Sunday, May 31, 2009

Wisdom from the flames - a different OS X future

Gizmodo had fun recently comparing Windows 7 buzz to the disinterest in OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard). The photo of a demonic Ballmer about to devour a sleeping Snow Leopard kitten should hang in his office.

It makes for lots of links and traffic, but I think there's a deeper lesson.

Windows 7, aka Vista 3.0 is very important. XP is decayed and too vulnerable to attack. Vista has gotten a bad rap and is not much used by businesses. Windows 7 will either be immensely successful or one of history's great corporations will go under. That deserves attention.

Snow Leopard? Ummm, tell me again why I need it?!

Sure, I love scalable UIs -- but I'm not sure that's in Snow Leopard and it should be an update to 10.5, not yet another big migration. Yes, 64 bit would be nice, but I can wait a few more years. We could do a lot with 4GB of memory if we were a wee bit less sloppy. I wouldn't mind putting those GPUs to use, but I suspect that need not require a big OS revision.

To be honest, I'm a bit tired. The 10.5 transition has not been a pleasant experience. There've been too many problems with OS bugs and hardware incompatibility. Too many parts of OS X 10.5, from iChat to accessibility to managed users to security usability (why can't one escalate privileges to modify a locked Dock?) need rework and finish.

I don't need 10.6. I don't want 10.6. I want Apple to pour a few millions in to making 10.5 better.

Ahh, but there's the rub. Apple needs to make money.

So here's my proposal to Apple.

Sure, keep working on 10.6. Maybe ship it this year if you need to, preferably ease off and wait until the summer of 2010. Meanwhile, find a way to make money off 10.5 updates. I don't know how Apple can fudge this and live within accounting rules, but there must be a way. Maybe Apple could bundle 10.5 enhanced with MobileMe, so that MobileMe subscribers get a steady stream of 10.5 fixes and improvements.

Please Apple, do something to make my life better. The current arrangement really ain't working that well for me.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Unheard stories of the 19th century - Irish evacuation to Montreal

Sometime in the 20th century, I was a medical student at St Anthony Hospital in the north of Newfoundland. The Hospital was a legacy of the Grenfell Medical Mission, so I read Grenfell's (sometimes fanciful) stories of the late 19th and early 20th century european hunter gatherers of those remote lands.

Those were, and are, tough lands. The native population was small even before the european plagues.

Foreign to those all but uninhabitable lands the europeans hunted fish and seal, lived as debt slaves in squalor and misery, and died in droves on the ice. I was not long from a stay in 1980s Bangladesh, then a synonym for misery, and I though that hot misery had its advantages over cold misery.

No-one in those days, incidentally, would have predicted Bangladesh would do as relatively well as it has. That's worth remembering.

The stories of Newfoundland's back country are fascinating, but they are all but forgotten to our time. Just like this glimpse of the Malthusian agony of Ireland's 19th century, seen from Montreal, Canada in the years before America's immigration-amplified civil war ...
Seeking hope, they found death Rene Bruemmer, The Gazette
The Irish came by the tens of thousands in 1847, packed like cordwood below deck in fetid ship holds meant for timber....
... There were so many corpses, trenches were dug to dispose of the dead in what is now Point St. Charles. Twelve years later, labourers building the Victoria Bridge would uncover the bones of their brethren and insist the remains be protected. To make sure of it, they planted a massive 30-tonne, 10-foot high boulder dredged from the St. Lawrence River over the burial site, and inscribed it, in part: "To preserve from desecration the remains of 6,000 immigrants who died of ship fever."  [Epidemic Typhus, a Rickettsial disease transmitted by human lice]...
... In 1845, potatoes were struck by a fungal infection that caused half the crop to rot in the earth. In 1846, the blight returned, wiping out almost the entire crop, followed by one of the harshest winters in living memory, and the people starved....
... Most would have preferred the well-established promised lands of New York and Boston, but America had set strict standards and fares for passage to the U.S. were too high for the impoverished. But British traders who shipped lumber from Quebec City and St. John's were happy to have emigrants paying a low fare to serve as ballast for their return trips to Canada. Many passage brokers told passengers food would be provided for the 45-day journey, which was untrue...
... Canadian immigration officials, who had no say in emigration policies determined by the British colonial authorities, were sorely unprepared and underfunded for the deluge of emaciated Irish. At the immigration depot on Grosse Île, an island in the middle of the St. Lawrence 50 kilometres east of Quebec City, the medical officer in charge of the quarantine station prepared beds for 200 invalids, thinking 10,000 emigrants had departed from Britain. That summer, more than 100,000 would flee to Quebec.
By the end of May, there were already 40 ships lined up for three kilometres, awaiting to discharge passengers. The ships kept coming till the river iced over in October....
... The ill overflowed the quarantine stations, lying outside on the grass and sand beaches. Healthy passengers were stuck waiting on the ships for 20 days, a death sentence for many. Bodies were pulled from the holds with hooks and stacked on shore. Between 3,000 and 5,000 died on Grosse Île...
... Overwhelmed health officials started waving many ships with "healthy" passengers on to Montreal.
They disembarked, malnourished and diseased, dying in the streets and on the wharves, begging for water on the steps of churches. Worried about an epidemic, authorities constructed three wooden "fever sheds" 150 feet long and 50 feet wide at Windmill Point, near where Victoria Bridge now stands in Point St. Charles. The sick and dying lay two or three to a bed, side by side with the dead, leaving hundreds of orphans behind. The number of sheds grew to 22. Military cordoned off the area so the sick couldn't escape.
Seeing the ill dying alone, the Grey Nuns went to help, attending to the sick and carrying women and children in their arms from the ships to the ambulances. Thirty of 40 nuns who went to help fell ill, and seven died, writes historian Edgar Andrew Collard. Other nuns took over, but once the surviving Grey Nuns had convalesced, they returned...
When a mob of frightened Montrealers threatened to toss the fever sheds into the river, Montreal mayor John Easton Mills quelled the riot, and later went himself to help in the evenings, giving them water and changing their straw bedding. The father of a large family, he died in November.
The Roman Catholic Bishop of Montreal urged French Quebecers, linked to the Irish by their Catholic faith, to help the orphans. Many came from the country to adopt one or two children, accepting them in to their families, in some cases passing their land on to them...
... Grosse Île, site of the largest Irish famine graveyard outside of Ireland, is now known as the Grosse Île and the Irish Memorial National Historic Site of Canada...
I grew up in Montreal, but this is the first I read this story. John Mills was born in deeply Protestant and English Massachusetts twenty years after the American revolution, but ended up in Canada. Were his family loyalists fleeing the rebels?  At 50 this presumably Protestant mayor of English descent died helping starving, diseased and exiled Catholic Irish. I wonder if any of his family survive to tell more of what must a remarkable life.

The movie almost writes itself, doesn't it? There would be worse ways to remember those people and those times.

