Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Peak Oil 2005?

FuturePundit: 2005 Seen As Oil Supply Tipping Point:

Commentary in Nature: Can economy bear what oil prices have in store?

Stop wrangling over global warming and instead reduce fossil-fuel use for the sake of the global economy.

That's the message from two scientists, one from the University of Washington and one from the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, who say in the current issue of the journal Nature (Jan. 26) that the economic pain of a flattening oil supply will trump the environment as a reason to curb the use of fossil fuels.

"Given our fossil-fuel dependent economies, this is more urgent and has a shorter time frame than global climate change," says James W. Murray, UW professor of oceanography, who wrote the Nature commentary with David King, director of Oxford's Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment.

The "tipping point" for oil supply appears to have occurred around 2005, says Murray, who compared world crude oil production with world prices going back to 1998. Before 2005, supply of regular crude oil was elastic and increased in response to price increases. Since then, production appears to have hit a wall at 75 million barrels per day in spite of price increases of 15 percent each year...

In 2007 I thought we'd started a long rise in gasoline prices, but today's gas pump price in MN is pretty much the same as in May 2007. (US consumption is, I believe, lower than it was in 2007.) We're still years away from $7/gallon gas in the US.

Even then I didn't imagine we'd hit a production wall in 2005; when I've written about "peak oil" I've meant simply that increasing demand will outstrip increasing supply of light 'sweet' crude.

Murray and King's prediction is far more severe than anything I've considered.

Monday, January 30, 2012

World without winter - Minnesota edition

Our yearly nordic ski event has run aground. Today's City of Lakes Nordic Ski Foundation newsletter wins the brave face prize...

... With minimal snow and warm temperatures last week, today and more predicted for this week, the Loppet has moved all festival events to Theodore Wirth Park...

... Obviously, everyone involved wishes that this winter was more winter-like.  But we at the Nordic Ski Foundation are truly excited for this weekend.  With a shorter loop, spectators will have ample opportunity to cheer on their favorite skiers.  All the action will be in close walking distance - with all the things you love about the Loppet right at Wirth Park. This will be the one weekend when the community can celebrate a real Minnesota winter...

... a hiking Luminary Loppet allows for more interesting terrain and a more woodsy and intimate experience. Hikers will enjoy over one thousand ice luminaries, the Ice Pyramid, the enchanted forest, fire dancers, hot cocoa, maple leaf cookies from Canada, s’mores, and, new this year, a ten ounce pour of Surly beer...

I imagine weeping Loppeters pounding Surly while drafting this email.

Not coincidentally, NASA has released a wonderful and terrible animation of 130 years of global temperature variation. It's easy to see how I caught the Nordic bug in the 1970s -- a colder than average time in North America. Temperatures rise and fall around the world -- cold during WW I, warm during the Great Depression. Then, in the last 30 years, the world changes.

We'll still get snowy winters of course. Last year was fairly warm in The Twins, but it was wonderfully snowy. This year is warmer, and much drier. Maybe next year will be in between.

We'll be adapting in ways big and small. Last week my family took a 3 day Nordic ski vacation at Mogasheen Resort on Lake Namekagan near the home of the Birkebeiner and the resurrected Telemark Lodge. We picked the optimal date for snow cover -- and we got what might the only 4 days of top-grade skiing they'll have. This week it's melting.

So next year we'll look at making two reservations. One at Mogasheen, and a fallback near the Keweenaw Peninsula's Swedetown trails or up Minnesota's far Gunflint Trail. We're also going to have to learn how people in Iowa and Missouri make it through their long, dull winters. Tennis anyone?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

What I do

I have written about 10,000 blog posts, but I've not said much about myself. This is an exception. Please feel free to skip it.

I'm writing about myself because a classmate from eons ago asked me what I do now, and in particular how I use up my brain reserves.

