Monday, February 28, 2005

New York, New York - A Survey by the Economist

The town of the talk

The Economist has published a "survey" of New York City. They last did this in 1983. I have fond memories of adventures in the Manhattan of 1981, but it was a rough place then. It's changed. A few interesting tidbits from the series:
...The city's population has reached an all-time high of 8.1m, and a higher proportion of its people—over 36%—are foreign-born than at any time since the 1920s...the Dominican Republic provides the biggest chunk of immigrants, with a share of 13%. China comes next with 9%, then Jamaica with 6%. No other country has more than 5%...immigrants make up 43% of the city's labour force, including over a third of its workers in finance, insurance and property, over 40% in education, health and social services, more than half in restaurants and hotels, 58% in construction and nearly two-thirds in manufacturing.

... The residents of just 20 streets on the east side of Central Park donated more money to the 2004 presidential campaigns than all but five entire American states.

...One big reason why New Yorkers have been able to rescue their neighbourhoods, attract people and smarten up the city is a dramatic fall in crime, which began in the 1990s and continues apace. Once notorious for its threatening streets, graffiti-covered subways, drug-addled hobos and general air of menace, New York today—as its businessman-mayor, Michael Bloomberg, rightly never tires of saying—is the safest big city in America.

... at the end of last year, the median price of an apartment on the island was $670,000, over 15% higher than a year earlier and more than three times what it was in 1995, according to Miller-Samuel, a property consultancy. As Manhattan's established areas climb out of reach, young professionals colonise and upgrade other neighbourhoods. People are getting used to the idea of a $1m house in Harlem...
And about 9/11
... About a quarter of the office space in lower Manhattan—the country's third-largest business district—was destroyed, and 23 buildings damaged.

... About 40,000 people normally worked in the twin towers, and around 150,000 visitors passed through the World Trade Centre complex each day. At the time the first plane struck, at 8.46am, the offices were not even half full. According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, between 16,200 and 18,600 people were in the towers, and around 87% of them escaped...

... Leave out the passengers and crew on the aeroplanes that were flown into the World Trade Centre, and about 2,600 people were killed in New York on September 11th 2001. Put that tragic number in perspective, and you can perhaps see how it is possible for New York to be a powerful magnet for talent, youth and energy once more. In 1990 there were 2,290 murders in the city; last year there were 566. Thus even if a September 11th were to occur every other year, the city would by one measure be quite a lot safer than it would be with crime at its 1990 level and no terrorism.

NewsScan passes on

NewsScan Publishing Inc. - NewsScan Daily Archives

We're going to let NewsScan Daily go dark for awhile, and will be turning out the lights tomorrow, March 1st.

While we're gone, maybe we'll reinvent ourselves. Or maybe we won't.

We'll be continuing with our various other activities, including our editorial work for ACM and the publication of Innovation Weekly, to which you can obtain a free trial subscription from our the NewsScan site.
It sounds like their funding ran out. I've gotten Newsscan in one incarnation or another for at about 10 years, it was called Edupage when I started subscribing in 1994. It was a quick way to catch up on novel items, but a myriad of blogs have taken over its primary role.

It was a labor of love and it did it's job well. It's going out in good form. I wish the authors and publisher all the very best.

DeLong: Why Social Security Deals Are Not a Good Idea

Brad DeLong's Website: Social Security Deals: Why They Are Not a Good Idea

DeLong reacts to a seemingly reasonable proposal for social security reform that's been associated with Joe Lieberman. The bottom line is that Bush has shown, time and again, that he can't be trusted. Emphases mine
1.. A Social Security reform bill that uncaps FICA, uses half the new FICA money for sweetening the pot for a well-implemented forced-savings private account program, and that uses the other half of FICA money plus some benefit cuts/retirement age increases to bring Social Security itself into seventy-five year actuarial balance in a well-implemented way--that's a reform bill that is good for the country.

2. However, you cannot get there: whatever deals are struck between Graham and Lieberman will be undone in the conference committee.

3. And even if you could get there in the sense of having a deal on the major outlines of the reform bill, the devil is in the details--and everything we know about the Bush administration tells us that it is incapable of implementing anything well: something always goes wrong (due either to incompetence or malevolence or both) to make Bush-implemented policy initiative a bad idea.

4. So the only way to fix Social Security is to do so in a way that keeps the Bush administration's mitts off of the implementation, and the final form of the legislation out of the hands of a Republican-dominated conference committee.

5. Therefore, if Lieberman is going to bargain, he needs to bargain first for a special rule to govern the legislative process, second for the removal of drafting details from Republican-controlled staffs, and third for a separate--and non-Bush controlled--bureaucracy to implement the program.

What Josh is saying is that all that is simply not going to happen, so that (1) is irrelevant. But it is important not to lose sight of the fact that (1) is true.
Bottom line -- there's no real way to a bargain given the track records of the Bush administration and the GOP.

Journalism yet lives: The NYT exposes negligent care of prisoners

The New York Times > New York Region > Private Health Care in Jails Can Be a Death Sentence

This is old-style journalism, by Paul von Zielbauer and the NYT. There's still something left in our newspapers. It's a LONG article, an expose on the consequences of outsourcing the care of very vulnerable and often despised people to a for-profit corporation:
...In these two harrowing deaths, state investigators concluded, the culprit was a for-profit corporation, Prison Health Services, that had moved aggressively into New York State in the last decade, winning jail contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars with an enticing sales pitch: Take the messy and expensive job of providing medical care from overmatched government officials, and give it to an experienced nationwide outfit that could recruit doctors, battle lawsuits and keep costs down.