There's a long way down from where most of the world is today. It would do us all well to look over the edge once in a while, the better to inspire our kindred ascents.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Videotron torments and choice in broadband markets (revised)

I wrote the original version of this post as a cautionary tale of miserable experiences with my mother's Quebec-based Videotron customer service. I related my personal story to broader concerns about lack of choice and competition in most broadband markets.

After I wrote it Videotron service did somewhat better. My original post was too one-sided. Things work differently in the old country.

Instead I wrote a technical summary of what I learned about managing a (Quebec) Videotron cable modem that's dropping connections.

There's one part of the original note I'll retain, and I expect to return this theme over the next few years. Most broadband markets in North America are increasingly served by only one or two providers. These at best oligopolies, and in many regions there's an effective monopoly.

This is a very bad thing for customers, and not such a good thing for employees who want to deliver good service. Oligopolies are corrosive. Always.

There's a role for government here. If we can't avoid oligopolies then we'll need regulation -- but that's a desperate solution. We need to encourage competition, even if that means breaking up companies that currently hold monopoly power.

Broadband is too important to become a part of a monopoly market.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The WHY of medical cost variation

The inescapable Dr Atul Gawande has drilled down on the why of medical cost variation: Annals of Medicine: The Cost Conundrum: Atul Gawande: The New Yorker. He drills down into the town with the world’s (universe’s?) highest health care costs -- McAllen, Texas – a mid-sized city with explosive population growth – and a significant amount of poverty

… The median income for a household in the city was $33,641, and the median income for a family was $36,050. Males had a median income of $30,089 versus $22,480 for females. The per capita income for the city was $14,939. About 20.9% of families and 23.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 30.5% of those under age 18 and 20.3% of those age 65 or over…

This isn’t another boring (boring) article on health care cost variation. Gawande, who is no amateur, knows the interesting question is “why?”. I loved his description of the body language of an anesthesiologist and hospital entrepreneur during one of his visits. I bet that CEO would prefer a root canal to a Gawande interview…

… I visited the top managers of Doctors Hospital at Renaissance. We sat in their boardroom around one end of a yacht-length table. The chairman of the board offered me a soda. The chief of staff smiled at me. The chief financial officer shook my hand as if I were an old friend. The C.E.O., however, was having a hard time pretending that he was happy to see me. Lawrence Gelman was a fifty-seven-year-old anesthesiologist with a Bill Clinton shock of white hair and a weekly local radio show tag-lined “Opinions from an Unrelenting Conservative Spirit.” He had helped found the hospital. He barely greeted me, and while the others were trying for a how-can-I-help-you-today attitude, his body language was more let’s-get-this-over-with.

So I asked him why McAllen’s health-care costs were so high. What he gave me was a disquisition on the theory and history of American health-care financing going back to Lyndon Johnson and the creation of Medicare, the upshot of which was: (1) Government is the problem in health care. “The people in charge of the purse strings don’t know what they’re doing.” (2) If anything, government insurance programs like Medicare don’t pay enough. “I, as an anesthesiologist, know that they pay me ten per cent of what a private insurer pays.” (3) Government programs are full of waste. “Every person in this room could easily go through the expenditures of Medicare and Medicaid and see all kinds of waste.” (4) But not in McAllen. The clinicians here, at least at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, “are providing necessary, essential health care,” Gelman said. “We don’t invent patients.”…

Gawande, like me, is interested in the (too few) qualitative studies of health care spending decisions

… Brenda Sirovich, another Dartmouth researcher, published a study last year that provided an important clue. She and her team surveyed some eight hundred primary-care physicians from high-cost cities (such as Las Vegas and New York), low-cost cities (such as Sacramento and Boise), and others in between. The researchers asked the physicians specifically how they would handle a variety of patient cases. It turned out that differences in decision-making emerged in only some kinds of cases. In situations in which the right thing to do was well established—for example, whether to recommend a mammogram for a fifty-year-old woman (the answer is yes)—physicians in high- and low-cost cities made the same decisions. But, in cases in which the science was unclear, some physicians pursued the maximum possible amount of testing and procedures; some pursued the minimum. And which kind of doctor they were depended on where they came from

But is it really where doctors trained, or is it something far more concrete?

.. I met with a hospital administrator who had extensive experience managing for-profit hospitals along the border. He offered a different possible explanation: the culture of money.

“In El Paso, if you took a random doctor and looked at his tax returns eighty-five per cent of his income would come from the usual practice of medicine,” he said. But in McAllen, the administrator thought, that percentage would be a lot less.

He knew of doctors who owned strip malls, orange groves, apartment complexes—or imaging centers, surgery centers, or another part of the hospital they directed patients to

… many physicians are remarkably oblivious to the financial implications of their decisions...

.. Others think of the money as a means of improving what they do…

…Then there are the physicians who see their practice primarily as a revenue stream...

In every community, you’ll find a mixture of these views among physicians, but one or another tends to predominate. McAllen seems simply to be the community at one extreme….

When we talk about practice variation we don’t usually think anthropology. That’s probably a mistake …

Woody Powell is a Stanford sociologist who studies the economic culture of cities..

.. Powell suspects that anchor tenants play a similarly powerful community role in other areas of economics, too, and health care may be no exception. I spoke to a marketing rep for a McAllen home-health agency who told me of a process uncannily similar to what Powell found in biotech. Her job is to persuade doctors to use her agency rather than others. The competition is fierce. I opened the phone book and found seventeen pages of listings for home-health agencies—two hundred and sixty in all. A patient typically brings in between twelve hundred and fifteen hundred dollars, and double that amount for specialized care. She described how, a decade or so ago, a few early agencies began rewarding doctors who ordered home visits with more than trinkets: they provided tickets to professional sporting events, jewelry, and other gifts. That set the tone. Other agencies jumped in. Some began paying doctors a supplemental salary, as “medical directors,” for steering business in their direction. Doctors came to expect a share of the revenue stream…

…The real puzzle of American health care, I realized on the airplane home, is not why McAllen is different from El Paso. It’s why El Paso isn’t like McAllen. Every incentive in the system is an invitation to go the way McAllen has gone. Yet, across the country, large numbers of communities have managed to control their health costs rather than ratchet them up…

Culture really, really, matters. Damnit.

And now from my neighborhood (more or less) …

I talked to Denis Cortese, the C.E.O. of the Mayo Clinic, which is among the highest-quality, lowest-cost health-care systems in the country…

…The core tenet of the Mayo Clinic is “The needs of the patient come first”—not the convenience of the doctors, not their revenues. The doctors and nurses, and even the janitors, sat in meetings almost weekly, working on ideas to make the service and the care better, not to get more money out of patients. I asked Cortese how the Mayo Clinic made this possible.