First of all, I'm a father and a husband. Emily and I have 3 children and we share our home with a dog (Kateva of kateva.org) and a school rescue-gerbil (Kangaroo). For reasons I won't go into here our parental duties are very rewarding but also above-average demanding. Running over, around and into some of those challenges uses up a good bit of brain space.

Then there are hobbies, of which the most intellectual one is blogging and reading and sharing and so on. Excluding sports teams I write on three blogs including tech.kateva.org and notes.kateva.org.

Lastly there's work. This comes in a minor and major flavor. The minor flavor is that I'm adjunct faculty at the U of MN Health Informatics department. This has involved teaching courses over the past decade, but more recently we've a full time teacher who has taken this on. So its pretty light duty at the moment.

The major flavor is my work for a publicly traded corporation that, among other things, develops software products that are used by physicians and nurses. There I am a variable mixture of a working informatician (industrial ontologist I used to say), a domain specialist (less so as my aging medical knowledge obsoletes), an executive (more or less), a knowledge worker (more), a manager, a designer, an analyst, a project manager, an inventor, a cautious* disruptor, a fixer, a product owner, a librarian and whatever else is needed. It's a good job for anyone who gets bored easily and likes solving problems**.

In a past life I was a country doc. Emily and I worked in the same practice.

I have worked in the bowels of a publicly traded corporation for over ten years; longer than I've worked anywhere else. I do not think of myself as a very corporate person, and I find my continued survival bemusing and a bit puzzling. To a significant extent I have persisted there because it's been a great fit for our parental joys and obligations.

And that's what I do.


* I learned the cautious bit the hard way, but still I am. Corporations are interesting entities.
** One of the most important lessons of my professional life was learning the difference between problems that are mostly important to solve and problems that are mostly interesting to solve.

GTD: Email to task with Toodledo

There are a lot of things I don't love about Toodledo. I really, for example, dislike their lack of full text search.

It's good then that they do some things very well. Import and export for example.

It's even better that they do one very important thing extremely well. You can mail a task into Toodledo.

Ah, you're not impressed? You think other task management services do this?

Perhaps, but so far only Toodledo does it right. I use this all the time. When I email someone and I want to track the response, I BCC my secret Toodledo task address. I create tasks from just about anywhere I can generate an email.

Creating tasks by email is a killer feature.

See also:

GTD series:

and elsewhere ...

GTD: grouping tasks into Projects using Context with ToDo.app and Toodledo

Emily and I started using Appigo's ToDo.app on our iPhones years ago. In those days Toodledo didn't have an iPhone app and ToDo didn't have a web app.

Now both Toodledo and Appigo market both web apps and iOS apps. Alas, Appigo hasn't figured out how creating tasks by email should work, and I don't like Toodledo's iOS app. So I still use ToDo.app with Toodledo. It works pretty well, and now that Google has turned Evil I'm happy to avoid their world.

It works pretty well -- except when you want want to group a series of tasks as a project. The project models for Toodledo and Todo don't mesh.

Most of the time this doesn't bother me -- I like to edit and move forward tasks rather than create small projects. Sometimes, however, a complex project deserves a set of tasks.

Since the Toodledo and Todo project models don't sync, I instead steal the "Context" feature - which both ToDo and Toodledo manage similarly. A "Context" is supposed to be a location or environment for doing a task; but I've never found this "Getting Things Done" idea very useful. These days I have a computer everywhere, and that's the context for most of my tasks.

So instead of a list of "Contexts" I have "Projects" that group tasks. The UI and views are very efficient for this purpose, and synchronization works perfectly.

See also:

GTD: Creating a project vs. editing a persistent task

Both Appigo ToDo (app/web) and Toodledo Pro (app/web) have the idea of a "project" that can contain subtasks.

For small projects I don't bother with the overhead of project creation and task maintenance. Instead I create a single task that I edit when I complete a 'step' in the project. It lasts the life of the project.

Each time I complete a step, I edit the task to add a new "next step" and I date stamp the completed step. I also keep short notes in the body of the task note.
For example, if the task is "Update Passport" I might have the following my "notes" section:

  • schedule photograph
  • download form
  • complete form
  • schedule appointment .. etc.

