not sufficient for a pointer state merely to make its imprint on the environment: there must be many such imprints, so that many different observers can see the same thing.

Happily, this tends to happen automatically, because each individual's observation is based on only a tiny part of the environmental imprint. For example, we're never in danger of 'using up' all the photons bouncing off a tree, no matter how many people we assemble to look at it.

This multiplicity of imprints of the pointer states happens precisely because those states are robust: making one imprint does not preclude making another. This is a Darwin-like selection process. "One might say that pointer states are most 'fit'," says Zurek. "They survive monitoring by the environment to leave 'descendants' that inherit their properties."

"Our work shows that the environment is not just finding out the state of the system and keeping it to itself", he adds. "Rather, it is advertising it throughout the environment, so that many observers can find it out simultaneously and independently."

I know I read a science fiction novel recently, written by a physicist, that basically covered this terrain in the guise of fiction. Of course I say "basically" as though I understood any of this article. I'm looking forward to the Scientific American article. I particularly want to know if this has any relevance for "spooky action at a distance" -- a now "commonplace" macro-phenomena that continues to disturb me.

Next up -- experiments that show one can bias the evolution of reality ...

Doctorow on Digital Rights Management

Boing Boing: Cory responds to Wired Editor on DRM

Cory (boing boing) Doctorow rants against Wired's sell out on DRM.

On the one hand, I think Doctorow is a bit extreme. I like my iPod, but I don't buy DRM protected music. I buy CDs, which I legally "rip" onto my iPod for my use. The AAC file format is MP4, and is not fundamentally DRM protected.

Anyway, Wired can't "sell out"; it never had any non-mercenary principles to begin with.

On the other hand, if there's anything that might get me streaming BitTorrent files, it's the intent of Microsoft and Hollywood to embed DRM deep into the fabric of everything we own -- from music to batteries (yes, hardware too). I'd probably still pay for the DRM version (why steal when you can afford not to?), but I'd use the DRM-free pirate version.

Hollywood/Microsoft/Palladium's version of DRM will build the Pirate Legions like nothing else.

Dyer article on the Cumbre Vieja tsunami-to-come

Unstoppable Gee-Gees

"Gee-Gee" is a cute name for "global geophysical event". If Cumbre Vieja erupted today, the resulting tsunami would wipe out about 100 million people, and destroy many US coastal cities. This is not new. I read about this a couple of years ago, and Dyer wrote this piece last August. It's been resurrected because of the Sumatra tsunami.

Problem is, we don't know when this will happen. Maybe tomorrow, maybe in 10,000 years. We don't have the technology to handle this type of disaster; although we do have the technology to perhaps mitigate Sumatra-style disasters.

In medicine we're taught not to seek data that we don't know what to do with -- it usually causes anguish without an upside. This is the same problem on a much larger scale.

It may make sense to sit on this problem for a few decades. We're not going to forget about it. We will face huge challenges in the next 50 years, if we survive those with an intact civilization, then Cumbre Vieja may be a relatively trivial problem.

Gwynne Dyer Returns

New Page 1

Yes, "New Page 1" is the title of the web page with Dyer's 2004 articles. Dyer may have finally more-or-less decided that the web isn't going to go away, but that doesn't mean he's become a guru. It looks like he's doing his own web pages.

Dyer is a historian and journalist. I read him as a young-un in the Montreal Gazette. Canadian by heritage he's lived in Europe for several years. He's a bit of an egomaniac, and I suspect he's not the most agreeable person to meet (though I've never met him), but he's an interesting, albeit sometimes irritating, writer. For a while you could read his stuff in the International Herald Tribune, but the link I used for that broke some years ago. Now he's on the net, seemingly to stay.

Dyer was a better writer in the 1970s and 80s. In the past 20 years he's seemed more petulant and he sometimes indulging in irrational anti-American sentiment. (Dyer would have preferred the US come to terms with the Taliban and bin Laden -- a strategy as unlikely as GWB becoming a rationalist.) Even so, cranky and irrational Dyer is still better than most commentary.

I'll add this link to my news page. Maybe he'll add a syndication feed!

Why have all the top-rated cordless phones been discontinued? Electronics / Categories / Telephones / Cordless Telephones / AllOur Panasonic 900 MHz cordless phone is dying. The cheapo buttons don't work any more. Annoying. I don't love the phone, but it has worked well. I would, of course, have paid more for higher quality, but I know I'm the only consumer willing to do that.

So I go to Amazon and review all the top-rated cordless phones. All are 900 MHz range, and none of them are sold any longer.

I don't want a 2.4GHz phone -- that would mess up our 802.11b WLAN.

The 5.8 GHz phones have relatively poor ratings -- looks like the technology isn't quite done yet. High power drain, poor range, susceptible to microwave interference (guess that blasts everything).

So 900 MHz was a well understood technology that interoperated with wirless LANs and worked well. Except it's no longer sold. No phone currently sold by any vendor has comparable ratings to those discontinued phones. Of the currently higher-rated phones, Uniden, Panasonic and Motorola all appear to have equally horrible quality control and customer service.

So maybe I should buy a VOIP phone? Or shop around the dusty back of out-of-favor electronics stores looking for a vintage 900MHz cordless phone?

No Virginia, progress is not guaranteed.

I wish an economist would research this one.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

A meteor to track - Torino Level 4

Impact Probability

I came across an obscure reference to this asteroid. As of 12/23 it has a 1/45 chance of impact.
The Orbit of 2004 MN4
Don Yeomans, Steve Chesley and Paul Chodas
NASA's Near Earth Object Program Office
December 23, 2004

A recently rediscovered 400-meter Near-Earth Asteroid (NEA) is predicted to pass near the Earth on 13 April 2029...

December 24 Update: 2004 MN4 is now being tracked very carefully by many astronomers around the world, and we continue to update our risk analysis for this object. Today's impact monitoring results indicate that the impact probability for April 13, 2029 has risen to about 1.6%, which for an object of this size corresponds to a rating of 4 on the ten-point Torino Scale...

The next level on the Torino scale would require governmental contingency planning.

Update 1/05: It's a clear miss!

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

IE crashing -- is it the google toolbar? My, how strange would that be ...

Google Toolbar

IE has started crashing on me. It's never done that before. Maybe IE feels bad that I've left it for Firefox?

Or is it the Google toolbar? Last time IE crashed, it kindly told me, as a part of the post-crash report, that I had the Google Toolbar installed. It didn't say I should remove it. Of course IE has never before had a problem with the Google Toolbar. The only way that COULD happen would be if one of those endless IE patches had, as a most unfortunate side-effect, an incompatibility with the Google Toolbar.

Nahhh. Microsoft has never done anything like that before. Have they?

[cue: evil, diabolical, echoing, laughter]

Creating the happy life - in retrospect

Faughnan's Notes: Editing -- the secret to a happy life ...

I'm still thinking about my above post, and the Onion satire that inspired it. We don't do scrapbooks, but we have about 1500 images that cycle through our computer screens. This will probably grow to over 20,000 images over the next decade with new additions and by the incorporation of 40 years of analog images. Current selection algorithms are very crude, but with a bit of metadata one could script quite an interesting perspective on a life. For now images are "randomly" selected.

The pictures are strongly biased towards positive and happy events. Not everyone in the images is still with us or even still alive, but the times that the images were taken they were very much with us and very much alive. Unlike the traditional world of photo albums, we see them all the time. Each viewing triggers (or recreates!) old memories.

We know our memories are constructed from tiny fragments of "true memory", and we know our memories can be manipulated with trivial ease. In particular, we know how easy it is to implant false memories by using false images. In this case the images are not false (or no more false than any image), but they are highly selected. They produce a partially false "impression".