A yearlong examination of Prison Health by The New York Times reveals repeated instances of medical care that has been flawed and sometimes lethal. The company's performance around the nation has provoked criticism from judges and sheriffs, lawsuits from inmates' families and whistle-blowers, and condemnations by federal, state and local authorities. The company has paid millions of dollars in fines and settlements...
It's a long article, too long for most of us to read in these harried times. View it in full page and scan the middle.

Even if you don't care about prisoners (who does these days?), the lessons apply whenever a vulnerable population (nursing home, indigent, cognitively impaired, psychiatric, the poor, prisoners) has their care managed by a for-profit consolidated entity. In the absence of the human safeguards of intimacy, in the absence of powerful regulation and observation, driven by the ferocious natural selection of the marketplace, these entities will inevitably morph into a machine for disposing of the inconvenient. It is a progression as certain as the arc of a thrown rock.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

An inside view of Google GQ

Yes, this was written in GQ. I can't explain that!

Gmail - Inbox (47) - of which 2/3 are spam

We're losing the war on spam. Google's filters had been doing well, but now they're failing dismally. Today about 2/3 of the messages that passed Google's initial spam filter are in fact "obvious" (to a human) spam. I've not seen such a rotten screening rate in years.

Spam from SONY: thank you congress

Sony Media Software – Home for Vegas, Sound Forge and ACID

Congress gave us CAN SPAM. CAN SPAM gave us this:
The monthly newsletter for Sony Media Software product information, news, and tips...

Sony Media Software
1617 Sherman Ave.
Madison, Wisconsin 53704
Customer Service and Sales: 1.800.577.6642
You received this message because you requested to stay informed of products and promotions when you registered a product.
The Direct Mail Association paid off our corrupt congressperps (yeah, most of the CAN SPAM supporters were GOP) so they'd make this kind of spam legal. Sure I can tell SONY to remove me from the mailing list -- but I know from years of trying to get myself off paper junk mail lists that my name will just get added back on. There's an entire industry that develops in these situations; the "frontmen" like SONY insulate themselves from the guys doing the dirty work of adding addresses any way they can.

The one good news is that SONY is probably using a legitimate mailheader (CAN SPAM did require this). So when I submit them to various spam filtering services there's a better chance they'll get blocked.

The pain of CAN SPAM is that it did nothing to stop all the porn/phishing spam, but it legitimized the equivalent of paper junk mail -- without creating a "postal fee" to attach a cost to the marketing. This SONY junk is only the beginning, in the absence of a "postal fee" our mailboxes will finally collapse under a deluge of "legal SPAM". I'd place a hex on the GOP Congress, but it's clear my hexes are working.

The only bright spot is the certainty that marketers will overreach, and that eventually they'll have to pay a postal fee (tax) and join a certification program paid for by the tax. The certification program will require a "V-Chip" like tag identifying the type of email as determined by an independent group. My ISP will filter all those messages out at my request.

Or so I can dream. I just hope GOP voters get this stuff too.

Hey, all you black hat bad guy pirate hackers out there ... could you please plunder a SONY movie for me?

NYT discovers Africa and is intensely confused

The New York Times > Opinion > Editorial: Thousands Died in Africa Yesterday

The NYT has a long and vacuous editorial today on poverty and death in Africa. In failing to express a plausible approach to the disaster of much of Africa, the NYT effectively came out in support of complacency.

Others have done better. Dismantling trade tariffs is a part of most solutions. Putting pressure on South Africa to stop supporting Zimbabwe's tyrant is another. Helping less vicious tyrants to replace more vicious tyrants is probably worth trying. Vaccination programs (thanks Bill and Melinda, at least there's an upside to the pain Microsoft has given me) and early infant nutrition programs will help; on this point the NYT's support of the Blair initiative is correct.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

That which remains: Ken Kifer's bike pages

Years ago, before kids, I did quite a bit of bike commuting. I put up a web page on the topic. Back then Ken Kifer's site was a great resource. I came across his name again through a bio he wrote on Major Taylor; it was there I discovered that Ken was killed by an intoxicated driver at the end of 2003.

A friend now preserves and tends Ken Kifer's site including his bike pages. and his utopian visions.

This is the last entry on his "what's new" page:
August 30, 2003: I have returned from a 6,500 mile bicycle camping trip to the Pacific Ocean in Washington and back. I am preparing my trip report, and I have already revised my page on Touring with a Solar Laptop to reflect changes.
Here's to you Ken.

Hope -- the american talent for subversion

The New York Times > Arts > Frank Rich: Hollywood Bets on Chris Rock's 'Indecency'

I found this oddly encouraging:
Once the feds vowed to smite future 'wardrobe malfunctions,' the customers started bolting the annual TV franchises where those malfunctions and their verbal counterparts are apt to occur. An award show sanitized of vulgarity and encased in the prophylactic of tape delay is an oxymoron. And so the Golden Globes lost 40 percent of its audience in January on NBC, the Grammys lost 28 percent of its audience this month on CBS. The viewers turned up instead at the competing 'Desperate Housewives' on ABC, where S-and-M is the latest item on the carnal menu.
America has an odd genius at corruption, diversion and subversion. Perhaps more of our national anxiety attacks will be subverted.

I must confess though, that our family doesn't have a bone in this fight. We don't watch TV. I thought the V-Chip was a great idea, but Al Gore and I were the only two people who thought so. Label the content and let the family decide what to do with it ...