In practice I don't usually write out all the next steps. I just write out the one that's up next. For A tasks I may schedule a calendar appointment too.
Similarly I don't bother with repeating or recurrent tasks. I create one task, and just reschedule it as needed. My "pay visa bill" task has been moved forward one month at a time for years. (Periodically I delete the list of dates I paid to shrink the notes section).

See also:


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

CSS was a terrible mistake

It is fashionable to talk about the "wisdom of crowds" and the power of crowd sourcing.

There's always a flip-side. That's the madness of crowds.

That madness comes to mind as I contemplate the wreckage of Microsoft's SharePoint 2007 to Sharepoint 2010 Wiki conversion. How did this happen?

Part of the explanation is that Microsoft is a dying company, and SP 2010 was never finished. Microsoft redid their rich text editor, moving away from the IE embedded Word-like editor [1], but they didn't finish the conversion tools. Many formatted SP 2007 wiki pages cannot be edited in the new environment. (Apple does this stuff too, but with SP 2010 Microsoft has exceeded Apple's appallingly low standards.)

I think there's another factor though, and that's where the madness of crowds comes in. That was the decision made in the late 1990s to use Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to control the layout of web content.

In retrospect CSS layout was a dreadful mistake, a madness of crowds "bridge-too-far" class mistake. Table based layout worked back when 100MB was a lot of memory. Mixing table models and CSS and style sheets is too much. Humans can't scale to this level of complexity; and browsers struggle mightily to reconcile multiple formatting and layout rules.

We are going to be paying for the CSS mistake for a very long time. We would be wise to at least recognize that we blundered, and try to understand why.

[1] Chrome and IE 9 are equally bad at editing our 540 or so partly-converted wiki pages.

Friday, January 13, 2012

CEO Compensation: Apple and more

Apple's Tom Cook isn't the worst example of excessive CEO compensation, but his huge stock option grant is bad news all the same.

It's bad news because it tells us that Apple 4.0 is becoming an average publicly traded corporation even more quickly than expected. This kind of compensation demoralizes employees who deal with tight budgets, even as their CEO earns a year of their pay in a day. Perhaps worse of all, when you pay a CEO a hundred times what their star employees receive, they imagine they're 100 times better than those employees.

An overpaid CEO is a CEO on chronic meth - intoxicated by the inarguable evidence of their perfect brilliance.

See also:

Monday, January 09, 2012

Wisdom summarized - Elders speak

Most "wisdom" essays are pretty obvious, but this one has some science to it. Curiously I agree with much of it, but I can see how some recommendations are really personality specific.
Elderly ‘Experts’ Share Life Advice in Cornell Project:
... Maintain social contacts. Avoid becoming isolated. When an invitation is issued, say yes. Take steps to stay engaged, and take advantage of opportunities to learn new thing...
My takeaways:
  1. Some recommendations are in conflict. "Do what you love" as a career may well contradict "spend more time with your children".
  2. "chose to live each day as if it could be my last" is Jane Brody's personal one. Nobody else said that. Emily and I do something a bit different. We live as though our world were fragile and transient; both for us individually and for all we meet and know.
  3. Embrace aging, don't fight it. Yech. I suspect this is a form of denial. Physical/cognitive aging sucks. "Embracing" sounds like Stockholm Syndrome.
  4. Travel when young. Yeah, that's right. Good advice. Don't wait. Spend the bloody money; a fancy wheelchair isn't worth it.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Do whipworms make dogs eat dirt?

The canine whipworm (Trichuris vulpis) is a common dog parasite.

The juvenile form of the parasite develops in dirt; it's transmitted by eating dirt (geophagy). It may be particularly common in dog parks [1]

Some dogs eat dirt.

Many parasites change the behaviors of their hosts to facilitate their life cycle.

So do whipworm infested dogs find dirt particularly tasty?