“It’s not easy,” he said. But decades ago Mayo recognized that the first thing it needed to do was eliminate the financial barriers. It pooled all the money the doctors and the hospital system received and began paying everyone a salary, so that the doctors’ goal in patient care couldn’t be increasing their income. Mayo promoted leaders who focused first on what was best for patients, and then on how to make this financially possible…

…Grand Junction’s medical community was not following anyone else’s recipe. But, like Mayo, it created what Elliott Fisher, of Dartmouth, calls an accountable-care organization. The leading doctors and the hospital system adopted measures to blunt harmful financial incentives, and they took collective responsibility for improving the sum total of patient care.

This approach has been adopted in other places, too: the Geisinger Health System, in Danville, Pennsylvania; the Marshfield Clinic, in Marshfield, Wisconsin; Intermountain Healthcare, in Salt Lake City; Kaiser Permanente, in Northern California. All of them function on similar principles. All are not-for-profit institutions. And all have produced enviably higher quality and lower costs than the average American town enjoys…

Gawande tries to come up with ways to replicate the lessons from Mayo et al. It’s not easy. One of lessons, which he quietly skates around, is that superb physicians will deliver superb medical care for much less than they’re paid in Texas. We don’t overpay our specialists as insanely as we overpay our CEOs – but we do pay far more than is needed to fill the jobs. CEOs are paid perhaps 5-20 times what they’d work for, but surgeons and many specialists are probably only paid 3-5 times too much.

Rationalizing reimbursement and incentives would more than pay for high quality universal health care – but it would be a devastating transition.

hat tip: Richard Neill, via Facebook

Monday, May 25, 2009

Mobile phone and automotive GPS collision avoidance for pedestrians, bicyclists, tricyclists, skaters and pets

Years ago I wondered about collision avoidance systems for bicycles and pedestrians.

Something like a vest that would reflect radar signals broadcast by cars.  The primary automobile use of the radar broadcasts would be to avoid auto collisions, but bicyclists would also benefit.

There would be lots of ways then to avoid bicycle fatalities. Maybe the bike is illuminated on an active windshield. Maybe there’s an audio alarm if vectors appear to intersect.

Now that we’ve got systems like Google Latitude (not available for iPhone – it needs background multitasking!) though, it’s obvious we can do the whole thing with next generation mobile phones.

We don’t even need to worry about this patent …

GPS collision avoidance system - Patent 5872526

… A collision avoidance system for a plurality of vehicles equipped with GPS receivers, each broadcasting current location information to other vehicles and receiving and displaying location information from other vehicles, enables a vehicle operator to be aware of the location of the other vehicles. For vehicles not equipped with GPS, and transceivers, information about location is taken from common ground control equipment such as an FAA control station and broadcast to all vehicles. In an aircraft environment, flight plans can be filed and closed out automatically…

The GPS source would be the mobile phones of the automobile passengers, and the mobile phone of the bicyclist. Not to mention the mobile-phone like device attached to dogs.

The phones can even manage the collision avoidance, though there are obvious advantages to having the car computer manage that.

It’s interesting to think how it could work with just phones, however.

If a phone knows it has a history of travel over 35 mph, it can assume it’s in a car. If Google Latitude 3.0 detects a car/mobile vector intersecting with a bicycle/skating/pet/pedestrian mobile vector it can send an audio message to the car stereo (“Pedestrian collision in 5 seconds … 4 seconds … 3 seconds … …. …. ambulance and police now enroute …”).

You can imagine lots of variants. Unfortunately, lots of opportunities for nasty abuse as well.

In a post-Peak Oil America of aging boomers, domesticating the wild and savage automobile will become increasingly important. These kinds of collision avoidance systems will mandated within 10 years.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

How Apple could surprise

We know what to expect for our July iPhone. Sounds excellent. I'll buy one.

Sad not to have any surprises though.

Unless ... how about a combo display, keyboard, battery and iphone cradle for, say, $250?

Add iPhone, get netbook.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Excellent discussion of randomness in everyday life

Leonard Mlodinow shows more than a touch of wisdom in this interview about randomness in every day life: What Are The Odds?.

Once upon a time I thought I could predict my future. I gave up that idea a long time ago. There are too many wild cards, too many unexpected opportunities.

Sit back, relax, and enjoy the good parts of the show.

Another Cheney fan rediscovers waterboarding really is torture

Now if only we could persuade Limbaugh and Cheney to take the treatment (emphases mine)…

Mancow Waterboarded, Admits It's Torture | NBC Chicago

… WLS radio host Erich "Mancow" Muller decided to subject himself to … waterboarding live on his show.

… "I want to find out if it's torture," Mancow told his listeners Friday morning, adding that he hoped his on-air test would help prove that waterboarding did not, in fact, constitute torture.

.. With a Chicago Fire Department paramedic on hand,  Mancow was placed on a 7-foot long table, his legs were elevated, and his feet were tied up.  

Turns out the stunt wasn't so funny. Witnesses said Muller thrashed on the table, and even instantly threw the toy cow he was holding as his emergency tool to signify when he wanted the experiment to stop.  He only lasted 6 or 7 seconds.

"It is way worse than I thought it would be, and that's no joke,"Mancow said, likening it to a time when he nearly drowned as a child.  "It is such an odd feeling to have water poured down your nose with your head back...It was instantaneous...and I don't want to say this: absolutely torture."

"I wanted to prove it wasn't torture," Mancow said.  "They cut off our heads, we put water on their face...I got voted to do this but I really thought 'I'm going to laugh this off.' "

Last year, Vanity Fair writer Christopher Hitchens endured the same experiment -- and came to a similar conclusion. The conservative writer said he found the treatment terrifying, and was haunted by it for months afterward.

"Well, then, if waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture," Hitchens concluded in the article.

One the one hand, Mancow is a complete idiot*. How could he have failed to do even a trivial amount of research?

On the other hand, as a human being, he’s an improvement over Cheney, Limbaugh, Rumsfeld and the like. He at least has a sense of honor.

* In the modern sense of the word, as in someone who’s cognitively intact but voluntarily makes astoundingly bad choices.

Google needs to add permalinks to their social link generated feed page

Google generates a web view of the blog posts I share in Google reader.

That's great, but they're missing a killer feature.

I can link link to the page, but I can't create a link to a specific comment/reference pair on the page, such as this comment of mine
... (link) Fallows, who really knows better, slowly falls upon the nub of the matter.

There are a lot of good-enough amateur writers and thinkers in the world.

No, not usually as good as a professional journalist, but pretty darned good.

That's always been true, but over the past 17 years the cost of entry to the world of publishing has fallen by a factor of ... about 10,000.

Damned, that's disruptive.

Journalism needs to refocus on core strengths and value. The old equation doesn't work.

Oh, and newsprint is dead, dead, dead.
Google needs to add an inline permalink to the generated page, so we can reference a Google-generated feed-share with all associated notes and comments.

IBM should buy Bloglines and roll it into Lotus Connections

I was once a Bloglines customer, but Google Reader surpassed them years ago. Bloglines didn’t have the money to compete; their inability to produce a good mobile product in 2008 was the last straw for me.