Friday, February 25, 2005

Monbiot summarizes the 'Left Behind' series

George Monbiot � Apocalypse Please

I got to this one via the Moyers speech. The 'Left Behind' delusions are fairly typical of the kinds of delusions that have circulated in American subcultures since the founding of the nation. Monbiot has a pretty good summary of the overall belief system. I don't think Bush himself actually believes he's fighting the Antichrist, but many of his acolytes very much believe he is.
...In the United States, several million people have succumbed to an extraordinary delusion. In the 19th century, two immigrant preachers cobbled together a series of unrelated passages from the Bible to create what appears to be a consistent narrative: Jesus will return to earth when certain preconditions have been met.(4) The first of these was the establishment of a state of Israel. The next involves Israel’s occupation of the rest of its “Biblical lands” (most of the Middle East), and the rebuilding of the Third Temple on the site now occupied by the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosques. The legions of the Antichrist will then be deployed against Israel, and their war will lead to a final showdown in the valley of Armageddon. The Jews will either burn or convert to Christianity, and the Messiah will return to earth...
In this article Monbiot says the Rapture Index is 144, "just one point below the critical threshold, beyond which the sky will be filled with floating nudists". Today I see it's hit 153. It's risky for prophets to be so specific; wise prophets never make numeric statements.

Bill Moyers all but despairs of our leadership, and our citizens

Drunk and Disorderly � Blog Archive � There Is No Tomorrow

Moyers gave a speech in the last few months. A version of the speech was published on AlterNet, then copied to this blog. So much for copyright!

Moyer all but despairs of our government and our citizenship -- but he still has hope.

HyperCard: My past is ancient history ...

Smackerel: When multimedia was black and white

This site was written to introduce HyperCard and the days before color screens to an audience raised on the web. For me this stuff is just the day before today, I still have dusty old books with black and white HyperCard screenshots.

Heck, I even remember Gopher.

So what happened in Fallujah?

This is story alleges brutal war crimes by US forces during the assault on Fallujah:Iraq Dispatches: Stories from Fallujah.

I suspect the stories are not entirely true or complete, but I suspect most hellish urban battles have similar stories -- so they are not entirely implausible either.

We don't hear much about what happened in Fallujah. Just silence.

Suffer the children

A man kills his two children and wounds three others. A surgeon and blogger tells his side of the story: A Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure.

He visits one of the survivors a day after surgery:
As I was rounding on them today one told me, 'I was bad.'

The baby name voyager and the science of epidemics

The Baby Name Wizard's NameVoyager

This Java app actually works -- even in OS X. It takes a long time to load and get going, but then it's quite responsive. Brinna has never been in the top 1000. Ben is popular now. But check out "Emily". It has an explosive growth from about 1960 and is still on a rapid growth path. Alma and Alfred show a terrific crash between 1900 and 1950.

My guess is that this represents a true nonlinear ("chaos", butterfly wing, epidemic, etc) pattern. It would be interesting to do similar chart for various infectious diseases.

ChoicePoint owns you

Shifting sands in data leak (SFgate)

ChoicePoint knows quite a bit about you. If you're unlucky, you're one of the people who's identity has been stolen through the misuse ChoicePoint's data. So who are they?
...ChoicePoint, based outside Atlanta, was created in 1997 as a spin-off from Equifax, one of the leading credit-reporting agencies. Its original purpose was to analyze claims on behalf of the insurance industry.

That mission evolved and expanded as ChoicePoint went on a buying spree, acquiring about 60 other firms with businesses ranging from data collection and background checks to DNA analysis and direct marketing.

ChoicePoint is now one of the leading data brokers in the country, acting as a sort of private intelligence service for both corporate and government clients (including the FBI).

The company had about $900 million in sales last year and is believed to have more government clients than its two main rivals, LexisNexis and Acxiom.

'Any interaction where you give up personal information can create an opportunity for them to obtain it and put it in their database,' said Chris Hoofnagle, who heads the San Francisco office of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

'You get arrested, you get married, you have a child -- ChoicePoint can get copies of the records and sell it,' he said. 'If you've ever had dealings with the government, they have information about you.'

From a consumer's point of view, one of the biggest problems about ChoicePoint is that there's no way to opt out or otherwise prohibit the company from circulating your personal info.

..Jones said the company's services range from $5 overviews of new employees to in-depth profiles of individuals costing clients thousands of dollars.

...To be sure, not everything ChoicePoint does is a potential threat to consumers. For example, the company offers its vast resources free of charge when children are missing or abducted...
They're an unregulated industry and they're overdue for regulation. Interestingly even the CEO is quoted as welcoming more oversight. "Stop me before I kill again ...".

Orwell figured this kind of thing would be the provice of governments. He really didn't understand capitalism all that well.

American torture: the case of Maher Arar

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Columnist: Thrown to the Wolves

I've previously written about this story here and here. We're still doing this; outsourcing our most extreme torture programs to other nations. Note that while we evidently were using Syrian dungeons in 2002, we're now threatening to attack Syria. I guess their torturers didn't give us the answers we wanted.

I really, really, really, tried to defeat Bush.
...In the fall of 2002 Mr. Arar, a Canadian citizen, suddenly found himself caught up in the cruel mockery of justice that the Bush administration has substituted for the rule of law in the post-Sept. 11 world. While attempting to change planes at Kennedy Airport on his way home to Canada from a family vacation in Tunisia, he was seized by American authorities, interrogated and thrown into jail. He was not charged with anything, and he never would be charged with anything, but his life would be ruined.

Mr. Arar was surreptitiously flown out of the United States to Jordan and then driven to Syria, where he was kept like a nocturnal animal in an unlit, underground, rat-infested cell that was the size of a grave. From time to time he was tortured.

He wept. He begged not to be beaten anymore. He signed whatever confessions he was told to sign. He prayed.

Among the worst moments, he said, were the times he could hear babies crying in a nearby cell where women were imprisoned. He recalled hearing one woman pleading with a guard for several days for milk for her child.