Is the viewing of these images, spanning decades of life and biased towards happy moments, altering memory and perception? Are they retrospectively creating a "happy" life -- irregardless of the true balance of joy and sorrow? Is this good? How does it differ from a constitutional predilection to seeing the "bright side" of life?

Hmm. Lots of interesting questions here.

Driving merrily over the cliff of economics

The New York Times > Business > Your Money > Whoops! It's 1985 All Over Again

A longish NYT article. Nothing new, but a good overview. We've been here before -- with the last president who was a deluded ideologue.
In broad schematic terms, the United States imports and the rest of the world exports; the United States borrows and the rest of the world lends. Financial flows are so lopsided that last year America soaked up nearly three-fourths of the surplus savings in the entire world.

Not surprisingly, this state of affairs is adding to the country's foreign debt. At the end of last year, the nation's financial deficit - what the United States owes the rest of the world, minus what the rest of the world owes the United States - amounted to more than $3 trillion, about 30 percent of the country's annual economic output. And it is growing. In the 12 months through October, foreigners acquired nearly $885 billion of new United States government and corporate debt.

THAT wouldn't be a problem if the world were comfortable lending ever-larger sums to the United States to pay for American investment and consumption. But this is unlikely.

If the trend were to continue, it would require foreigners to lend the US about $1 trillion a year. That's about 75% of the savings of the entire world.

I don't care how good Bush is at defining reality and rejecting rationality. He can't define away mathematics.

I can see why they couldn't find a new treasury secretary. Who could stomach this leadership?

PS. Later in the article, this quote appears explaining how the Reagan administration blinked on the 'no new taxes' promise.
...So as he started his second term, Mr. Reagan changed course. Mr. Regan left the Treasury to become the president's chief of staff, while James A. Baker III, the chief of staff, moved to the Treasury.

One of Mr. Baker's first statements was that the Treasury's policy of nonintervention was "obviously something to be looked at." By February 1985, the United States had started intervening in the currency markets to weaken the dollar.
I think James A. Baker III, in several different ways, rescued America and the world from the disaster that was Ronald Reagan. I don't see a James Baker in this administration.

Torture is us. Not that anyone cares ...

New Papers Suggest Detainee Abuse Was Widespread (
The Bush administration is facing a wave of new allegations that the abuse of foreign detainees in U.S. military custody was more widespread, varied and grave in the past three years than the Defense Department has long maintained.

Sure didn't take us long to sink into the gutter. I wonder if we were faster than average, or merely average. I'd bet on faster than average -- having Rumsfeld at the top of the military has cast a long and very dark shadow.

Why should stress accelerate aging?

BBC NEWS | Health | Stress 'may speed up cell ageing'
The stress of caring for a sick child can add 10 or more years to the biological age of a woman's cells, researchers have found.

I've been puzzling about this for a while. What adaptive advantage is there for stress to accelerate aging? It seems like evolution went to some trouble to make this happen (note to creationists -- I'm speaking metaphorically).

I can't come up with value for a human adult, but unfortunately for attempts to prevent this, I can think of an explanation for children. Under stressful conditions, such as war, famine, and plague, it makes sense for a child to age faster -- to race to maturity and get out of harm's way. The adaptation may have developed very early in animal (or pre-animal?) evolution, so it may be deeply embedded in our genes.

BTW, about ten years ago I was quite interested in punctuated aging -- the idea that we age in "bursts". I based this on the note that few biological processes in the developing organism are continuous; we develop and adapt in episodic bursts. It helped that there's been a longstanding cultural belief that stress and disease aged us, and it helped that I noted my dog (Molly) seemed to age in bursts.

I wonder if stress-induced accelerated childhood aging would explain why children of the 19th century seemed to have the behavior and capability of adults today. Or why today's 25 yo male seems the biological age of yesterday's 21 yo.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

GWB's kinda guy | Official vetting
EVEN loyal members of the Bush administration might concede that, in retrospect, Bernard Kerik didn't have the best résumé to become secretary for homeland security. New York's former police commissioner, it turns out, abandoned a Korean daughter for most of her life, accepted unreported gifts from firms doing business with New York City, was expelled from Saudi Arabia after a physical confrontation with a local police official, was fined $2,500 for assigning detectives to help research his book and, inevitably, employed a possibly illegal nanny...

Yeah, a nanny. Suure. Enough evidence leaked out, from the press or FBI, that Kerik was probably told to shop for an illegal nanny -- or take a swim with cement fins. Bush has just the best judgment.

Laptops become a commodity

InfoWorld: Wal-Mart breaks price barrier with Linspire Linux laptop
Wal-Mart is offering a laptop that dives below the $500 pricepoint, and it's no accident the machine, from Linspire, runs a Linux-based operating system.

The Balance laptop, at $498, enters a mass market at a price that will undoubtedly accelerate Linux adoption.

The laptop comes with the OS, Internet suite, and Microsoft-file compatible office suite and can be used with both dial-up modems and broadband connections. The machine comes with a VIA C3, 1.0 GHz processor, 128 MB of RAM, which is expandable up to 512 MB with SODIMM (Small Outline Dual In-line Memory Modules). It includes a CD-ROM drive and a 14.1-inch LCD screen...

... The laptop's included Mozilla Internet suite comes with a fast-functioning browser and email program that can display Web-based forms, PDF documents, images, and multimedia files. The suite's included instant messenger program works with AOL, MSN and Yahoo logins.

No-one makes money on desktop machines. I recall reading that if one excluded the kickbacks Microsoft provided Dell, that they lost money on their best selling desktop machines. Laptops were different -- they still had a solid margin.

Not any more. Only Apple will be able to demand a premium for their top selling entry-level laptops, and the iBook may drop to $900 or so. Updrade this thing to 512MB and hook it up to a monitor/mouse/kb and there's a very compact and virus-free machine for my mother to use -- with gmail for her email.

Boing Boing: Engineered spider web

Creepiest science news of the day. I think they mean Hadassah University:

Boing Boing: Engineered spider web: "Scientists at Jerusalem's Hebrew University used synthetic biology to crank out spider web fibers in the lab. They introduced certain genes from garden spiders into a virus that was used to infect caterpillar cells. Spider fibers then formed in the cultured cells."

Note: Spider fibers formed in the cultured cells.

Coin toss bias

Toss Out the Toss-Up: Bias in heads-or-tails: Science News Online, Feb. 28, 2004
Their preliminary data suggest that a coin will land the same way it started about 51 percent of the time.

This was the most viewed article in Science News in 2004. I can see why. One of the best examples of why one should never have complete confidence in conventional wisdom.

Bias arises because of the mechanics of how people (can) toss coins.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Brave new minds

Sharper minds

The LA Times has a review of the wetware enhancers -- cog drugs for the able minded. I didn't realize Provigil had gained a reputation for enhancing cognition; caffeine, of course, has been known to do that for some time.

The review omits nicotine, a curious drug which is both calming and alerting (and hence beloved in wartime).

I suspect some of these will have quite hideous side-effects. I'm sure I'll end up on one or more though -- especially if the alternative is bagging groceries.

Russ Feingold is running for 2008 (?) | Goin' south
... The people of Alabama appear to be among the most generous and most unsung philanthropists in this country. What they give is unimaginable to many others and they give it time and again: They regularly give their turn at the American dream to someone else. And they give it simply because they're asked. So many people in Greenville [jf: Alabama] don't seem to have basic healthcare coverage or promising job opportunities. Meanwhile, their children volunteer to risk their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. I can only be humbled by their sacrifice.