Happily, they’re still around. I can’t see how they survive though.

There is a better future. In my corporate life I’ve been confounded by the lack of a decent, shareable, web-based feed reader for inside-the-firewall Sharepoint and other blogs. There aren’t even any decent Windows desktop feed readers left (though I’ve not tried the astoundingly horrible Outlook 2007 reader with SP2).

IBM wants to compete in this subscription/collaboration world with Lotus Connections, but their current web reader component is less than ideal.


IBM acquires or licenses Bloglines and funds Active Directory integration to support Sharepoint feed integration.


Dementia is normal - and what that means

In a post-industrial age of low birth rates the greatest economic challenge for wealthy nations is acquired cognitive disability -- better known as dementia.

So we ought to think clearly about dementia. It doesn't help that my generation of physicians were taught to think of dementia as an "abnormal" disease like the flu, rather than an all-but-inevitable consequence of aging.

A recent popular review, which was ironically intended to be inspiring, underscores how "normal" (typical) dementia is (emphases mine) ...
... In recent years scientists have become intensely interested in what could be called a super memory club — the fewer than one in 200 of us who ... have lived past 90 without a trace of dementia....
... Laguna Woods, a sprawling retirement community of 20,000 south of Los Angeles, is at the center of the world’s largest decades-long study of health and mental acuity in the elderly. Begun by University of Southern California researchers in 1981 and called the 90+ Study, it has included more than 14,000 people aged 65 and older, and more than 1,000 aged 90 or older.
... researchers have also demonstrated that the percentage of people with dementia after 90 does not plateau or taper off, as some experts had suspected. It continues to increase, so that for the one in 600 people who make it to 95, nearly 40 percent of the men and 60 percent of the women qualify for a diagnosis of dementia.
... it is precisely that ability to form new memories of the day, the present, that usually goes first in dementia cases, studies in Laguna Woods and elsewhere have found.
The very old who live among their peers know this intimately, and have developed their own expertise, their own laboratory. They diagnose each other, based on careful observation....
...Here at Laguna Woods, many residents make such delicate calculations in one place: the bridge table.
Contract bridge requires a strong memory. It involves four players, paired off, and each player must read his or her partner’s strategy by closely following what is played. Good players remember every card played and its significance for the team. Forget a card, or fall behind, and it can cost the team — and the social connection — dearly.
“When a partner starts to slip, you can’t trust them,” said Julie Davis, 89, a regular player living in Laguna Woods. “That’s what it comes down to. It’s terrible to say it that way, and worse to watch it happen. But other players get very annoyed. You can’t help yourself.”
... Later, the partner stares uncertainly at the cards on the table. “Is that ——”
“We played that trick already,” Ms. Cummins says. “You’re a trick behind.”
Most regular players at Laguna Woods know of at least one player who, embarrassed by lapses, bowed out of the regular game. “A friend of mine, a very good player, when she thought she couldn’t keep up, she automatically dropped out,” Ms. Cummins said. “That’s usually what happens.”
Yet it is part of the tragedy of dementia that, in many cases, the condition quickly robs people of self-awareness. They will not voluntarily abandon the one thing that, perhaps more than any other, defines their daily existence...
... In studies of the very old, researchers in California, New York, Boston and elsewhere have found clues to that good fortune. For instance, Dr. Kawas’s group has found that some people who are lucid until the end of a very long life have brains that appear riddled with Alzheimer’s disease. In a study released last month, the researchers report that many of them carry a gene variant called APOE2, which may help them maintain mental sharpness.
Dr. Nir Barzilai of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine has found that lucid Ashkenazi Jewish centenarians are three times more likely to carry a gene called CETP, which appears to increase the size and amount of so-called good cholesterol particles, than peers who succumbed to dementia...
Imagine how hellish that bridge table can be. Every game, a test. Show weakness, slip, and death is your fate. First social death, then the grave. It makes professional baseball look like ... child's play.

I'd bet a good amount that the "protective" "social" effect of playing bridge is bull poop. This is all about a survivor-effect correlation. Only the genetically gifted slow agers can play. On the other hand, I doubt that even the best of those bridge players could handle a modern knowledge worker job -- they are good for their age, but they are not immortal.

So if we (mostly) set aside wistful hopes of some kind of mental activity that protects against normal, all-but-inevitable, age related dementia, what do we have left to learn from these and similar studies?

We know it helps to be born clever, but that only gives your airplane more fuel -- it doesn't by itself slow the normal process of brain mush. Many brilliant thinkers with, at their peak, one in a million minds, are relatively disabled by their 70s - though still better off than most of us.

We can't do much with the brains we're born with, but we do have animal model evidence, and less definitive human evidence (because we don't randomly experiment then autopsy humans), that physical exercise is protective against normal dementia. Seems bizarre to me, but it holds up. On the other hand, head injury accelerates dementia, so don't make your exercise football, contact hockey, boxing, or horse jumping.

Exercise and head whacks aside, this is all about genes and medicines. It's about identifying those whose brains hold up longer, then figuring out the trick of it, then looking for a medicine that will help the average person. It's slow, hard work, but success is worth trillions in economic growth and a significant reduction in human suffering. By that metric, we're grossly underfunding this research. The potential payoff is enormous compared to say, cancer research. (I've been pointing this out, incidentally, for at least twenty years. It's not hard to do the math.)

Barring any breakthroughs, however, we boomers need to get real about our future. We expect we're going to have to keep working to 70 or beyond, but you can't cheat mother nature. Dementia is the end-point of a disabling process that starts, for most of us, when we're about 25. We'll be working, but we'll be doing more grocery bagging than particle physics.

Maybe we should think about how to make the less cognitive life more appealing. Maybe we ought to think about how society supports those with cognitive disabilities at all ages ...

The GOP's new message: we are a nation of cowards

Gail Collins said it well today.

The GOP's meme of the day is that we're a nation of cowards; we cannot tolerate evildoers living within massive prisons anywhere near our homes. Instead we should leave then near, say, Cuban homes. Or, better yet, kill 'em all without trial.

We are still a sick nation, but the GOP is sicker than the rest of us.

Get a freakin' grip America! Show some spine for a change.

It must be a sad thing to have to give allegiance to the modern GOP. If their idea of "reform" is Newt Gingrich then the party should be euthanized. America needs a new alternative to the Dems.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Obama vs. Cheney is as simple as Good vs. Evil

I really am a shades of gray guy.

Sometimes, though, the shades are pretty extreme.

The Obama vs. Cheney speeches are about as simple as good vs. evil.

No, Cheney's not (yet) a mass murderer. He does, however, want America to travel a road well worn by evil regimes. He champions an evil cause.

No, Obama is far from a saint. He does, however, call on America to remember its nobility.