He could hear other prisoners screaming as they were tortured.

"I used to ask God to help them," he said.

The Justice Department has alleged, without disclosing any evidence whatsoever, that Mr. Arar is a member of, or somehow linked to, Al Qaeda. If that's so, how can the administration possibly allow him to roam free? The Syrians, who tortured him, have concluded that Mr. Arar is not linked in any way to terrorism...

... Mr. Arar is the most visible victim of the reprehensible U.S. policy known as extraordinary rendition, in which individuals are abducted by American authorities and transferred, without any legal rights whatever, to a regime skilled in the art of torture. The fact that some of the people swallowed up by this policy may in fact have been hard-core terrorists does not make it any less repugnant.

Mr. Arar, who is married and also has an 8-year-old daughter, said the pain from some of the beatings he endured lasted for six months.

"It was so scary," he said. "After a while I became like an animal."

A lawsuit on Mr. Arar's behalf has been filed against the United States by the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York. Barbara Olshansky, a lawyer with the center, noted yesterday that the government is arguing that none of Mr. Arar's claims can even be adjudicated because they "would involve the revelation of state secrets."
Even now US courts can still surprise. Perhaps Mr. Arar's case will yet be heard. Judging by the fall of Zimbabwe, sometimes the courts can retain integrity even when all other institutions have been corrupted.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

The IQs of nations

I came across this post in a Slashdot thread:
The following countries have lower average IQs than that of the US (which is 98):

Canada 97 Czech Republic 97 Finland 97 ... Guinea 66 Zimbabwe 66 Congo (Zaire) 65 Sierra Leone 64 Ethiopia 63 Equatorial Guinea 59.
I wondered where the heck this alleged data came from, so I searched on a subset of the list (what did we do before the net?). It turns out it's from a book called the IQ and the Wealth of Nations, evidently inspired by the notorious/famous/infamous "Bell Curve" book.

Hong Kong was #1 on the full list, but one could argue it's too small and atypical for this sort of ranking. South Korea was #2 and perhaps deserves pride of primacy (Despite being a euro I have some strong familial bonds to SK, so I'll claim a sort of secondary pride. One amusing correction: the web page links from SK to an article on the IQ benefits of learning Chinese characters -- which kind of misses the point that one of Korea's most brilliant inventions was a phonetic script that led to widespread literacy.)

So is there anything to this ranking? I'm skeptical of both the quality of the data and the agenda of this web site, but from what we know of the impact of malnutrition and intrauterine stress I would expect many of the world's most poor nations to be at the bottom of an "honest" list. The lesson here is that we we need to couple interventions to improve nutrition and reduce disease burden to the economic interventions critical to reducing poverty.

ALS and Soccer

BBC NEWS | Health | Footballers risk nerve disorder

I recently read that the incidence of ALS in the US was about 1/1000 (higher than I'd have thought). In Italy there were 33 cases among 24,000 soccer (football) players. That's about 50% higher than one would expect based on the US numbers (and the US numbers are lifelong, so the Italian soccer risk might well be 100% higher), but the article refers to a 4-5 fold risk increase.

Well, let's assume there really is a significant increase in risk in Italian soccer players compared to the general population. The commentary in the rest of the article is quite good:
The researchers suggested that the high risk might be linked to sports injuries, performance-enhancing drugs or exposure to environmental toxins such as fertilizers or herbicides used on football fields, as well as genetic factors.

But equally, it might be that people prone to ALS are drawn to sport, said Dr Ammar Al-Chalabi from London's Institute of Psychiatry.

'There could be some quality in their neuromuscular make-up that not only makes them good at sport, football particularly, but also makes them susceptible to ALS,' he said.

Dr Brian Dickie of the Motor Neurone Disease Association, said: 'We still don't know what causes this link, or whether it would be reflected in other groups of footballers and sportspeople.

'There is some anecdotal evidence of a link between high levels of physical exercise and an increased risk of developing motor neurone disease.

'However, much more research needs to be carried out before we can draw definite conclusions.'
It's an interesting correlation, but I bet it's not a causal relationship. It does suggest some interesting research opportunities. Researchers will look at prevalence by socioeconomic class. Does ALS correlate with wealth or relative poverty? Is it related to the prevalence of some early infection? (I've always been interested in the relationship between MS and sunlight, presumably due to some modulation of the cutaneous immune system.)

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Bloglines is having trouble ...

Last November Blogger was staggering badly. The election gave Blogger and Blogspot a bit of breathing room, and while they've had problems their doing far better than they were a few months ago.

Now Bloglines is in trouble. The "plumber" picture isn't funny after the 3rd or 4th visit. They're a great service, so I hope they dig out their current mess.

The rise of pseudo-fascism -- winner of the 2004 Koufax Award for best series

Orcinus: the rise pseudo-fascism - a series

This series of posts won the 2004 Koufax best series award. I've not bothered to figure out what the award means, but I did read the conclusion to the multi-part series. Interesting stuff. I did not know the leader of the American Nazi party was assasinated when I was 8 years old; 22 years after the end of WW II.

The premise of the series is that the American right wing, and increasingly the GOP, demonstrates many of the external attributes of a fascist movement. The historical analogies are particularly interesting; American history from 1890 to 1970 is simply astounding.

Paris Hilton may not be brilliant, but T-Mobile is a moron

Read my posting on the "stupidity of the secret question".

Then read this article: How Paris Got Hacked?

Paris Hilton's phone may have been hacked because she used her dog's name as a sort of global password. Unfortunate but, frankly, completely commonplace. It is, however, inexcusable that T-Mobile uses those idiotic "secret questions", such as "name of your dog" to do password resets.

Paris has enough money to sue T-Mobile from here to Mars. I sincerely hope she makes them suffer.