The association between geophagy and worm infection has been studied in humans, but a PubMed query on geophagy and trichuris vulpis in dogs produced no hits (PubMed includes veterinary literature).

I'm sure someone is studying this even as I write this post. I'm hoping for an article within the year.

[1] I don't know how hard it is to study this. A visit to the local dog park might be the basis for a great high school science experiment.

Rule 34 by Charlie Stross - my review

I read Charlie Stross's Rule 34. Here's my 5 star Amazon review (slightly modified as I thought of a few more things):

Rule 34 is brilliant work.

If Stross had written a novel placed in 2010, it would have been a top notch crime and suspense novel. Charlie's portrayal of the criminal mind, from silence-of-the-lambs psychopath (sociopath in UK speak, though that US/UK distinction is blurring) to every day petty crook, is top notch.

Stross puts us into the minds of his villains, heroes, and fools, using a curious 2nd person pronoun style that has a surprising significance. I loved how so many of his villains felt they were players, while others knew they were pawns. Only the most insightful know they're a cog in the machine.

A cog in a corporate machine that is. Whether cop or criminal or other, whether gay or straight, everyone is a component of a corporation. Not the megacorp of Gibson and Blade Runner, but the ubiquitous corporate meme that we also live in. The corporate meme has metastasized. It is invisible, it is everywhere, and it makes use of all material. Minds of all kinds, from Aspergerish to sociopath, for better and for worse, find a home in this ecosystem. The language of today's sycophantic guides to business is mainstream here.

Stross manages the suspense and twists of the thriller, and explores emerging sociology as he goes. The man has clearly done his homework on the entangled worlds of spam and netporn -- and I'm looking forward to the interviewers who ask him what that research was like. In other works Stross has written about the spamularity, and in Rule 34 he lays it out. He should give some credit to the spambots that constantly attack his personal blog.

Rule 34 stands on its own as a thriller/crime/character novel, but it doesn't take place in 2010. It takes place sometime in the 2020-2030s (at one point in the novel Stross gives us a date but I can't remember it exactly). A lot of the best science fiction features fully imagined worlds, and this world is complete. He's hit every current day extrapolation I've ever thought of, and many more besides. From the macroeconomics of middle Asia, to honey pots with honey pots, to amplified 00s style investment scams to home foundries to spamfested networked worlds to a carbon-priced economy to mass disability to cyberfraud of the vulnerable to ubiquitous surveillance to the bursting of the higher education bubble, to exploding jurisprudence creating universal crime … Phew. There's a lot more besides. I should have been making a list as I read.

Yes, Rule 34 is definitely a "hard" science fiction novel -- though it's easy to skip over the mind-bending parts if you're not a genre fan. You can't, however, completely avoid Stross's explorations of the nature of consciousness, and his take on the "Singularity" (aka rapture of the nerds). It's not giving away too much to say there's no rapture here. As to whether this is a Rainbow's End pre-Singular world … well, you'll have to read the novel and make your own decision. I'm not sure I'd take Stross's opinion on where this world of his is going - at least not at face value.

Oh, and if you squint a certain way, you can see a sort-of Batman in there too. I think that was deliberate; someone needs to ask Charlie about that.

Great stuff, and a Hugo contender for sure.

If you've read my blog you know I'm fond of extrapolating to the near future. Walking down my blog's tag list I see I'm keen on the nature and evolution of the Corporation, mind and consciousness, economics, today's history, emergence, carbon taxes, fraud and "the weak", the Great Recession (Lesser Depression), alternative minds (I live with 2 non-neurotypicals), corruption, politics, governance, the higher eduction and the education  bubble, natural selection, identity, libertarianism (as a bad thing), memes, memory management, poverty (and mass disability), reputation management, schizophrenia and mental illness, security, technology, and the whitewater world. Not to mention the Singularity/Fermi Paradox (for me they're entangled -- I'm not a Happy Singularity sort of guy).