But because I am a lawmaker and a student of history, I also know who has been asking them to give so much. And I can only wonder how many more generations of central Alabamians will say yes when the increasingly powerful Republican Party asks them to be concerned about homosexuality but not about the security of their own health, about abortion but not about the economic futures of their own children. As my wife and I drove through Greenville that night, I thought how fundamentally unfair this all is in order to support an increasingly radical conservative movement.

Now, some may think that Alabama and Wisconsin are the polar opposites of American politics. But in both states I've found that -- along with sharing a sincere appreciation of a good turkey dinner -- too many hardworking people are losing their battles for decent paying jobs and adequate healthcare. I'm tired of seeing the power-hungry persuade the hardworking people of this country that the only way to preserve important values is to vote against their own families' basic interests. I believe that the working people of both states have sacrificed for other people's agendas for too long. And I believe that any political party or political movement or political candidate who would consistently say this would be heard throughout America.

We need to go to the Greenvilles of every state, red and blue, and say, "Thank you. You've sacrificed long enough. Now it's your turn at the American dream."

Sure reads like a stump speech to me. If Russ doesn't use it, someone else should.

The vile prejudice against conservatives in academia

Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal: A Weblog: Jon Chait on the Political Composition of Academia

This would be funny, except that its tiresome. Conservatives are in a tizzy because academics don't like Bush. They suspect a conspiracy of tenure committees. Chait and DeLong have far more plausible explanations.

Don Lancaster: The Case Against Patents

Guru's Lair: Patent Avoidance Library

In the old era, before the world changed as it had not changed in a hundred years, I subscribed to an iteration of "Whole Earth Review". It was fascinating back then; Wired at its peak was a pale imitation. WER was at the very edge of an emerging revolution, it was a fine companion to another lost gem -- BYTE.

Eventually WER came down to earth and disappeared again, but I still have those issues. The kids have scattered them around the house, so I see them on occasion. I picked one up and a fine article by Don Lancaster, published in 1992 (even then a reprint), caught my eye. It was "The Case Against Patents". Every word rings true today, though his was the perspective on an engineer who found patents didn't help protect his innovations.

The article doesn't anticipate how bad things would become -- nowadays patents are used by megacorps (Microsoft's suite is enough to destroy Linux ten times over -- when they choose to pull the trigger) to destroy competition and prevent innovation. So not only do patents not protect the innovator (as in 1992) they now have the abilit to destroy the innovator (a new discovery).

Lancaster ends with the note that innovators don't innovate to make money, they innovate because they have to. In other words, they're build that way. Good thing to, because Lancaster would say there's no money in it.

I wondered what had happened to that old article. Were it published today it would be the talk of slashdot -- but it's 13+ years old now. Ancient history. Lost lore. Except Lancaster put it on the web. At his site. Which I'd never heard of. Google knew it though.

So this posting is courtesy of the combination of Google, Lancaster's (and my) urge to share, and my kids urge to chaos.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

The Economist helps with the problem of raising children of the wealthy | The servant problem

Upper middle class americans have trouble finding child care at a price they want to pay. Fundamentally the problem is that legal outsourced high quality individual child care costs a substantial fraction of the after-tax income of an upper middle-class working parent.

The Economist suggests the one logical solution.
In the age of the global economy, the solution to the servant problem is simple: rather than importing the nanny, offshore the children.
Of course if one doesn't like that answer, one can do the work oneself. It's not easy work though ...

Aside from the social commentary, there's yet another aspect to this satire. Birth rates are far higher offshore than they are in wealthy nations. So, in a peculiar sense, wealthy nations have offshored more than raising children ...

The British Medical Journal publishes a unique case report

A precious case from Middle Earth -- Bashir et al. 329 (7480): 1435 -- BMJ
Sméagol (Gollum) is a single, 587 year old, hobbit-like male of no fixed abode. He has presented with antisocial behaviour, increasing aggression, and preoccupation with the 'one ring.'...

The BMJ has always had a bit of a sense of humor. This case report was written up by a group of medical students and a psych professor, perhaps as an end-of-rotation assignment. The patient's history is obtained from a chap named Gandalf.

Disappearing in the sand

The New York Times > Science > Beware! Sand in This Physics Lab May Eat You Alive:

This physics experiment showed an peculiar configuration of sand could cause it to pass any weighted object with minimal resistance. I assume this was only a neat physics experiment, until this comment:
Dr. Lohse said the findings could explain reports of travelers' being swallowed up in the desert.

Do the bodies every reappear?

Editing -- the secret to a happy life ...

The Onion | Local Woman's Life Looks Bearable In Scrapbook
Jane Hemmer's family scrapbook, prominently displayed on her coffee table at all times, gives the impression that her life is not only bearable, but even pleasant, sources not particularly close to the 58-year-old homemaker said Monday...

The Onion's satire contrasts a cheer filled scrapbook to a darker reality.

But is the Onion again ahead of the curve? Is a life perhaps not so much well lived ... as well edited? Few live blessed lives, but in most lives there are happy intervals. With a bit of editing, a bit of contrast here and dimming there, cannot the Play be made lighter? There may be something to be said for the art of mastering the past.

I need the opinion of the elders on this ...

Satire is impossible in the Rovian Regime: The Onion can't get ahead of the Swift Boat curve.

WaPo: Anti-Kerry Group Is Not Done Yet
The satirical newspaper "The Onion" did a spoof reporting that Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which harassed Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry during the campaign about his Vietnam War record, was continuing its campaign against the defeated Kerry because "John Kerry is a threat to every American he comes in contact with, whether he's running for president, getting his oil changed, or going to a movie with his wife." The Onion proposed two new ads for the group, one accusing Kerry of going bowling in street shoes and the other accusing him of cheating to get his 10th cup free at a coffee shop.

Then something really funny happened: Life imitated satire. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on Thursday: "The end of the 2004 presidential election campaign doesn't spell the end of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the well-funded alliance of former servicemen that remains dedicated to preventing Sen. John Kerry from becoming president. The group . . . plans to convene next month to celebrate its successes and to consider speaking out further about Kerry's military service, his anti-war activities afterward, and other issues."

Meanwhile, the American Conservative Union has announced that it has chosen Sen. Zell Miller, the retiring Georgia Democrat who campaigned for Bush and angrily suggested that Kerry wished to arm American troops with "spitballs," to give a "Courage Under Fire" award to the Swift boat group at its Feb. 18 banquet. And we thought Valentine's Day was Feb. 14.

Who will replace Donald Rumsfeld?

After Outcry, Rumsfeld Says He Will Sign Condolence Letters (
The Pentagon has acknowledged that Donald H. Rumsfeld did not sign condolence letters to the families of soldiers killed in Iraq, but it said that from now on the embattled defense secretary would stop the use of signing machines and would pick up the pen himself.

Emphasis mine. This is the kind of news story that emerges towards the very end, when the tip of the long knife is visible protruding from the victim's chest. I smell a Rove; this latest leak is a classic step in his staged, methodical and merciless method of (virtual) assassination. Hmm. Maybe Rove will be the next SecDef.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Winner -- best in 'Scared of Santa' series

Scared of Santa photo gallery

A great way to deal with holiday stress. Photo 2 is favored by many critics.

The evolutonary biology of acne

[Sorry - I had two typos in the title: ance for acne and evolutonary for evolutionary. Alas, if I fix the typos Blogger will create a new URL and break links to this posting. In this respect I consider Blogger's design to be, fundamentally, "stupid".]

IngentaConnect Article: Acne: A biopsychosocial and evolu...erspective with a focus on shame

Many years ago, it occurred to me that acne was far too common (80% of adolescents are affected) to not have some adaptive advantage. This thought came back to me while listening to a medical lecture.

A quick google scholar search didn't turn up anything interesting (this link, for example, is a particularly pointless article).