It's rare to have such a clear choice.
Obama stands firm on closing Guantanamo |World news |
Barack Obama today laid out a broad case for closing the Guantánamo Bay prison and banning the "enhanced interrogation techniques" that have been condemned as torture – while accusing his opponents of wanting to scare Americans to win political battles.
In a grand hall at the US national archives, standing directly in front of original copies of the US constitution and declaration of independence, Obama said the current legal and political battles in Washington over the fate of the 240 prisoners there stemmed not from his decision to close the facility, but from George Bush's move seven years ago to open it...
... , Dick Cheney gave a rebuttal at a conservative Washington think tank, the American Enterprise Institute. The former vice-president defended many of the Bush administration policies Obama is now unraveling, and mentioned either "September 11" or "9/11" 25 times.
Cheney said Saddam Hussein had "known ties" to terrorists, an apparent rehashing of the widely discredited Bush administration effort to link the Iraqi dictator to the September 11 2001 hijackers.
... Obama today said that indefinite detention at Guantánamo Bay and the prison's harsh interrogation methods had undermined the rule of law, alienated America from the rest of the world, served as a rallying cry and recruiting symbol for terrorists, risked the lives of American troops by making it less likely enemy combatants would surrender, and increased the likelihood American prisoners of war would be mistreated. The camp's existence discouraged US allies from cooperating in the fight against international terrorism, he said.
"There is also no question that Guantánamo set back the moral authority that is America's strongest currency in the world," he said. "Instead of building a durable framework for the struggle against al-Qaida that drew upon our deeply held values and traditions, our government was defending positions that undermined the rule of law."
Calling Guantánamo "a mess, a misguided experiment", he condemned the re-emergence of bitter political fighting over the prison and the future of its 240 inmates.
"We will be ill-served by some of the fear-mongering that emerges whenever we discuss this issue," he said. "Listening to the recent debate, I've heard words that are calculated to scare people rather than educate them; words that have more to do with politics than protecting our country."
... He acknowledged that a number of Guantánamo prisoners could not be prosecuted yet posed a clear threat to the US: those who had trained at al-Qaida camps, commanded Taliban troops, pledged loyalty to Osama bin Laden and sworn to kill Americans.
"These are people who, in effect, remain at war with the United States," he said.
He pledged to construct a new legal framework to deal with those prisoners, saying that if they warranted long-term detention the decision should be made not by the president alone but with congressional and judicial oversight...
One day your children may ask, did you stand with evil or with good.

Now is the time you will determine your answer.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Microsoft ads wound Apple. You know my number Apple …

From a few personal anecdotes, I think the ad agency that created the “laptop hunters” ads deserves its bonuses …

CHART OF THE DAY: Microsoft's 'Laptop Hunters' Ads Are Hurting Apple (MSFT, AAPL)

… Microsoft's (MSFT) "Laptop Hunters" ad campaign focuses on the price difference between Windows PCs and expensive Apple (AAPL) Macs. The commercials have raised consumers' perception of Microsoft's "value" -- and have hurt Apple…

So, Apple.

Are you ready to talk yet?

Yeah, it’s me. One of the geeks you forgot about. You know, your volunteer evangelists. Yeah, we’re still around. It’s just that you haven’t done anything for us for a while.

Take me (why not?). iPhoto has had the same lethal movie export bug for at least 3 years, but Apple doesn’t care. iPhoto Library import? Apple doesn’t care. Aperture metadata on albums? Nope, doesn’t care. Support for open file formats in iWork? Nope.

Then there’s MobileMe.

Oh, and iChat abandonware and Apple’s multi-faceted serial calendaring and contacts screw-ups.

Yes, I know. Only geeks care about this stuff.

Thing is, maybe Apple needs their geeks to praise ‘em. When value perceptions can fall this quickly, Apple’s support is weaker than it seems.

Pay attention Apple. Fix my problems, and maybe I’ll say something nice about you.

Memories of the Chevette

I'm not a car guy. Not at all. Even so, this is worth reading...

Sunday Times: Honda Insight Review

... The Honda’s petrol engine is a much-shaved, built-for-economy, low-friction 1.3 that, at full chat, makes a noise worse than someone else’s crying baby on an airliner. It’s worse than the sound of your parachute failing to open. Really, to get an idea of how awful it is, you’d have to sit a dog on a ham slicer.

So you’re sitting there with the engine screaming its head off, and your ears bleeding, and you’re doing only 23mph because that’s about the top speed, and you’re thinking things can’t get any worse, and then they do because you run over a small piece of grit...

A dog on a ham slicer?! Yech.

Which reminds me of the time I rented a Chevette. The Wikipedia article doesn't do justice to the 1975 model. It was made in America when GM made incredibly lousy cars, far lousier than anything sold today, and it was a desperate flail at a mileage target.

I remember merging onto a highway on a hill and watching a truck grow large behind me as the Chevette's lawnmower engine screamed in agony.

Maybe Honda can rethink this one?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Relativity as a consequence of quantum entanglement

Useful at parties ...
Relativity as a Consequence of Quantum Entanglement: A Quantum Logic Gate Space Model for the Universe
Everything in the Universe is assumed to be compromised of pure reversible quantum Toffoli gates, including empty space itself...

Obama's retreat strengthens calls for a Truth Commission

Scanning the NYT this evening, it's not hard to see a consensus emerging. Even those who weren't in favor of an American Truth Commission, like Dowd, have come around.

Obama's retreat on the photos and the tribunals shows this is too tough a problem for him to lead on alone. We do need an investigative committee. We need to know what Cheney, Rumsfeld, and their scummy minions did.

The state of wilderness tracking

I've a personal interest in the state of wilderness tracking and communications. It's much less advanced than many imagine.

The Economist tells us that's going to change soon...
...The first generation of phone satellites are coming to the end of their natural life...
A second generation of satellites, which are about to be launched by Globalstar atop trusty old Soyuz rockets from Baikonur in Kazakhstan, will whisk data around the planet at a far more respectable speed of 250 kilobits a second.
By later next year, when Globalstar has all 24 of its new satellites in orbit, high-quality voice and 3G data transmission will be possible from anywhere on the planet, except for polar latitudes. In making broadband available more or less anywhere anytime, Globalstar reckons it is six years ahead of the competition.
Your correspondent almost cannot wait. Globalstar already sells a tempting little $170 device called SPOT, which can send your GPS location to friends and family, along with a preprogrammed message and a link to Google Maps that lets them track your progress...
This was the vision of the 1994 McCaw-Gates Teledesic (often mis-spelled teledisc) project; that project was to provide worldwide internet coverage and initially involved 840 satellites.