Well, Stross has, I dare to say, some of the same interests. Ok, so I'm not in much doubt of that. I read the guy religiously, and I'm sure I've reprocessed everything he's written. In Rule 34 he's hit all of these bases and more. Most impressively, if you're not looking for it, you could miss almost all of it. Stross weaves it in, just as he does a slow reveal of the nature of his characters, including the nature of the character you don't know about until the end.

Update: In one of those weird synchronicity things, Stross has his 2032 and 2092 predictions out this morning. Read 'em.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Divorcing Google - and hoping for GoogleMinus

Google hired a hit man, and was shocked to find bodies. Now the remnants of Google 1.0 are punishing Google 2.0, though Matt Cutts hasn't said anything. He didn't used to be so quiet.

Google 1.0's glorious Data Liberation Front is pretty quiet too. Their Twitter feed went silent on 9/15/2011.

It's sad. I loved Google from my first searches in 1997 until the Google-Apple war began in 2009. Even then I wanted to believe in their original mission to free the world's knowledge. I didn't really lose faith until Google deleted my Reader Share memory - with 1 week's notice.

Yeah, I was denying simple arithmetic. Google's is an algorithmic corporation that iterates on its goals, and its goals are to delivery value to their paying customers. Advertisers. Yes, Google, like health insurance corporations, has an Agency problem.

Notice how much junk their is in Google searches these days? How many "plus.google.com" pages? How ads are growing across Google's search pages? This isn't going to stop -- not unless Google divides into two companies.

Now I'm moving off the Google platform. It's a slow and painful process. Just as painful as moving from DOS to Mac Classic, from Mac Classic to Windows, Windows to OS/2, OS/2 to Windows 2K, Windows to OS X, Palm to iOS…

Especially like moving from Palm to iOS. That's because there was a wasteland between the end of PalmOS and the rise of iOS. It was a kind of technological winter; a gap between one life and the other. I nursed my aging Palm devices along because the alternative was to resurrect my Franklin Planner.

That's what life is like post-Google - because there isn't a good alternative to Google. iCloud? Please. Microsoft? I wish. Yahoo!? Ok, you get the point. I won't go on.

So it's a tough divorce. It would be even harder if I were an Android customer. I wonder if Android users understand how tightly they're tied to Google -- and why.

How will this winter end? Amazon? Apple? Microsoft?!?

Or … perhaps …. GoogleMinus.

GoogleMinus, because there are businesses in Google that make money selling value to users. Google Docs, for example, sells ad-free solutions to schools and corporations. These aren't not huge businesses, but they might be profitable if they could lease infrastructure from GooglePlus.

GoogleMinus, because there are still, I think, some idealists left at Google -- and they might prefer to work for GoogleMinus rather than GooglePlus.

It could happen. The EU might require a breakup. Civil strife within Google might make a breakup internally acceptable.

Imagine a future when GoogleMinus packages GooglePlus search. For an annual fee of $100 I get the ability to block plus.google.com searches, and a control that lets me filter out web sites that run ads. Wouldn't that be interesting?

Update 1/9/12: This Android retrospective is relevant. I'd forgotten the day Google made its deal with Verizon; a deal signed in blood at midnight

Update 1/10/12: Today Google dedicated their search function to promoting Google+ properties.

Does earlier menarche explain the growing girl-boy academic gap?

Firstly, the age of menarche in Western nations has been declining...

Secular trends in age at menarche... [Paediatr Perinat Epidemiol. 2011] - PubMed - NCBI

Menarcheal age decreased over time in Western countries until cohorts born in the mid-20th century. It then stabilised, but limited data are available for recent cohorts. Menarche data were collected retrospectively by questionnaire in 2003-10 from 94,170 women who were participating in the Breakthrough Generations Study, aged 16-98 years, born 1908-93 and resident in the UK. Average menarcheal age declined from women born in 1908-19 (mean=13.5 years) to those born in 1945-49 (mean=12.6 years). It was then stable for several birth cohorts, but resumed its downward trend in recent cohorts (mean=12.3 years in 1990-93 cohort). Trends differed between socio-economic groups, but the recent decline was present in each group. In conclusion, menarcheal age appears to have decreased again in recent cohorts after a period of stabilization….