The skies, the skies ...

BBC NEWS | Wales | South East Wales | Astronomers find star-less galaxy

I remember the cosmology of the 1970s. We're not in Kansas any more.
Astronomers say they have discovered an object that appears to be an invisible galaxy made almost entirely of dark matter.

Alzheimers, inflammation and the endocannabinoids

BBC NEWS | Health | Marijuana may block Alzheimer's

Or not. I read recently that headline writing is a low prestige, low paying job, in journalism. I can believe it.

Some background. The current fashion in Alzheimer's research is that local inflammation plays some role. We don't know why there's inflammation (though some think it's a response to malformed protein -- amyloid), we don't know if it's an isolated or secondary phenomena, we don't know whether (if it's secondary) it's ever an appropriate response, we don't know if stopping the inflammation will help or hurt, etc. Some of the lesions of Alzheimer's dementia or now thought to be part of the brain's appropriate response to injury; so stopping inflammation may help in the short term but be very bad in the longer term.

The microglia seem to play a role in activating this inflammation. Researchers found activating the CR2 receptor seemed to protect against the microglia-initiated inflammation triggered by amyloid protein in rats. The CR1 receptor wasn't protective. Marijuana contains a wide variety of cannabinoids; some of them activate CR1, some activate CR2, some do both, etc. CR1 mediates most of the recreational/toxic effects of marijuana.

So the headline is fun but of course quite misleading. Something in marijuana may play some role someday in something do with Alzheimer's disease. In rats, anyway.

On the other hand there are some things that we can't forget.

1. The Alzheimer's process is a condition that seems to begin quite early in life -- perhaps before age 5. It attacks almost everyone to some extent but has its greatest impact on persons with low IQs (it's very severe in people with Down's syndrome). If we can slow or remediate the onset of Alzheimer's the social impact will be vast. Our 75 yr projections for medicare and social security will look quite a bit better.

2. The discovery of the endocannabinoids and the medications that will act on them may bring a new revolution in psychiatry. Some things we'll learn will have bad effects, but I'm optimistic.

3. The role of inflammatory processes, including infectious processes, in what where thought to be "age-related" degenerative conditions of the stomach, brain and heart is quite startling. I'm quite ready now to believe we'll uncover an infections component to rheumatoid arthritis (a longstanding hypothesis that's been often investigated without success).

So this is exciting stuff, despite my kvetching on the headline.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

DMCA abuse -- the courts refuse to roll over

Last July, I wrote about how the DMCA might be applied to lock customers in to custom batteries -- or printer catridges. Vendors wanting to move customer off of old products can just stop selling the batteries -- or the printer cartridges.

I figured this was inevitable, but may be I was wrong: | 02/22/2005 | Lexmark printer running low on legal size paper

Looks like Lexmark's effort to use the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to prevent other companies from making refurbished toner cartridges for its printers has received a potentially fatal blow. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has denied Lexmark's request that it reinstitute an injunction against Static Control Components (SCC), a maker of computer chips that enable recycled toner cartridges to work in Lexmark International printers. Lexmark had argued that SCC's Smartek chip circumvents a copyrighted technological measure that its printers use to verify toner cartridges are original and because of that violates a clause in the DMCA that prohibits the dismantling of devices intended to protect intellectual property rights. It was a worrying use of the DMCA and one that, as SCC pointed out in a legal brief, could cause consumer-unfriendly DMCA-protected chips to appear in many consumer products. Evidently, the court agreed. Now, barring the intervention of the Supreme Court, it looks like Lexmark's case is dead in the water. 'This is a very gratifying decision,' said SCC chief exec Ed Swartz. 'We have asserted from the outset that this is a blatant misuse of the DMCA. The Sixth Circuit's ruling and the court's decision not to hear Lexmark's request for another hearing solidifies and supports our position that the DMCA was not intended to create aftermarket electronic monopolies.'

A test of political mores: fun on the web

Moral Politics - A Morality-Based Political Test

I took both the two question test and the 15 question test. On the two test question I fell in the "Moderate Liberalism" category (as in 19th century Liberalism) and I had a 96% overlap with John Kerry. On the longer test I was "Moderate Socialism" and had a lesser overlap with John Kerry.

I knew I liked Kerry for a good reason.

I think I'm in-between the two axis -- but the two question test was more accurate. Both tests pegged me on "Moral Order" (ideal view of the world) but the longer test was less accurate on "Moral Rules" (rules that point to moral order).

I suspect what the longer test misses is the gap between how I'd like the world to be and what I believe humanity is capable of. So I'd like a world that was more of the "moderate socialist" order, but I don't believe humanity can really manage that degree of enlightened self-interest. The best humanity can sustain is "moderate liberalism".

Now if we make a few changes to the genome ...

Jon Stewart is completely hilarious -- the Gannon show

Jon Stewart's Daily Show on Bloggers 02/16/05

This site is hosting a John Stewart's Gannon show as a QuickTime video. It's hilarious. It almost makes me want to watch TV.

Is Stewart the only real journalist left?

I wonder if he'll do the "Bush tapes". Perhaps not, neither Bush's allies nor his "enemies" really like the tapes. To Bush's allies the tapes are disturbing and upsetting. To his "enemies" (who wish him well in retirement) the tapes portray him as too much like one of us.

Obituary for a Grammarian

The New Yorker: The Talk of the Town
To one correspondent she sent a beautiful letter, frank and kind, needlessly grateful, which ended with the sentence “Please forget about me.” Of course, we never could and we never will.
The Grammarian of the New Yorker dies at age 87, five years after a stroke forced her out of her office. All die, few have such a fine obituary.