Regional airlines, emergent fraud and enlightenment 2.0

When Salon's Patrick Smith says there's a cultural problem with the regional airline industry, I take his word for it ...
Ask the pilot | Patrick Smith | Salon Technology
... In the end, this is a terrible black mark for the regional airline industry, and it is liable to become a litigation nightmare for Colgan, the airplane manufacturer, and other parties as well.
Though, to some extent, the regionals had it coming. Traveling aboard regional aircraft remains extraordinarily safe, and I am not disparaging the thousands of professional, fully competent pilots out there who fly them for a living. Further, there is no need or reason for the public to be fearful or apprehensive about flying on a regional aircraft. Nevertheless, as highlighted here a few weeks ago, there is something dysfunctional in the cultures at these companies. There will be a lot of focus on pilot training in the weeks and months ahead, and good for that -- but the problem runs deeper. Between the lousy pay, the high-stress working conditions and the often hostile management under which regional pilots work ... all of this, on some level, is a potential risk to safety. And it needs to change.
I don't think this class of problem is unique to the regional airlines. I think it's one aspect of a culture of emergent fraud that's grown up in America over the past twenty to thirty years.

This morning I can't find a recent article I read on the gap between how people think they'll behave in ethically challenging circumstances and how they really do behave (much worse, as you might guess), but we do have lots of examples of how physicians are much more corruptible than they imagine. Astoundingly, even most politicians think they're not particularly corrupted by their donors. In the right economic and cultural climate fraud is as inevitable as the sunset.

Fraud will always be with us. Anthropologists and evolutionary biologists speculate that "fraud wars" drove the evolution of sentience. Fraud made us human, but life on a small, crowded, high tech planet means we have to beat it back to the low end of the historic range. That's a core part of the enlightenment 2.0 agenda.

Cheney/Bush and the GOP were fertilizers for fraud and deception. We're only starting to recover. The Colgan story will be soon forgotten, but it's a small marker of a much bigger problem.

Good news from India

Certainly Congress must be imperfect, but the alternatives worried most rationalists.

So this is good news.
BBC NEWS | South Asia | India opts for the middle path
.... It is a vote against ideological, language, caste and class extremism. It is the victory of the middle vote,' says historian Ramachandra Guha.
The vote was to some extent (how much I don't know) also a vote on India's current relationship with the United States. I wonder if Obama made that easier, especially for India's 140 million Muslims.

Friday, May 15, 2009

I ask Wolfram|Alpha …

I ask Wolfram|Alpha ..
Are you Skynet?
It replies


Not exactly a denial.

Update 5/16/09: I tried a real question - "What is the Muslim population of India?" and it didn't know. Google "knew". Rough start.

iPhone rumors I can believe in …

Strictly for fun, here’s a set of iPhone rumors I can believe in …

iPod Cameras To 'Charlies,' Apple Rumor Mill Chugging

… The PhoneArena and HardMac rumors come right on the heels of a rumor from those posted earlier this week by a Chinese Apple Web site and picked up all around the blogosphere. A source, cited by the Chinese Web forum, Weiphone, claims that a new iPhone will see storage upgraded to 32 GB, have a 600-MHz CPU speed (200 more Megahertz than current iPhones), and a jump to 256 MB of RAM. The Weiphone rumor also claims that the iPhone will get a 3.2-megapixel camera equipped with autofocus…

Why do I go for this one?

Well, they’re obviously all solid but incremental changes. A 50% speedup would be very welcome, besides the egregious problems with core productivity apps my iPhone is often a tad sluggish.

That’s not all though. What gets me is the RAM increase. That’s because Gruber, who’s very well informed but often coy, wrote

…Apple was working on a vastly improved dock for your most-frequently used apps, and that there’d be one special icon position where you could put a third-party app to enable it to run in the background…

…The major limiting factor right now is RAM. There just isn’t much left for third-party processes on the current hardware’s 128 MB.

That last sentence is vintage Gruber. It’s his deniable way of saying the RAM will go up.

So the two mesh.

Em is getting my current iPhone of course. There are limits to chivalry.

PS. I’m quite pleased by the pictures my iPhone takes – even in dim light. A 3.2 megapixel camera with similar light sensitivity and autofocus would be a real delight.

Star Trek -- the deep dive on the temporal discontinuities

This guy (I'm sure) really knows his Trek: Pop Culture Zoo - full frontal nerdity | ‘Star Trek’ - Strange Fascination Fascinating Me. He traces all the temporal implications of the great universe fork.

I'm impressed.

Strictly for those who've seen the movies.

BTW, I thought the movie was a bit on the silly side but definitely fun.

200 cases of illicit nuclear material trafficking each year

The 200 cases are the ones that get caught (emphases mine) …

Mohamed ElBaradei warns of new nuclear age | World news | The Guardian

ElBaradei, the outgoing director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said the current international regime limiting the spread of nuclear weapons was in danger of falling apart …

…He predicted that the next wave of proliferation would involve "virtual nuclear weapons states", who can produce plutonium or highly enriched uranium and possess the knowhow to make warheads, but who stop just short of assembling a weapon. They would therefore remain technically compliant with the NPT while being within a couple of months of deploying and using a nuclear weapon.

"This is the phenomenon we see now and what people worry about in Iran. And this phenomenon goes much beyond Iran. Pretty soon … you will have nine weapons states and probably another 10 or 20 virtual weapons states." …

Two hundred reports. Twenty-five states that either have nuclear weapons or can produce them with a month’s work.

And that’s if all goes as expected.

Yep, the Cost of Havoc is still falling.

We’re entering the new nuclear age. There’s hope however. Something unexpected allowed us to survive the first nuclear age. Maybe it's still around.

The interesting but irritating Grant study of life stories

Brooks, surprisingly, reports on an article from this month’s Atlantic Magazine pretty much straight up …

NYT They Had It Made – David Brooks

In the late 1930s, a group of 268 promising young men, including John F. Kennedy and Ben Bradlee, entered Harvard College. By any normal measure, they had it made. They tended to be bright, polished, affluent and ambitious. They had the benefit of the world’s most prestigious university. They had been selected even from among Harvard students as the most well adjusted…

…The study had produced a stream of suggestive correlations. The men were able to cope with problems better as they aged. The ones who suffered from depression by 50 were much more likely to die by 63. The men with close relationships with their siblings were much healthier in old age than those without them.

But it’s the baffling variety of their lives that strikes one the most. It is as if we all contain a multitude of characters and patterns of behavior, and these characters and patterns are bidden by cues we don’t even hear. They take center stage in consciousness and decision-making in ways we can’t even fathom. The man who is careful and meticulous in one stage of life is unrecognizable in another context…

It’s online, so worth a quick look. Or just read Brooks, he got most of it.

What Brooks misses though is the irritating aspect of the study. The study’s owner and interpreter is an unreformed Freudian, which makes him, in technical neuroscience terms, a loon. All of the stories are seen through the lens of Freud’s fact-free models of mind.

Stripped of the interpretation they’d be much more interesting. This is a group, for example, from which we should expect about 3-8 schizophrenics. How did they develop? What about those who didn’t meet the formal criteria for a late onset degenerative disorder of cognition, but showed some schizotypal features? Of those who did develop psychotic disorders, how many recovered? The last, incidentally, was an interest of one the mid-course managers of the study.