Surprisingly, we don't have good recent data - this is the best I could find.  There's no evidence of a similar shift in males.

Secondly, in athletics, we know a maturational advantage of a few months can make a big difference in competitive events.

High school education is a competitive event. So, if girls are maturing earlier, how does this impact their academic performance relative to boys? Does this explain why our middle and senior high school honor role events are all female? Do boys get discouraged because they can't compete?

Seems like an interesting question. I'm thinking an 'all boy' school might be a good idea for our middle son.

Another one of our victims speaks

Another victim of America's Inquisition:

Notes From a Guantánamo Survivor - Murat Kurnaz - NYTimes.com

… was taken to Kandahar, in Afghanistan, where American interrogators asked me the same questions for several weeks: Where is Osama bin Laden? Was I with Al Qaeda? No, I told them, I was not with Al Qaeda. No, I had no idea where bin Laden was. I begged the interrogators to please call Germany and find out who I was. During their interrogations, they dunked my head under water and punched me in the stomach; they don’t call this waterboarding but it amounts to the same thing. I was sure I would drown.

At one point, I was chained to the ceiling of a building and hung by my hands for days. A doctor sometimes checked if I was O.K.; then I would be strung up again. The pain was unbearable...

I'm hoping one of these victims will get their case heard in the World Court.

There's hope, as always, in the younger generation. Maybe, one day, they'll hold trials (via Doc Searls …)

Otherwise occupied: What price revolution? | Hal Crowther | Independent Weekly

… what I think I see, through the media fog of polarized America, is the return of the full-fledged idealists (as opposed to single-issue idealists) who seemed to go underground around 1980, possibly because the mass media abandoned them during the mudslide of self-celebration that began with Reaganism and culminated in Facebook.

I say God bless them, and God will if he still has any investment in the United States of America. The Goliath they challenge has crushed a thousand Davids. The good news is that "the kids" are right on target. Their diagnosis is bull's-eye correct, and the patient is critical. For this country to survive, it must find saner ways to pursue and multiply wealth, and find them quickly. The cannibal capitalism that produced a Goldman Sachs and a Bernie Madoff is subhuman and obscene. There's no form of government more inherently offensive than plutocracy—only theocracy comes close. When a citizen comes of age in a plutocracy, he has no moral choice but to slay Pluto or die trying...

Friday, January 06, 2012

Can Apple produce first class software?

I use most of what Apple makes. Their hardware design is top notch. Their iOS and OS X systems are better than the competitions. Nobody beats them at retail or operations. Their service was always pretty good, but I think it's improving.

After that, things get dicey. Consider iWork ...

C’mon Apple, upgrade Numbers! | ZDNet

… Numbers performance is anything but speedy. In fact, it’s abysmal. I have a relatively tame no-formula five column table with 6000 rows and changing a value in a single cell requires 20 minutes to update the graph. That’s 20 minutes – not 20 seconds. With all the processing horsepower of a MBP, that’s absurd...

I'm amazed performance is that bad, but I've never done anything serious with Numbers.app. I have done a bit more with Pages.app, enough to suspect it doesn't scale well either. Overall iWork is an excellent start -- that needed a major follow-up in 2011.

Reading this, I thought about the other Apple products I use. The latest release of iPhotos is dismal. Aperture doesn't seem to try to compete for the pro market any more. Final Cut Pro is being abandoned by power users.

Their bundled apps are similarly miserable. ICal. iChat. Address Book. It's a veritable Hall of Software Shame. Safari is stabilizing again, but its performance issues have driven power users to Chrome on OS X.

The only Apple product that seems to rule its niche is iTunes.

Really, Apple is no better at applications than it is at Cloud services. If it didn't own the OS, none of its products would survive in the marketplace.