Friends don't let friends buy HP

Boing Boing: HP faces lawsuit for inkjet cartridges with expiration chip

The allegation:
H-P ink cartridges use a chip technology to sense when they are low on ink and advise the user to make a change. But, the suit claims, those chips also shut down the cartridges at a predetermined date regardless of whether they are empty. 'The smart chip is dually engineered to prematurely register ink depletion and to render a cartridge unusable through the use of a built-in expiration date that is not revealed to the consumer,' the suit said.
I soured on HP after buying some of their sheet feeder scanners that doubled as paper shredders. They seemed to be making poor quality devices and punishing anyone foolish enough to buy from them.

Now this. If it's true then:

1. Does everyone do this? (I've got a Canon printer, I liked the separate ink wells.)
2. I won't be buying anything from HP. (Ok, so I wasn't going to anyway

More things I did wrong in my practice

Another day, another thing I did wrong when I practiced medicine: - Health - Study: Hormone Therapy Makes Incontinence Worse, Not Better

By some estimates, up to half of all women over 50 will suffer from urinary incontinence. Many women take hormone replacement therapy because doctors believe it can reduce the risk of urinary leakage, but according to a new study, the opposite is true.

... Hendrix and her colleagues tracked the health of more than 27,000 post-menopausal women for one year to see if hormones reduced incontinence.

The study, published in Wednesday's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed that women who hadn't had leakage before taking the hormones were more likely to become incontinent, and women who were already incontinent were more likely to see their condition get worse...

... Women taking estrogen pills for one year were 53 percent more likely to develop urinary incontinence than women who took dummy pills. Women taking pills containing both estrogen and progestin faced a 39 percent higher risk.
I stopped doing clinical practice about 4-5 years ago, and it's been more years than that since I saw women for incontinence. Back then, however, a 50 yo woman with incontinence was a great candidate for estrogen therapy (w/ progestins usually): build up bones, reduce incontinence, reduce fracture risk, reduce heart disease risk, less dementia ...

Except none of those things, except the fracture, are felt to be true nowadays. Maybe this study is wrong (the design doesn't sound very robust), but I gather it's not the only study with similar results. It seems unlikely that estrogens are a great treatment for incontinence, and given their other issues I wouldn't use them for urinary incontinence today.

Sigh. Things wouldn't be so bad if I were confident that the newer therapies will hold up significantly better than the nostrums I was taught eons ago ...

Child atheletes in America - a bit crazy

The New York Times > Sports > Other Sports > Doctors See a Big Rise in Injuries for Young Athletes

High school students apply the technology and methodologies of the 1990 olympics. Grade schoolers are applying the technology and methodologies of the 1970 olympics. The NYT reports on one outcome -- exotic injuries:
A competitive swimmer since she was 7, Alex Glashow of Barrington, R.I., logged 8,000 yards a day in the pool, until her arms ached. She learned to dislocate one shoulder intentionally to ease the pain in the water, but after shoulder surgery and a year of physical therapy, Glashow quit competitive swimming forever when she was 15.

Jeret Adair, a top young pitching prospect from Atlanta who started 64 games in one summer for his traveling baseball team, last year had Tommy John surgery, an elbow reconstruction once reserved for aging major leaguers.

Ana Sani of Scarsdale, N.Y., a 13-year-old budding soccer star, practiced daily until she tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her knee...

...Dr. Lyle Micheli, a pioneer in the field of treating youth sports injuries and director of the sports medicine division of Boston Children's Hospital, said that 25 years ago, only 10 percent of the patients he treated came to him for injuries caused by overuse. Back then, most childhood injuries were fractures and sprains. Dr. Micheli said overuse injuries now represented 70 percent of the cases he sees...

... "It's not enough that they play on a school team, two travel teams and go to four camps for their sport in the summer," said Dr. Eric Small, who has a family sports-medicine practice in Westchester County. "They have private instructors for that one sport that they see twice a week. Then their parents get them out to practice in the backyard at night."

... It is not uncommon for the damage done by an overuse injury to be irrevocable, and the doctor's advice is to quit the sport.

"That's usually not received too well," said Dr. Michael Busch, an Atlanta orthopedic surgeon. "The parents will ask if there isn't some kind of surgery that can be done, so their child can keep doing the things that brought this injury on in the first place...

"To tell you the truth, the kids usually take it better than the parents. Many kids are relieved. They can be kids again."...
This is seriously crazy. Some of those parents seem to qualify as an odd variant of child abuser. The real problem, however, is not misplaced parental pride. It's a society that's become obsessed with excellence. Get over it guys. There's always someone faster, someone smarter, someone better. There are maybe 6 billion people on earth; 6,000 of them are "one in a million".

More importantly, the most significant injury is not to these child atheletes. It's their inactive peers who are really hurt and hurting. If the standard for sports participation is an elite athletic ideal, then 95% of children can't even imagine participating. We aren't going to do anything about obesity if 95% of kids are sidelined from first grade onwards.

Sports is important. For some people it will be the most important thing in their lives. (I make no value judgment, for all I know God is a quarterback. If I'd had the talent to attract girls by athletic display I'd have fully exploited that opportunity!) But like everything else in America, we carry it to absurd extremes.

We need to slow things down, and we need to broaden the experience to include all children -- including the slow and clumsy. Get a grip America!

How I use Gmail and why it really is so great

Gmail - Inbox

Gmail is getting ready to go public. I have about 50 "invitations" to handout. Good time to mention how my use has evolved.

1. My desktop email has become a repository and backup store. I do most of my work in Gmail. Messages go out with a return address to my public (spamcop) account but my Gmail account is well known to spammers so this is not critical.