I hope someone gets to do that someday.

Incidentally, John Kennedy’s file will be available in 2040. If you’re under 30 now that will come much sooner than you can imagine.

The GOP is again the party of torture – and it might work for them

Fifteen months ago I wrote that the GOP wasn’t the torture party any more …

Gordon's Notes (Feb 2008): The GOP isn't the torture party any more

… Mitt "thumbscrews" Romney is gone. Even Ron Paul is gone. Only McCain and Huckabee are left.

McCain's opposition to torture is well known. But what about Huckabee?

In December he declared waterboarding was indeed torture.

Huckabee Chafes at 'Front-Runner' Label -

... Huckabee joined Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in declaring his opposition to the interrogation procedure known as "waterboarding," and said he would support closing the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a contrast with the other leading Republicans...

I'm surprised to be saying this, but the GOP isn't the pro-torture party they were in May of 2007, or even in November of 2007.

Every single GOP candidate that backed torture has been eliminated from contention.

Sure, the rabid right winguts of talk radio still pant ecstatically about the secret joys of agony, but their candidates are gone. Republican voters, after all, have a voice in what the GOP is.

Shockingly, it seems they don't like torture any more -- if they ever really did…

I was wrong.

Today Romney is running for 2008. Limbaugh and Cheney are ascendant. The GOP is the Party of Limbaugh, and the Party of Torture.

It’s not a foolish move. Torture is far more popular in America than I had thought (emphases mine) …

… 55% of Americans believe in retrospect that the use of the interrogation techniques was justified, while only 36% say it was not. Notably, a majority of those following the news about this matter "very closely" oppose an investigation and think the methods were justified.

We Americans are still in a very dark place. I am even more mystified by Obama’s victory. In the context of this support the GOP’s embrace of the joys of torture may make political sense. This is true even as, in one of history’s great ironies, the Bush team seem to be edging away from the torture policy.

This will be a long struggle. I believe Obama will do everything feasible to get us away from the road to oblivion, but he’s still got a huge uphill fight. Consider the short list of political problems he has to face

  • Americans don’t believe that radical change in the earth’s climate is a potential threat to civilization
  • Americans are completely unready to accept the best possible health care option - “Crummy Care”.
  • We can’t try prisoners who are alleged to have been directly involved in the 9/11 attacks because our torture practices make the cases legally illegitimate
  • Afghanistan and Pakistan
  • The collapse of the world economy, now running on unsustainable performance-enhancing fiscal stimuli
  • The ever falling cost of havoc
  • North Korea
  • India and Pakistan
  • The tenuous status of America’s legal framework
  • China’s political and economic stability (perhaps the greatest near term threat)

It’s a long, long road.

See also

Sunday, May 10, 2009

In 1994 we expected these things to disappear ...

I've been trying to remember the things that, back in the early 90s, we thought would disappear.

Many of them lasted longer than we then expected, but their time is coming. Here's the list, and the current status ... (items with an * were added after the original post, thanks to my readers for ideas!)
  1. pay phones: almost gone
  2. fax machines: still here, but I rarely get a fax any more. I do send them on occasion.
  3. newsprint: going away
  4. the telegraph: gone
  5. home phones: going
  6. metered phone calls - esp. long distance: still around, maybe starting to go
  7. graduate school: we still have them, but there are many more distance programs. Post-secondary education seems overdue for an upheaval. It's fantastically expensive.
  8. letters: these are really going away. I never get anything at the office. At home I'm down to checks, weddings and funerals.
  9. encyclopedias (home, printed): I think they're largely gone, but I do miss them.
  10. modems* (see fax): We were sure these would be gone by 1999. They're still used by millions of Americans. I think they'll be gone within five years, but ...
  11. analog broadcast standard resolution TV*: We expected TVs to change much faster than they have. So we expected resolution/display convergence (same hi res for TV and computer) and we had a fuzzier set of ideas about technology convergence. Instead the standard TV has hung on. If not for the forced transition to digital signals I think they might have lasted another ten years. So a remarkable slow transition.
Note that in the early 90s we did not expect paper to go away -- that was the 80s. So it's not surprising that paper is still with us -- at least as a transitional display surface. Likewise we did not expect printed books or textbooks to go away.

On the other hand, we also didn't expect music CDs to look obsolete. That one was a surprise. I don't remember expecting film to vanish -- digital cameras really entered the mainstream around 1997 and experienced astounding improvements over the next 9 years or so.

I'll update this post if I think of other things that we expected to disappear based on our early experience with "Archie", "Veronica", "Gopher" and that foreign thing that ran on NeXT machines.

In retrospect the predictions weren't entirely wrong, but it's taken about 3-10 times as long as expected. I blame the hang time on Canopy economics; it's the long persistence of obsolete technologies that I find interesting.

Anyone remember other things that we expected were facing the end-times back in 1994? I'm not looking for new things we expected to happen (Example: micro-currencies - still not here for real). I'm looking for mainstream technologies of 1994 that geeks thought were obsolete -- especially if we were wrong (so far).

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Star Trek NG's torture lesson

I think this was one of the top four Star Trek episodes ever made. I remember it just as described here ... Star Trek: The Next Generation's eerily prescient torture episode. - By Juliet Lapidos - Slate Magazine.

Since I consider NG to be the about the best television ever made, this would be in my list of the best TV ever.

It is astoundingly prescient.

The days of debug.exe

I use to copy assembler code from PC Magazine and BYTE, and compile it with MS-DEBUG.EXE. That's the way early DOS utilities were distributed. I think there was a way in slightly earlier issues of BYTE to read in the assembler code with something like paper tape? (Not at all sure about that last one!)

Later we could download the assembler, and then the exe files.

I'd forgotten about, until I read this obit ... MS-DEBUG 1981 - 2009.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Why Win 7 will work - XP is toast

Windows 7 is Vista 2.5. Not enormously different, but clearly improved. Sure it's a resource hog by the standards of 2004, but today's machines will manage it (especially with 3+ GB of RAM).

That will help Windows 7 succeed, but Tom Reestman pegs the real driver ...
Mac Love - GigaOM -
... The biggest thing Windows 7 has going for it, by far, is that while after six years XP was showing it’s age, after nine it’s almost comical....
XP is going the way of Windows 98.

When Win 98 first came out, it was pretty good by the standards of the day. After years of patches and virus attacks and disinterest it was a broken wreck.

XP's not quite there, but it's close. Most of all, it's a security nightmare. Antiviral software bogs down most any machine.

Windows 7, aka Vista 2.5, will be a great success -- because XP is finished.

Oprah Winfrey is a problem

Oprah Winfrey is now promoting irrational beliefs about vaccination and autism.