So why is it normal for humans to experience a (usually) transiently disfiguring condition of the face -- a condition that appears in women around the time of maximum fertility? A condition which, occasionally, causes long term scarring and decrease in physical attractiveness?

The condition must have large advantages to offset the impact on reproduction.

My guess is the advantage accrues to young adolescent females. It's a way to reduce their attractiveness, and defer age of first conception. Early conceptions may have high mortality for both infant and mother, and thereby increase the lifetime number of children. A condition that decreases the risk of early conception may actually have an adaptive advantage.

Any other theories?

Friday, December 17, 2004

John Glenn on the limited life expectancy of earth-based civilization

Slashdot | Astronaut: 'Single-Planet Species Don't Last'

Slashdot thread on a John Glenn article. The article references are good, the Slashdot commentary is feeble (I think the rise of blogs has killed Slashdot's commentary quality). The Economist had a good issue on this years ago -- they came to the same conclusion about the probability of a meteor annihilation vs. airplane crash.

Glenn exaggerates a bit. Sharks, for example, have been around a long time. Humans are pretty resilient rats and might survive a lot of harm. Our civilization, however, would not.

On the other hand, we have much bigger problems than meteors ahead in the next forty years.

The Mozilla firefox ad -- PDF where names are readable

nytimes-firefox-final.pdf (application/pdf Object)

Yep, I'm there. Probably the only time my name will appear in the NYT (I don't think they've printed any letters so far ...).

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

There was no nanny

The New York Times > Washington > Missteps Cited in Kerik Vetting by White House
... A major problem, law enforcement officials said, was that the White House did not have the benefit of any F.B.I. investigation into Mr. Kerik's past. Mr. Kerik, as New York City's police commissioner on Sept. 11, 2001, had been offered a high security clearance by federal officials so he could receive classified intelligence about the city's security, a law enforcement official said. But he failed to return a questionnaire needed for the F.B.I. to conduct a background check, and he never received that clearance, the law enforcement official said.

Mr. Kerik said on Tuesday night through his spokesman, Christopher Rising, that he could not remember receiving the questionnaire. Mr. Kerik still received classified information from the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. regarding security issues in New York, the law enforcement official said, although the police commissioner was not given the most sensitive intelligence about the sources of the data. He served as police commissioner through the end of 2001.

Mr. Kerik also failed to complete a required federal financial disclosure form in May 2003, when he left the country to spend three and a half months in Iraq trying to train Iraqi police officers, a law enforcement official said. The disclosure form, law enforcement officials said, might have turned up some of the financial problems that surfaced this month in connection with a condominium he owned in New Jersey.

Bloggers have noted that no-one has found Kerik's "nanny". One suspects that if she exists, she was hired maybe two weeks and a day ago.

This says a LOT of interesting things about the FBI (hey, next time I get a request for a background check, I'll just "forget it" too), Giuliani, Bush, and the culture of the "Washington insider".

Bush had strong positive vibes about Putin. His tummy resonated with Kerik. Maybe he shouldn't trust his "instincts" quite so much? Nahhhh.

Shock. Shock. Unregulated herbal remedies maybe not utterly safe - Health News/Science News
Lead, mercury and arsenic have been found in herbal preparations imported from India, some so laden with contaminants they were potent enough to cause serious poisonings, researchers report today.

The herbal remedies - many of them intended for children - which can be bought in health food stores and other venues, are sold for the practice of ayurvedic medicine, an ancient healing art. Dangerous heavy metals were found in 14 of 70 ayurvedic products, which are attracting a growing number of consumers in the United States, experts said yesterday.
I am soooo shocked.

The deregulation of herbal rememdies in America (the role of the Mormon church in that effort, btw, has always intrigued me) has always been one of my favorite examples of magical thinking.

Somehow, something created by nature is fundamentally safe?! Like, umm, tetrodotoxin? Somehow, companies that sell things that are "natural" are fundamentally trustworthy? Like, umm, the tobacco industry?

So they don't need regulation, unlike, ummm, pharmaceuticals? (The regulation of which has collapsed under Republican rule.)

At least the libertarians are happy. They probably consider this a way to "thin the herd". (Note, I am not a libertarian.)

Round 174 in the Great Game goes to ...

The New York Times > International > Middle East > The Elections: Iraqi Campaign Raises Question of Iran's SwayIran?
On a list of 228 candidates submitted by a powerful Shiite-led political alliance to Iraq's electoral commission last week, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim's name was entered as No. 1. It was the clearest indication yet that in the Jan. 30 election, with Iraq's Shiite majority likely to heavily outnumber Sunni voters, Mr. Hakim may emerge as the country's most powerful political figure.

Mr. Hakim, in his early 50's, is a pre-eminent example of a class of Iraqi Shiite leaders with close ties to Iran's ruling ayatollahs. He spent nearly a quarter of a century in exile in Iran. His political party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, was founded in Tehran, and its military wing fought alongside Iranian troops during the Iran-Iraq war. American intelligence officials say he had close ties with Iran's secret services.

About a year ago the tin-hat brigade noted that many of the favorites of the Pentagon/Rumsfeld cohort had interesting connections to Iranian intelligence -- especially Chalabi. If Iran, which has a feared and "respected" intelligence service did manipulate the US into invading Iraq (not that Bush needed much encouragement), then we're now entering yet another stage in a plan they've been preparing for some time. (Note bin Laden's brother still operated freely in Iran last year, but we don't talk about that any more.)

On the other hand, the Economist had a solid review of Iran in this week's issue. It was one of the better recent pieces in a journal that's on the decline. Iran is an economic and political mess; it cannot be deterred from a nuclear weapon, but it's in no shape to "rule" Iraq. Getting too involved in Iraq could push Iran over the edge. Of course that may not deter them, like America they have strong beliefs in divine destiny.

BTW, for how many years have Sunnis ruled the land now called Iraq?

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Military interrogation techniques repel even the CIA

INTEL DUMP - CIA memo: stay away from military interrogations
Comment: This provides a tiny glimpse inside the highly secretive world of interrogations, but an important one. Both the FBI and the CIA -- not agencies with a good historical record when it comes to civil liberties -- objected to the Pentagon's approved interrogation tactics. The FBI objected primarily for courtroom reasons; the CIA appears to be object for operational reasons. Yet, both were unable to sway the Pentagon through the policy vetting process, so they simply decided to abstain from these practices in the field. The natural inference here is that the tactics approved, adopted and used by the military really did go too far, as evidenced by the FBI and CIA's refusal to play ball. Clearly, I think, the FBI and CIA cared as much about squeezing HUMINT out of foreign prisoners as the military, especially when it came to Al Qaeda members plotting against the U.S. (as opposed to insurgents in Iraq.) And yet, they either saw these interrogation methods as counter-productive, inhumane, illegal, or all of the above.

Maybe it's not good to turn very young men and women into professional torturers? I wonder if Bush will invite them to dinner.

Google vs. Amazon: The battle of the library

The New York Times > Technology > Google Is Adding Major Libraries to Its Database

Whack. Thwock. Thwack.

Google and Amazon battle it out. We haven't seen anything this fun since the days of Gopher. Go Amazon. Go Google.

Sigh. Sooner or later Microsoft will kill the party, but we can enjoy it until then.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Desperately sniffing around the world

Health News Article |
For the study Devanand and colleagues studied 150 patients with minimal to mild cognitive impairment. They compared them to 63 healthy elderly people and ran tests on them every 6 months.

The inability to identify 10 specific odors clearly predicted who would go on to develop Alzheimer's, they told a meeting of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology.

These smells included strawberry, smoke, soap, menthol, clove, pineapple, natural gas, lilac, lemon and leather.