2. I don't use the "labels" much. I thought I'd use 'em more. I'm very post-hierarchy these days. (Labels are an attribute that can be used to emulate a non-hierarchical folder with multiple inheritance.)

3. I "fork" my mailstream. (Relatively few people can do this, I control my mail domain.) Mail to my primary address is replicated to my POP box and to Gmail. So there are two copies everywhere. Works very well with two downsides:
- I have to remember to cc myself if want my replies or messages to be in both repositories. (I wish auto-cc was a Gmail feature, it's not.)
- I have to deal with spam twice, fortunately the filtering I use works pretty well. Gmail keeps a steady level of about 6000 spams in my spam box -- about 30 days worth.

4. Gmail is also a repository for files of less than 10MB that I want to quickly backup or pass around.

5. I use the "star" feature quite a bit.

6. My Inbox is emptied on reading. If I want to come back to a message I "star" it.

Things I really like about Gmail:

1. speed, speed, speed.
2. did i mention search speed?
3. no filing
4. keyboard shortcuts (see speed)
5. smart address book and adress completion
6. elegance
7. reliability
8. useful and interesting ad links

Things I want:

1. auto-bcc feature so I can copy replies to my personal repository
2. IMAP support (I'd pay)
3. more capacity -- 1GB will last me about another 2 years. (I'd pay)

Udell on screencasting

InfoWorld: Let's hear it for screencasting: February 11, 2005: By Jon Udell : APPLICATION_DEVELOPMENT : APPLICATIONS : BUSINESS : DATA_MANAGEMENT

Udell (uber guru) writes about screencasting:
I’m now using screencasts — that is, narrated movies of software in action — to showcase application tips, capture and publish product demonstrations, and even make short documentaries. And I’m seeing others around the Net starting to do the same. Now’s a good time to explain why I think this mode of communication matters and will flourish.
Experts use software far more effectively than novices. This knowledge is very rarely communicated in manuals; only a few books are good at providing this information. Sharing brief task-based usage is a valuable tool for building effective users.

Google's one page guide to becoming a Google Guru

Google Help : Cheat Sheet

This is very impressive. It's a single page summary that captures the key high value user interactions with a range of Google services. Memorize it and impress ... ummm ... ok, impress noone. But get more done faster.

Monday, February 21, 2005

The tedious response to having one's identity stolen

Has Your Identity Been Stolen? - What to do if it happens to you. By Daniel Engber

Next: a web business that outsources the response to identity theft. Fill out a form with the specifics, enter your credit card number, and sign stuff in the mail.

Since identity theft is becoming rather prevalent, we might as well automate the response to it.

Ajax: thickening a web client

adaptive path » ajax: a new approach to web applications

It's not easy to make JavaScript do all this stuff, and Safari is missing some of the key pieces (shame on Apple), but it is astounding when it works.

There's a fair bit of history here. Years ago we used to speak of "thin clients" (Citrix) and "thick clients" (conventional apps). Thin clients were easy to deploy but put a lot of processing burden on servers and suffered from communications latency.

Web browsers were thicker than Citrix but still suffered the effects of latency and had a much more limited GUI than a Citrix thin client. Both Sun's Java and Netscape's Javascript/HTML extensions were supposed to address the GUI and latency issues, but Sun and Netscape stupidly fought tooth and claw; two dogs fighting while a tiger chuckled nearby. Once Sun and Netscape had just about done in each other in Microsoft waltzed off with the browser. IE's DHTML framework threatened to finish what Netscape had started, but then the Office/.NET vs IE wars started at Microsoft. Office won and it looked like .NET would be the only path forward. Nonone could trust Microsoft to keep IE/DHTML healthy; it was a platform without a future.

But the vestiges of the old wars survived , in the IE/W3C document object model and in Javascript that was slowly getting less buggy. Different people in different places and times figured out how to get this rickety architecture working. Then came the rise of Firefox. Now even if IE stopped supporting this .NET alternative, it could still work on Firefox.

Of course it might also work even better on gBrowser ...

And now we have Ajax vs .NET for the variable weight browser-client title.

And so it goes.

Update: a colleague mentions the alternative approach to reducing latency - unbelievable server and network performance:
I would point out that several of the techniques Google is using don't require an
elaborate client side DHTML approach. They are, instead, leveraging
their incredible load capacity and low latency server array. Google maps is
a perfect example of relatively low tech client, plus an incredible tech
server architecture. If you look carefully you can sometimes see upwards of
20 GET requests being spun off, each with a latency response that is way way
sub second.
Update Again 2/23: Udell has much more on this topic, including more on how Google got its server latency to unprecedented levels.

Right wing fruitcake's "most unwanted" page

A guide to the political left

I loved the photo of Ted Kennedy. It has to be among the least flattering of the 250,000 pictures taken of him in the past 50 years. Among his many crimes: "Described the 2003 war in Iraq as “a fraud”".

This site hosts a right-wing fruitcake's "most unwanted" list. It has links to the Zawahiri and Betty Friedan. A Java applet is supposed to allow one to browse the network of connections (degrees of separation) but it didn't work on Safari.

I realize I'm just encouraging these folks by linking to this type of page, but it's a good reminder of how many reasonably intelligent people are really quite nuts.


Dedication: Free Mojtaba and Arash Day

BBC NEWS | Technology | Global blogger action day called

Free Mojtaba and Arash Day.

From the BBC (with link):
The global web blog community is being called into action to lend support to two imprisoned Iranian bloggers.

The month-old Committee to Protect Bloggers is asking those with blogs to dedicate their sites on 22 February to the 'Free Mojtaba and Arash Day'.

Arash Sigarchi and Mojtaba Saminejad are both in prison in Iran.