This is a Steve Jobs legacy. Tom Cook can't do worse. I'll close my eyes and cross my fingers and hope Cook's Apple can do better.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Great graphics: Apple OS and Video Codes

AppleInsider's the next ten years of Mac OS X has fairly predictable text, but the graphics are terrific. I particularly liked the Apple/NeXT/Unix graphic, but the video codec illustration is also fine.

I remembered A/UX, but not the Unix-based OS from the early 80s.

Monday, January 02, 2012

America's Inquisition

The Atlantic doesn't have this article online yet ...

Torturer's Apprentice, Cullen Murphy Jan/Feb 2012

... The first technique used by the Inquisition was ... torture by suspension ... it has been employed in the interrogation of prisoners in US custody ...

... The second technique was the rack ...

... The third technique involved water ... fabric plugged a victim's upturned mouth ... upon wich water was poured ...

... the (Bush) administration's threshold for when an act of torture begins was the point at which the inquisition stipulated that it must stop...

To clarify the last excerpt -- the Bush administration interrogation policy was remarkably similar to the Inquisition's interrogation policy. Their torture and our non-torture had similar (theoretical) stopping points.

ISP travails: Forget buffer bloat, what about my upload speeds?

Cringely was right about BufferBloat. I give him full credit for that one - I've not seen anyone else describing this networking problem. Once again I miss BYTE; they would have caught this long ago. (Old guy thing - I'm fascinated by good stuff that goes away without replacement.)

That's not what bugs me though. My video streaming is good enough. I'm a lot more concerned about my upload speeds. I'm getting about 0.1 mbps (real data) over CenturyLink DSL (formerly qwest) with a 1 GB cutoff [3], even though my download speeds are about 10mbps (networking traffic, not real bits). Yes, my current upload speeds are less than 5% of download speeds. CenturyLink has boosted its download speeds to be more Comcast competitive, at the hidden cost of upload speed.

No, I'm not running a Torrent. I've got too much to lose to be pirating movies, besides, it's wrong [1]. I'm just trying to share 1.5 GB of our summer vacation photos [2].

So what's the problem? I can just switch ISPs right? I'll just Google those sites that compare upload speeds. I remember using them only five ... ok ... ten years ago.

Not so fast. I can't find those handy comparison sites any more. The American ISP industry has consolidated so much there's not much point in doing comparisons. Locally my only alternative option is Comcast, and while it's probably better that CenturyLink it's not much better.

Cue the ominous music, because there are logical reasons for uploading to suffer in today's market. Most customers don't care about it, or don't realize that speeds are asymmetric so are baffled by mpbs marketing. On the other hand, Torrents are enemy #1 for most ISPs. Photo sharing and online backup services may simply be collateral damage of anti-BitTorrent wars.

I can live without sharing full sized images; almost nobody I share with wants a 6MB JPEG. I can also go without online backup -- I don't trust online backup anyway.

Even so, it's a bummer. Monopoly sucks.

[1] Sort of wrong. Given the legislative conduct of the IP industry there's a definite Robin Hood angle to stealing movies.
[2] Big JPEGs. A downside of today's monster DSLs, combined with some unfortunate side-effects of processing JPGs in Aperture. 
[3] Throttling? Automated nightly modem reboots?

Update 1/7/12: I did hear back from CenturyLink. Basically, 300 kbps (100 kbpbs real throughput) is as good as it gets. If I want a different balance of upload and download then I need a "business" line. Sadly, this makes sense. I'm more like a business customer than a consumer customer.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

The GOP Primary is over now. What will the media cover next?

The 2011 GOP primary has to be one of the most foregone conclusions ever.

Once Perry flamed out, it was going to be Romney. Yes, there was great entertainment from Cain and Santorum and Gingrich and Bachman -- but really, they never had a hope. Maybe Gingrich for VP?

The numbers have fallen in line, and now it's all over but the formalities.