'Narrowing the list of odors can potentially expedite screening and help with early diagnosis,' Devanand said in a statement.

This makes sense, he added, because examination of the brains of Alzheimer's patients shows that the nerve pathways involved in smell are affected at a very early stage.

Several groups have tried to link the sense of smell with Alzheimer's and at least one company markets a scratch and sniff test for the disease. But Devanand said it is important to identify the specific odors that may be involved.

I'd be amazed if this were a specific test (If you can't smell them --> Alzheimer's). I suspect it's more likely to be a "sensitive" test (Can smell? --> Not Alzeheimer's -- maybe another dementing disorder?). Really way too early to tell.

Not that that's going to prevent a lot of sniffing by every 40 yo with middle-aged memories.

Influenza: a rather nice and sober summary

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Dissecting flu's deadly weaponry

This BBC summary is very well done. The science is clearly explained, we're given a good historical reference, and the threat outline is relatively balanced. The threat is significant, the key intervention is preventing (as much as possible) simultaneous infection with avian and non-avian flu, but the potential resources to meet this threat are also significant.

One caveat. Yes, mother-nature is the current biothreat champion -- but that's only for today. I think in 10 years we'll be able to outdo nature in self-annihilation, and in 20-30 years those techniques will be available to the terrorist organizations of 2045. The bright side? We probably needn't worry about social security. Maybe that's the real reasoning behind the Bush budgets -- spend now, for tomorrow ...

Sunday, December 12, 2004

19th century Minnesota winters: brutal

City Pages: Cruel and Unusual

Hop back two lifespans, and land in hell. These tales of the brutal winters of the 19th century are a good reminder of the natural state of humanity. We are all wimps compared to the least of these pionners.

BTW, in 1996 we were skiing north of Ely. It wasn't -60F there, but it was darned cold. My ski boot froze solid, and left me with a flaky toe tendon. Sniff.

Ideas of the year - NYT Magazine review

The New York Times > Magazine

NYT Magazine does an idea issue -- the fourth in an annual series. The interview with Stephen Hawkings is pretty weak (who came up with such a dumb list of questions?), but it can't all be bad.

Europe's contribution to the war on terror: dollars for heroin

BBC NEWS | World | South Asia | Afghanistan's opium problem

The Bush administration has a religious devotion to the idea that "markets" are "good". This is particularly ironic in a group that loathes "evolution"; of course both natural selection and market selection are fundamentally the same processes.

In the case of Afghanistan, and the US budget, the market has come up with some ingenious solutions to the problems faced by the Bush administration. I am genuinely curious as to whether Rumsfeld feels these are good solutions.

In the case of the US budget, the devaluation of the US currency seems to be transferring a chunk of the cost of funding our economic additions to europe and asia. This is a diabolically clever maneuver, yet it may have been invented by the market as much as by any Machiavellian operatives in Washington.

In the instance of Afghanistan, the US destroyed the Taleban, but enforced law (more or less) only in the capitol. The rest of the country was divided between warlords and tribes. Market forces were thus able to operate effectively, and the country rapidly rebuilt its primary comparative advantage -- the production of poppies, opium, and heroin for the european and Turkish markets.

Now Afghanistan is floating on a sea of drug dollars. Overall it seems to be doing better than expected. The Afghan people are resourceful, Karzai is a remarkable talent, the US keeps a low profile but has a powerful fighting force. Most of all, though, the money is flowing.

Where does the money to fund Afghanistan come from? Not from foreign governmental aid or investment. It comes from european drug addicts. A market solution.

So Bush, by design or by the genius of the marketplace, has funded the US economy and the post-war rehabilitation of Afghanistan through Europe (war and deficit) and (in the case of the deficit) China.


PS. That insufferable idiot, David Brooks, wrote in the NYT the other day that we communistic liberals don't "trust" the marketplace. God, that man hurts my teeth. Is his continued existence at the NYT a sophisticated (but pointless) jab at the right? Maybe some eastern elite thinks displaying the idiocy of a "respected" right wing spokesman is a service to the nation.

Nahh, I think it's just another sign of the decay of the NYT. Brooks makes even Safire, now well into his dotage, look, if not good, at least not pointless.

Sigh. Markets are not "good" or "bad". They are the most effective ways of solving local minimization problems using distributed processing. Markets are a computing technique. They are "good" or "bad" in the same way that a particular alogrithm is "good" or "bad". Markets do not have souls, they do not go to Hell or Heaven. Markets are not divine. Markets do not have values or ethics. Markets are good at "solving" problems. People, who (to a working approximation) have to decide if they like the solutions the markets deliver.

Cheating in sports ...

Cheating Athletes - Who dopes, why they dope, and who it hurts. By Bill Gifford
Who are the cheaters? Again, by and large they are not the dominant figures in their sports; they're the the wanna-bes, the almost-weres, and a fair number of has-beens. Indeed, even the 40-year-old Bonds might well have retired by now, far short of Hank Aaron's career home run record. In cycling, at least, there are indications that the most rampant cheating takes place in the amateur ranks, where riders are desperate to make the pros. In the past few years, literally dozens of European amateurs have dropped dead from suspicious causes, some as young as 20 years old.

I think this is comforting nonsense. For female athletes in particular, the benefits of male-like blood chemistry are enormous, enough to take someone from the middle of the pack to the top of the pack. A female athlete has the same basic tissue structure as a male athlete -- all they're missing is some chemistry.

In contrast, this may not be true for young male athletes. I suspect most young ultra-elite male athletes are working near the limits of human tissue structures. Revving the engines may have little effect and may even decrease performance.

Men in their 30s and 40s though, are more like the female situation -- their chemistry is in decline and their core potential may be underutilized. Of course their hearts and vessels may not survive the stress of a youngster's chemistry.

CIA is corrupt and compromised by neocons? So what? News | Dogmatic intelligence
A senior CIA analyst who was once decorated for his work on weapons proliferation in the Middle East has accused the spy agency of ruining his career as punishment for his refusal to adhere to official prewar 'dogma' on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. In a lawsuit filed in a U.S. district court, the unnamed agent, described as a 22-year veteran of the agency's counterproliferation department, accuses his former supervisors of demanding that he alter his intelligence reporting to conform to the views of CIA management in the run-up to the war on Iraq.

The action marks the first time the CIA, which proclaimed that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, has been publicly accused by one of its employees of exerting pressure to produce reports that would help the Bush administration make its case to go to war on Saddam. However, one former CIA employee said the process described by the analyst -- pressure and retaliation -- was a familiar bureaucratic response to agents who did not conform.

The agent's refusal to tailor his reports had, he claims, a disastrous effect on a career that had previously been marked by regular promotions and a CIA medal for the operative's recruitment of moles who penetrated a nuclear weapons program in another Middle Eastern country. 'The complaint alleges that there was a prewar dogma at the CIA concerning weapons of mass destruction, and my client's reports were contrary to the dogma,' said Roy Krieger, who represents the agent. 'My client was told to conform to the dogma. He refused and retribution followed.'

The Atlantic ran an essay on this topic a few months ago; that article detailed this story. It's old news. So Rumsfeld and Cheney steamrolled the CIA. So Rove/Bush think the CIA is a bunch of intellectuals who yearned for Kerry. So one of our nation's primary defenses has been degraded by our government, leaving us in a persistent state of delusion.

Who cares?

Not me. I'm moving to another planet as soon as my ship arrives ...

Rice Park rink -- refrigerated outdoor skating in Saint Paul

Capital City Partnership - Saint Paul, MN
An outdoor, mechanically chilled ice skating rink, Wells Fargo WinterSkate, has opened in Landmark Plaza next to the Landmark Center and Rice Park in downtown St. Paul at 6th Street and St. Peter Street. It will be open for skating, hockey, and broomball through late February.