She can't possibly cause as much harm as the hundreds of thousands of people effectively killed by the irrational beliefs of Thabo Mbeki. She will cause harm though. Some children that should have lived will die, and much energy that might go to preventing or managing cognitive disorders will be wasted countering her stupidity.

Whatever good she's done in her life will soon be outmatched by the harm she will cause.
If you are a person of reason, don't let your money go to Oprah Winfrey.

Update 5/16/09: Salon article on the Oprah problem. Twenty years ago "Dear Abby" had a milder version of the Oprah disease -- she championed the surgical and medical advice of her elite physician friends, even when there was no supporting science.

Weirdest email ever

Via my old web site's contact link, I just read the weirdest email I've ever gotten...
... My name is ... and I am a Casting Producer for the ABC hit reality show 'Wife Swap.' We are currently casting for our fifth season and we are looking for families that are really into Ski Joring together or one family member is very passionate about the sport.

The premise of Wife Swap is simple: for seven days, two wives from two different families with very different values exchange husbands, children and lives (but not bedrooms) to discover what it's like to live a different family's life. It's an interesting social experiment and a great way to see your family in a whole new light. It is shot as a documentary series, so NO scripts and no set. It's just one camera that is documenting your life.

Families that appear on the show will receive a financial honorarium for lost wages, time and commitment. And if you refer a family that appears on the show you would receive $1000. Here at 'Wife Swap' we look for a two-parent home with at least one child between the ages of 6 and 17 living at home full time.

If you are interested, please email me your contact information and tell me a little about your family. Or if you would like to refer a family, please email me their contact information and I will be in touch.

Casting Associate Producer
100 6th Ave, 3rd Floor,Suite 3-29
I figured it was some kind of phishing scheme, but the skijoring referral comes from an old page of mine, written when Molly was young. Kateva, our current mongrel, isn't big on pulling.

RDF USA exists, and so does the wife swap tv show - though it's not quite as exciting as it sounds "...the wives from these two families exchange husbands, children and lives (but not bedrooms)".

I'm sure that would work really well with our children.

Turns out even the person who signed the email exists; she has a LinkedIn page that fits the story (I omitted her name).

So it looks real. I won't mention this to my wife, there's way to high a risk she'd bail for a two week break.

Still, skijoring?!

Anyway, if you're into skijoring and weird TV shows, send me an email and I'll pass it on to the casting director. It could be your big break.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Amazon Vine – free products for reviews

Interesting move from Amazon … Online Shopping for Electronics, Apparel, Computers, Books, DVDs & more

…As a top reviewer, we would like to invite you to join Amazon Vine. Open to a limited number of customers, Vine members receive pre-release and new products - free of charge - in exchange for customer reviews…

I can’t afford free things I don’t need, so I’ll have to pass on this one.

Google Voice quality falls off a cliff

I've been saving big bucks on my calls to Canada with Google Grand Central and, more recently, Google Voice. Until about a week ago, that is.

About that time Google Voice call quality went from variable to completely worthless. So I'm back paying the big bucks for an AT&T mobile call. Good thing I didn't drop my discounted Canada calling plan!

I wondered if I was alone, but I'm not ...

...I, too, have noticed poorer quality and longer delay on most of my calls in the past week or so, both incoming and outgoing. All of my calls were domestic...

... i have also seen very very poor quality both incoming and outgoing. Unfortunately this has been the worst since using the service...

...I suspect they're playing with audio codecs and changing them frequently. Truthfully, Grand Central seemed to be a product much closer to public release...

...I have also been experiencing very poor call quality within Canada and from Canada using GV in the past couple of days. And I agree that Google seems to be trying to tweak things at the technical level. Over the past week or so there were DTMF issues in Canada and perhaps elsewhere; these seem to be resolving (so far), but audio quality is now suffering...

...I am in Canada and have had terrible call quality when I receive calls on GV. It reminds me of the quality I used to have with Vonage a few years ago. People say my voice is breaking up, etc, like a bad cell phone call. I can hear my callers just fine though. This has been going on for over a week, and it is happening to my husband and his work colleague, both also in Canada...

So it's nice to know I have company. Of course we don't know the root cause; some phone carriers may not feel entirely happy about carrying Google's VOIP traffic -- for example.

Frustrating, but nothing to do about it at this time. It is a good lesson about limits to "cloud service" quality and customer communication. No, "beta" is not an excuse; when your email app is in beta for several years the word kind of loses its protective power.

Update 5/7/09: Phew. It's back to normal again. An anonymous but seemingly well informed reader tells us a quality improvement measure had failed and was reversed.

Update 1/9/10: Sometimes it's bad for a while, usually it's good. Google has a reporting form for quality issues. I think they use it!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The Virus

Wonderful article ...
The 10 Genes of a Human Flu Virus, Furiously Evolving - Carl (The Loom) Zimmer -
... The sheer number of viruses on Earth is beyond our ability to imagine. “In a small drop of water there are a billion viruses,” Dr. Wolkowicz said. Virologists have estimated that there are a million trillion trillion viruses in the world’s oceans.

Viruses are also turning out to be astonishingly diverse. Shannon Williamson of the J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Md., has been analyzing the genes of ocean viruses. A tank of 100 to 200 liters of sea water may hold 100,000 genetically distinct viruses. “We’re just scratching the surface of virus diversity,” Dr. Williamson said. “I think we’re going to be continually surprised...
By what order of magnitude does the sum of their DNA exceed that of all multicellular animals?

The Way of the Palm - I'm a lapsed member

I've abandoned the Way of the Palm for the seductions of the iPhone, but reading this description I realize I was almost a charter member once ...

True believers: The biggest cults in tech | Adventures in IT - InfoWorld

When Jonathan Ezor walked into a J&R Music store in the fall of 1996 and encountered his first Pilot 1000, it wasn't exactly a religious experience, but it was life-altering. He immediately began speaking in tongues -- or, more accurately, writing in flawless Graffiti, the Pilot's handwriting recognition alphabet...

.. Ezor says he's owned seven Palm PDAs in his life (he currently uses a TX) ...

...You can identify true devotees because they're the ones standing around beaming contact info and free apps to each other through their Palms' IR ports, says Ezor....

..."I think the true believers are the ones who had the Pilot 1000 or 5000, who jumped on the Palm before it went mainstream," he says. "And the orthodox sect belongs to people who prefer Graffiti 1 over Graffiti 2...

I'm not sure I qualify as a true believer (I think the Palm III was my first), but I do think I had about 6-7 devices and I was definitely orthodox. Graffiti 2 was a grievous wound.

As a former member of the tribe, I have nothing but fond wishes for the Pre. In fact, I'm praying for it to put "the fear" into the heart of Apple, and force them to rethink their disdainful support for the "Four Paths of PIM Productivity (contacts, calendaring, tasks, notes).

I missed the Tao of Newton, but I was almost there. I'm so disappointed that they omitted the Flagellants of OS/2.