So what will the media cover next? I suppose it will be Romney's VP pick.

Has Microsoft lost the malware war?

I thought of John Halamka was a fairly careful writer, so this comment caught my eye (emphases mine):

Life as a Healthcare CIO: The Joy of Success

... One CIO received a negative audit report because new generations of viruses are no longer stopped by state of the art anti-virus software.... No one in the industry has solved the problem...

He refers to a previous post ...

Life as a Healthcare CIO: The Growing Malware Problem

... A new virus is released on the internet every 30 seconds.   Modern viruses contain self modifying code.  The "signature" approaches used in anti-virus software to rapidly identify known viruses, does not work with this new generation of malware.

Android attacks have increased 400% in the past year.   Even the Apple App Store is not safe.

Apple OS X is not immune.  Experts estimate that some recent viruses infections are 15% Mac...

Ok, so those sentences are a huge hit on his credibility. App Store issues are in no way comparable to Android attacks, and that 15% number could only be true for Microsoft Office malware (Duqu attacks a TrueType font parsing engine), or for something none of the Mac guys I read have run into. Nobody I know in the Mac community uses antivirals - even now. The cure is, for the moment, worse than the disease.

So Halamka is a bit lost, but it is true that the Stuxnet and Duqu platforms are formidable [1]. That's presumably what Halamka is talking about, and what some CIOs are thinking.

I haven't seen this elsewhere, but I don't track the Windows world all that closely. This will be something to watch over the next few months ...

[1] Even OS X Lion is no more secure than Windows 7 (for now). The only reason those viruses aren't attacking OS X machines is because there's no money in the Mac world. If Macs were used in banks they'd be at least as vulnerable to Duqu as Windows. The future (next?) version of OS X is expected to, like iOS, run signed code only.

Medical fads - are they cycling faster?

We've always had crazy fads in medicine.

I fell for a few when I had wet ears. Magnesium Sulfate post-MI is the one I remember best. That one even made it to textbooks before it died.

It's typical of medical fads that they infest journals, and now newspapers, but usually die before they get to textbooks. Estrogen for osteoporosis wasn't in that class -- that was a somewhat understandable research problem. Medical fads are less forgivable; they really aren't supported by evidence. They're built on easy money and bored specialists.

It feels like the fads are cycling faster. Emily and I thought the Vitamin D craze had another year or two, but it died fast.

Our local minor neurotrauma ("acute mild head injury") craze reeks of fadism. In Minnesota recommendations are being written into law, with little basis in science. As of today, PubMed has precious few studies.

Maybe it will be real. Some cults become established religions, some fads become science.

I don't think this one will make it to science, I do think it will cause significant harm along the way. Labels are powerful.

Hope this cycles as fast as Vitamin D, but putting minor traumatic brain injury into law may stretch its lifespan. Medical fadism is a crime against the vulnerable...

Update: More on the Vitamin D fad.

A few readers asked me for more detail on the vitamin D fad.

Briefly, for a year or two, I couldn't avoid popular articles claiming that Americans suffered from an epidemic of Vitamin D deficiency causing a wide range of disorders, and that recommended daily allowances were inadequate. Then, at the end of 2010, the Institute of Medicine published a report declaring that the science wasn't there, and that overdosing was more harmful than expected ... (emphases mine)

... The committee provided an exhaustive review of studies on potential health outcomes and found that the evidence supported a role for these nutrients in bone health but not in other health conditions. Overall, the committee concludes that the majority of Americans and Canadians are receiving adequate amounts of both calcium and vitamin D. Further, there is emerging evidence that too much of these nutrients may be harmful...

In retrospect, within a few months of the IOM report, the media attention ended. The fad moved on.

There's still science to be done of course. Ever since medical school I've wondered about the relationship of latitude to multiple sclerosis, and whether there was some kind of cutaneous immunity/solar radiation component. Today there are many interesting articles on the relationship between vitamin D and MS. That's research though, the fad is over.