Skating is FREE to everyone and hours of operation include:

Tuesdays & Thursdays: 5:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m. St. Paul Co-Ed Broomball League
Fridays: 5:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m. Weekend Open Skate

11:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. Family Open Skate
3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m. Hockey and Figure Skating Clinics by Minnesota Wild and St. Paul Skating Club
5:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m. Weekend Open Skate

11:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. Open Skate-"Waltz on Water" sponsored by MPR
3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m. Hockey and Figure Skating Clinics by Minnesota Wild and St. Paul Figure Skating Club
5:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m. Weekend Open Skate

The rink can be reserved for Mondays thru Thursdays from 4:00 pm to 9:00 pm.

Admission is free. A warming tent, skate rental, and concession stand are on-site. Skate rental is $2, free for Wells Fargo customers who show their check card or credit card.

Great spot for a date!

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Why did Kerick withdraw?

Kerik withdraws from homeland security nomination
Yeah, sure, nanny stuff. Not to mentiona very spotty record in Saudi Arabia, some serious suspicion about his earnings, and no evidence that the guy was good at what he did. Most of all, weren't there some recent high level resignations in homeland security? I wonder if the guys that do the real work were in panic mode. Kerik looked like a ridiculous choice.

The real loser, as Emily says, is Giuliani. He'd pushed Kerik relentlessly. Bush is not a forgiving man. Giuliani has a lot to make up for.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Why is Japan always the future?

ASIAN POP The Gadget Gap / Why does all the cool stuff come out in Asia first?
Here in the U.S., corporate buying tends to drive innovation -- technology goes where business wants it to go. In Japan, technology is largely driven by individual consumers. They save a lot, but when they spend, they buy the best. I mean, Louis Vuitton racks up over a third of its total global sales in Japan, and that's true for a lot of the luxury brands.'

Young Japanese are tech crazy. It's not clear that their behavior increases income or leisure time, it seems to be that high tech devices are an end in themselves.

I wonder how much this is driven by the pervasive reality of Japanese existence -- limited space. Tech gadgets, especially those sold in Japan, consume very little space.

And so the Japanese gizmo market is far ahead of our boring, dull, tech market. Always has been, always will be. It's not clear to me that even the Koreans or Chinese will ever be as excited by novel gadgets.

By comparison, Americans are far ahead in ..... gasoline and fat consumption? Political bloviation? Hmmm.

Walter Mossberg is fed up with Windows XP, he prefers OS X

Personal Technology -- Personal Technology from The Wall Street Journal.
Meanwhile, the company's historic rival, Apple Computer, has been making giant strides in ease of use. The Macintosh, with its OS X operating system, is rock solid. It is elegant, and -- when you do a feature-by-feature price comparison with Windows competitors -- it's surprisingly affordable.

The Mac is also packed with extras that Windows lacks. It has a suite of easy, free, multimedia programs that can't be matched on Windows at any price. It has a better free browser and e-mail program than Windows. It can read and create PDF files without requiring the purchase of any extra software.

Apple upgrades its operating system far more often than Microsoft does. The company's new iMac G5 model is the single best desktop computer I have ever reviewed. And Apple is the only computer company whose business is focused on consumers and small businesses.

Best of all, the current Mac operating system has never been attacked by a successful virus, and almost no spyware can run on it. This is largely because the Mac's small market share presents an unattractive target for digital criminals. But it's partly because the Mac operating system is harder to penetrate. I'm sure there will eventually be viruses that afflict Mac users, but nowhere near the 5,000 new Windows viruses that appeared in just the first six months of this year.

In terms of ease of use, Apple has opened a greater lead over Microsoft than at any time since the late 1980s, when the Mac was pioneering the graphical user interface and Microsoft users were stuck with crude, early versions of Windows.

Interesting. Mossberg is very powerful in the PC world, his WSJ column is widely read. This week he rips into Microsoft, claiming that XP and IE's security issues have made XP a step backwards from Windows 98. Instead he favors Apple. I think he overstates the stability of OS X however -- Apple has a lot of work to do with their QA process for patch releases. An open letter to the Linux community from PalmSource An open letter to the Linux community from PalmSource

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Our glorious leader

221104bilboard.jpg (JPEG Image, 500x245 pixels)

I've seen the light. I repent. I embrace GWB as my leader. Honest.

Rat brain flies plane -- organic neural network

William Gibson
Florida scientists have grown a brain in a petri dish and taught it to fly a fighter plane.

The "brain", grown from 25,000 neural cells extracted from a single rat embryo, has been taught to fly an F-22 jet simulator by scientists at the University of Florida. It was taught to control the flight path, even in mock hurricane-strength winds...

When I was a youngster at CIT, one of my profs, a Dr. Hudspeth, was keen on neural networks. Back then those were arrays of silicon. Later neural networks were emulated in software. Now we build them from ... neural networks.

Gibson's blog post on this piece is a mini-snapshot of the near future.

A few months ago I posted on another use of rat brains, that time more of an intact structure. Or maybe it was a fly's neural network. Heck, I can't keep track any more.

I feel the dank chill of the nearing Singularity ...

God created the parathyroid to challenge our faith

BBC NEWS | Health | Gill theory of human glands
The human parathyroid glands, which regulate the level of calcium in the blood, probably evolved from the gills of fish, say researchers. ...

... The researchers supported their theory by carrying out experiments comparing the parathyroid gland of chickens and mice and the gills of zebrafish and dogfish.

They found both develop from the same type of tissue in the embryo, called the pharyngeal pouch endoderm.

Both structures also express a gene called Gcm-2, which is crucial for their proper development.

The researchers also found a gene for parathyroid hormone in fish, and they discovered that this gene is expressed in the gills.

Professor Graham said: 'The parathyroid gland and the gills of fish are related structures and likely share a common evolutionary history.

'This new research suggests that in fact, our gills are still sitting in our throats - disguised as our parathyroid glands.'

Can't be evolution in action. Must be a ploy by God to detect those of weak faith.

Sequencing dinosaur DNA -- the jungle fowl

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Chicken gives up genetic secrets
Scientists have published a detailed analysis of the chicken genome, the biochemical "code" in the bird's cells that makes the animal what it is.

... The primary subject for the study was the red jungle fowl (Gallus gallus), the wild species from which domestic poultry was bred several thousand years ago.

... There are about 1.1 billion base-pairs in the chicken genome wound into 40 distinct bundles, or chromosomes. Written in the DNA are roughly 20-23,000 genes ... In the human genome, there are 3 billion base-pairs and 20-25,000 genes ...

... The analysis reveals that just 2.5% of the human code can be matched to chicken DNA.

It is an important finding. This small portion contains genes that have been largely preserved over the 310 million years since humans and birds shared a common ancestor.

... On a pure research level, though, there are some real gems in the chicken genome.

These include the realisation that the birds have a keen sense of smell. Scientists can also see genes related specifically to feathers, claws and scales - code sequences that are absent in humans.

Yes, scales. As in dinosaur scales. Keen sense of smell -- like dinosaurs. It will be interesting to compare these sequences to other legacies of the dinosaur era. Although humans have more base-pairs, the number of genes between bird and man are remarkably similar. Does this mean we are of roughly equal complexity? I wonder how much of the DNAis apparently non-coding? There's going to be a heck of a lot of fascinating science coming from this ...

How to talk usefully about the funding of public education

A call to action for Twin Cities schools
The time has come for the state of Minnesota to put up the money needed to fund public education adequately or let school districts raise the money they need themselves, a group of Twin Cities-area school district officials said Tuesday.

The Association of Metropolitan School Districts estimates that its 26 member districts face more than $88 million in cuts in 2005-06, unless state funding formulas dramatically increase. That gloomy picture is just part of a trend, the group's leaders said at a St. Paul news conference. Over the past three years, member districts -- which educate about one-third of the state's schoolchildren -- have eliminated the jobs of more than 2,800 employees, including about 2,000 teachers.

Of all the sterile discussions I have to endure, among the least valuable are discussions about educational funding. In my experience, no-one presents any useful data.

I'd like each presentation to begin with 4 charts, with an optional 5th chart for discussions of local funding (all inflation adjusted of course):

1. A 15 yr chart of per student funding.
2. A 15 yr chart of spend on infrastructure (buildings, etc).
3. A 15 yr chart of the average salary of a state legislator.
4. A 15 yr chart of the % of students enrolled in public education (vs. private education).
5. Optional: A 15 yr chart of local tax revenue.

Once those charts are up front, one can talk intelligently. I would expect student per student costs to rise faster than inflation because:

1. Knowledge workers are becoming more costly, so there's increasing competition for teachers.
2. We're working harder to educate chidlren with language, cognitive and income disadvantages.
3. Regulations and computerization are impacting infrastructure spend.
4. Migration to private schools or to wealthier districts increases public school educational costs (private schools "cherry pick" children who are less costly to educate).

If one finds that educational spend is barely tracking inflation, then we likely have a serious underspend.

Ahh, but what if tax revenues are declining? Our population is aging and may consider education to be a lower priority. That is the crux of the matter. It is fundamentally the same issue we face with social security "reform". What is the duty owed by society to citizens, and citizens to society?

The Harrow Group: Futurist newsletters

The Harrow Group

Nanotech, singularity, politics, biology. Sounds like my kind of guy.

Soviet america. Four years ago, I wouldn't have given this much credence ... News | Whitewashing torture?
Col. C. Tsai, a military doctor who examined Ford in Germany and found nothing wrong with him, told a film crew for Spiegel Television that he was 'not surprised' at Ford's diagnosis. Tsai told Spiegel that he had treated 'three or four' other U.S. soldiers from Iraq that were also sent to Landstuhl for psychological evaluations or 'combat stress counseling' after they reported incidents of detainee abuse or other wrongdoing by American soldiers.

Artiga and other higher-ups in the 223rd M.I. Battalion deny Ford's charges. But in the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib scandal, federal agencies including the Department of Defense, the Army's Criminal Investigation Command (CID), and the FBI are finally looking into them. The Department of the Army's Office of the Inspector General has launched an investigation, according to Ford and his attorney, Kevin Healy, who have been contacted by investigators. If Ford's allegations are proven, the Army would be faced with evidence that its prisoner abuse problem is even more widespread than previously acknowledged -- and that some of its own officers not only turned a blind eye to abuses but actively participated in covering them up...

...The propellers of the huge turboprop engines on the C-130 sent scorching blasts of superheated air back toward the group, almost hot enough to singe the skin on a face. (When I left Iraq from the same tarmac a few months later, I did get burned from the blasts.) As Ford's gurney sank into the steaming tarmac, Madera and the other medical officer wheeled him up the long ramp and into the aircraft's cavernous interior. Once they were airborne, Madera unstrapped Ford and motioned for him to sit next to her on one of the hard benches that run along the sides of the plane. "She told me that she was forced to get me out of Iraq ASAP by Ryan and Artiga, who she claimed were scared to death by what I might say. She also told me that she wanted me to get out of Iraq as soon as possible because she feared for my safety." Ford said Madera also told him, "These people are serious and very scary." She apologized for having orchestrated such an exit, but said there was no other way. "I told her that I understood, but felt as though I had just been kidnapped." According to Ford, Madera replied, "You were."

Madera did not respond to several requests to be interviewed for this story.

Four years ago I'd not have given this much credence. Now I'd give it a 50% chance of being at least partially true. Indeed, one wonders if straightforward murder isn't more often used to silence critics. It would be much tougher to track down.

I wonder if any mainstream media will pick this up. There are enough names provided in this article that if there's any truth to the allegations we should learn more fairly easily.

Fake psychiatric "diagnoses" and psychiatric "sentencing" were mainstays of the Soviet union. Some days I think GWB is a deep soviet plant.

Bush/Rumsfeld is making us all crazy.

The self-service economy - your home as a warehouse | The self-service economy
SO YOU want to withdraw cash from your bank account? Do it yourself. Want to install a broadband internet connection? Do it yourself. Need a boarding card issued for your flight? Do it yourself. Thanks to the proliferation of websites, kiosks and automated phone systems, you can also track packages, manage your finances, switch phone tariffs, organise your own holiday (juggling offers from different websites), and select your own theatre seats while buying tickets. These are all tasks that used to involve human interaction. But now they have been subsumed into the self-service economy...

This September 2004 article described the number of ways that service roles have become self-service. Today, as we struggled to find mittens for our kids, I realized something else had been outsourced to us -- inventory management. The modern home is a warehouse.

I see this mostly with clothing. Children's clothes are dirt cheap now, but supply is as unpredictable as quality. One day there's a deluge of small mittens. Another day it's socks. Another day hats. Then large mittens. One cannot go to the store FOR an item. One must conduct store surveillance, purchasing items of interest.

The clothing supply chain behaves as though it has no inventory.

So where's the inventory? In the home. Suburban homes of middle class Americans are pretty large, with lots of storage space. When Walmart has size M mittens, the avid shopper can buy twenty or thirty pairs. That would last us ... a week. Ok, so it's a season for most people.

It makes sense. No-one wants to hold inventory any more. It's expensive and risky. Far better to slash prices, and transfer the inventory burden to the consumer.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Global warming summary and recommendations

eBulletin - Global Warming: A Perspective from Earth History

An interesting summary. It looks like we'll see sea level rise sharply over the next 30-90 years. Maybe 10 meters higher. The solutions given current technology seem unlikely to be implemented and are not necessarily feasible.

Looks like options are:

1. Immense research into alternative energy sources. Unfortunately these don't look promising.
2. Immense investment into energy conservation -- this could decrease emissions significantly. Best funded by a serious tax on energy. Sigh.
3. Teach humans to live underwater. Hmm.

Ok, so we don't have any great options. I'd say humanity is pathetic at solving these kind of problems, but we did manage the freon transition. This is only a hundred to a thousand times harder. We must hope China will be smarter than the US.

More in the solar system than thought possible?

The New York Times > Science > Sun Might Have Exchanged Hangers-On With Rival Star
...Either encounter would also leave alien planetoids in our solar system (and some of ours in the alien system) orbiting at a steep angle to the plane in which the planets go around. And so the next step is to search for such objects.

Sedna itself has only a moderately inclined orbit, the astronomers say. A more likely candidate for an extra-solar origin is another icy wanderer, known as 2000 CR105, about half the size of Sedna, discovered out beyond Neptune in 2000. Its orbit is inclined 20 degrees to the planets.

The detection of objects with inclinations of 40 degrees or more, the authors write in Nature, 'would clinch the case for extrasolar objects in the solar system.'

Great. Planetary bodies whipping around in unexpected orbits. The article doesn't say how far out these objects are supposed to be.

Cruise ship nursing homes?

The New York Times > Health > At Sea, Care for Aged (and All You Can Eat)
For only slightly more than the average cost of a year in an assisted living residence, older people can live aboard a luxury liner with many of the same services, including meals, housekeeping and medical care at all hours - not to mention entertainment.

While it may not be a serious option for people with chronic or severe medical disorders, life at sea may have its benefits for those who can take it, according to a study in the November issue of The Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

'A lot of people in assisted living facilities are dissatisfied with what they're paying and the services that they get,' said Dr. Lee Lindquist, an instructor of medicine at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern and the lead author of the study. 'A nice facility can be extremely expensive, and a lot of seniors have to go into their own savings because Medicare doesn't cover it. When you think about all the amenities you get, living on a cruise ship is more desirable for certain people.'

Dr. Lindquist, a geriatrician, came up with the idea for the study on a recent cruise. At dinner one night, she was chatting with some people who reminded her of her patients. Then the idea hit.

Hey! I thought of this one years ago. Except I was thinking it would make a great nursing home. Just wheel me off at one spot or another ...

On the external representation of information in string theory

The New York Times > Science > String Theory, at 20, Explains It All (or Not)
....For years physicists have looked for the origins of string theory in some sort of deep and esoteric symmetry, but string theory has turned out to be weirder than that.

Recently it has painted a picture of nature as a kind of hologram. In the holographic images often seen on bank cards, the illusion of three dimensions is created on a two-dimensional surface. Likewise string theory suggests that in nature all the information about what is happening inside some volume of space is somehow encoded on its outer boundary, according to work by several theorists, including Dr. Juan Maldacena of the Institute for Advanced Study and Dr. Raphael Bousso of the University of California, Berkeley.

Just how and why a three-dimensional reality can spring from just two dimensions, or four dimensions can unfold from three, is as baffling to people like Dr. Witten as it probably is to someone reading about it in a newspaper.

In effect, as Dr. Witten put it, an extra dimension of space can mysteriously appear out of "nothing."

Hmm. Of course if one assumes that the "universe" being described by string theory is itself a sort of simulation running on god's own computer ...

I can see why Caltech's Dabney House was so popular with physicists in the 1970s.

The NYT publishes an extensive review of string theory

The New York Times > Science > String Theory, at 20, Explains It All (or Not)
The string revolution had its roots in a quixotic effort in the 1970's to understand the so-called 'strong' force that binds quarks into particles like protons and neutrons. Why were individual quarks never seen in nature? Perhaps because they were on the ends of strings, said physicists, following up on work by Dr. Gabriele Veneziano of CERN, the European research consortium.

That would explain why you cannot have a single quark - you cannot have a string with only one end. Strings seduced many physicists with their mathematical elegance, but they had some problems, like requiring 26 dimensions and a plethora of mysterious particles that did not seem to have anything to do with quarks or the strong force.

When accelerator experiments supported an alternative theory of quark behavior known as quantum chromodynamics, most physicists consigned strings to the dustbin of history.

A very thorough summary! Despite reading some popular books on the topic, I'd not known that string theory's first iteration was back in the 1970s, nor that Feynman had done it in with QCD.

The social security crisis: it's political, not fiscal

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Columnist: Inventing a Crisis
... But since the politics of privatization depend on convincing the public that there is a Social Security crisis, the privatizers have done their best to invent one.

My favorite example of their three-card-monte logic goes like this: first, they insist that the Social Security system's current surplus and the trust fund it has been accumulating with that surplus are meaningless. Social Security, they say, isn't really an independent entity - it's just part of the federal government.

If the trust fund is meaningless, by the way, that Greenspan-sponsored tax increase in the 1980's was nothing but an exercise in class warfare: taxes on working-class Americans went up, taxes on the affluent went down, and the workers have nothing to show for their sacrifice.

But never mind: the same people who claim that Social Security isn't an independent entity when it runs surpluses also insist that late next decade, when the benefit payments start to exceed the payroll tax receipts, this will represent a crisis - you see, Social Security has its own dedicated financing, and therefore must stand on its own.

There's no honest way anyone can hold both these positions, but very little about the privatizers' position is honest. They come to bury Social Security, not to save it. They aren't sincerely concerned about the possibility that the system will someday fail; they're disturbed by the system's historic success.

For Social Security is a government program that works, a demonstration that a modest amount of taxing and spending can make people's lives better and more secure. And that's why the right wants to destroy it.

Social security is ground zero in a debate about the role of government in american life. This is not a fight about financing social security, it's a fight about the role of government.

Since we Democrats lie bloodied and defeated on the field of battle, while our enemies wax triumphant about us, we might as well speak honestly. Krugman does a fine job here. All we can do is speak clearly and do our best to ensure that Americans know what's going to happen to them, and why it's going to happen. Unfortunately, this message will not be carried on Republican TV/radio/newspapers, etc.

Multiple sclerosis, birth month and sun exposure

BBC NEWS | Health | MS risk 'linked to birth month'
The team said other studies had suggested exposure to the sun or seasonal variations in a mother's vitamin D levels during pregnancy may have an impact on brain development.

Children born in November & December in northern countries had a lower risk of developing MS as adults, May was a bad month. This suggests the disease may have a quite early onset, but only manifest later in life.

I like the sunlight theory myself. Twenty years ago I speculated about this as a medical student. It's the obvious explanation for the correlation between latitude and disease incidence; the theory must have occurred to thousands of students over the past forty years. I thought then that it might be related to cutanous immune cells. There is a lot of curious immunology that appears to go on in the skin and it makes sense that it could be affected by radiation exposure and by the adaptations to radiation exposure.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Research anyone, anywhere

Background Check, Phone Number Lookup, Trace email, Criminal record, Find People, cell phone number search, License Plate Search

Nothing surprising here -- only the expansion and integration of longstanding services for researching individuals. Yahoo's offered similar services for years. I wonder if they're offshore -- best place to avoid any pesky privacy laws.

Memory loss: middle-aged and more

The New York Times > Magazine > In Search of Lost Time

Every brain has an intrinsic aging rate. Based on data on human lifespan and inferred aging rates (natural lifespan: 60-120 years, mean 90*) the range is +/- 33%, with aging starting around age 20. So by age 40 some lucky people have a brain similar to that of the average 33 yo, others resemble the average 47 yo. That's a significant enough span that we begin to notice winners and losers in the aging lottery. I have not read anything, by the way, that tells me that this aging rate can be significantly improved upon (though severe dietary restriction might help if started at age 20 -- note, however, than anorexics have fairly severe acceleration of brain aging, possibly due to the direct toxic effects of stress hormones).

Now add disease. Even a relatively mild concussion ages the brain significantly. Vascular disorders, infections, neurologic disorders, persistent stress, substance abuse, even social standing all come into play. Some primary dementing disorders, such as Parkinson's, begin to manifest. (It's unclear to me if Alzheimer's is a primary disorder, or a disorders of accelerated aging of the brain. The distinction may be subtle.)

The result is that by our 40s many of us worry about our cognitive capacities. This is particularly true of "knowledge workers", and probably less true of managers, CEOs, or politicians (political skills seem to be far more resilient than mere IQ).

This NYT Magazine article provides a fascinating summary of recent thinking about these cognitive disorders, and about the consequences of an aging brain in a post-industrial world.

It has an important message for those who blithely assume that extended life expectancy means we can work longer. They confuse life expectancy with functional cognitive skills. They'd never assume that brick layer would be laying bricks at 60, but they imagine the brain is less vulnerable to age than the spine. (Ok, so the spine is a pretty crummy device, and is a strong argument against "intelligent design", but you get the idea.)

So, yes, we'll be working when we're 75. We won't, however, be devising new implementations of cutting edge nanotech. We'll be doing the 2030 equivalent of bagging groceries -- except for politicians and the lucky few who will have the brains of a 55 yo at age 70.

Ten years ago it was obvious that the best way to dodge the demographic bullet would be to throw great resources into identifying specific interventions that might slow the aging of the human brain. We didn't do that. Too bad.

* Update: being middle-aged myself, I naturally flubbed the trivial arithmetic here.