... The group has a list of actions which it says bloggers can take, including writing to local Iranian embassies...

Taller babies and confusing correlation with causation

BBC NEWS | Health | Taller babies earn more later on

A study shows 1 yo height correlates with income. Interesting, but then the study's author is quoted saying something startling:
Report author Professor David Barker said he hoped the findings would make people realise the first year was critical in a child's development.
I can't imagine how this study, as reported, could possibly support this conclusion. He's making all kinds of logical leaps to get from a relationship to causality to therapeutic intervention.

When we have studies showing that interventions in wealthy nations in the first year of life affect later income, or even 1 year height, then let's talk along these lines ....

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Grand Old Payola Party

The New York Times > Arts > Frank Rich: The White House Stages Its 'Daily Show'

Frank Rick looks at at how much money the Bush administration paid for PR/propaganda. Based on the numbers, the fake journalism scandal may be quite large. A quarter of a billion dollars would pay for a several thousand mouthpieces. Lawyers are doubtles looking for ways to open up the Ketchum budget, and tell us what portion of that fortune was paying for illegal propaganda.
... The money that paid for both the Ryan-Garcia news packages and the Armstrong Williams contract was siphoned through the same huge public relations firm, Ketchum Communications, which itself filtered the funds through subcontractors. A new report by Congressional Democrats finds that Ketchum has received $97 million of the administration's total $250 million P.R. kitty, of which the Williams and Ryan-Garcia scams would account for only a fraction. We have yet to learn precisely where the rest of it ended up.

The pre-fab "Ask President Bush" town hall-style meetings held during last year's campaign (typical question: "Mr. President, as a child, how can I help you get votes?") were carefully designed for television so that, as Kenneth R. Bazinet wrote last summer in New York's Daily News, "unsuspecting viewers" tuning in their local news might get the false impression they were "watching a completely open forum." A Pentagon Office of Strategic Influence, intended to provide propagandistic news items, some of them possibly false, to foreign news media was shut down in 2002 when it became an embarrassing political liability. But much more quietly, another Pentagon propaganda arm, the Pentagon Channel, has recently been added as a free channel for American viewers of the Dish Network. Can a Social Security Channel be far behind?

... The inability of real journalists to penetrate this White House is not all the White House's fault. The errors of real news organizations have played perfectly into the administration's insidious efforts to blur the boundaries between the fake and the real and thereby demolish the whole notion that there could possibly be an objective and accurate free press...
The Bush policy wouldn't work if we had an aggressive and active free press left. I don't see any evidence of that -- outside of a few old pros like Frank Rich and the under financed and unread blogosphere. We, the American people, just aren't interested any more. We'll get the nation we deserve.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Friday, February 18, 2005

Planet sorrow

A Devastating Decision for Ill Ethiopian Mothers (

A world of sorrow.
...Six-year-old Radeat Behonegn used to spend hours at the window of the Hope for Children orphanage, waiting for her parents to return. They left her here two years ago, and soon afterward died of AIDS related illnesses...

...Children dropped off at the orphanage can grow hysterical, sending others into a panic. Recently, Tamrat had to start a new policy, telling parents they should bring their children in to play a few times and then, on the last day, just leave quietly. Later, the children are told that their parents are dying.
The fathers in these stories are often despicable. CARE is open for business.

Bush the deity News | Among the believers:

Indeed, Goebbels is topical:
In January, Paul Craig Roberts, assistant secretary of the treasury during the Reagan administration and associate editor of the Wall Street Journal's far-right editorial page, published a damning column in the progressive Z Magazine about fascist tendencies in the conservative movement. 'In the ranks of the new conservatives, however, I see and experience much hate. It comes to me in violently worded, ignorant and irrational emails from self-professed conservatives who literally worship George Bush,' he wrote. 'Even Christians have fallen into idolatry. There appears to be a large number of Americans who are prepared to kill anyone for George Bush … Like Brownshirts, the new conservatives take personally any criticism of their leader and his policies. To be a critic is to be an enemy.'

Privacy? Surely you jest. A web site for those who would resist.

No Place to Hide - The Center for Investigative Reporting

I came across this site via Gillmor. It's a foundation funded site about privacy loss:
When you go to work, stop at the store, fly in a plane, or surf the web, you are being watched. They know where you live, the value of your home, the names of your friends and family, in some cases even what you read. Where the data revolution meets the needs of national security, there is no place to hide.
I think this is a futile effort, but I admire the sentiment.

How to steal identies: method #5 | 02/16/2005 | 145,000 Americans' identity data stolen
A company that sells personal data on consumers said Wednesday that it's alerting 145,000 Americans -- including 35,000 Californians -- that they might be vulnerable to identity theft after a crime ring paid for their credit reports, Social Security numbers and other sensitive information.

ChoicePoint, a Georgia company that boasts it has compiled the deepest database in the nation, said Tuesday that it had alerted 35,000 Californians that they were vulnerable, as required by state law. But it balked at first at notifying a far larger number of potential victims outside California.
About seven years ago a group of scammers set up a California bank so they could purchase credit card account information. This is a variant on this technique.

It's much more effective to subvert the legal trade in identity information than it is to go out and steal the information oneself. The companies selling this information have to held liable for its misuse. That will, of course, increase the cost of the information for legitimate users. One wonders, however, how many legitimate uses of this information are truly essential.

Aging drivers: a vast growth industry

DeKalb Medical Center - Providing Healthcare Services in Decatur, GA and DeKalb County

DeKalb medical center (Atlanta) offers driving skills assessments through their rehab center:
Driving Solutions Program (Inpatient and Outpatient)

This specialty program provides driver assessment, training and adaptive equipment recommendations for vehicle operation. The assessment process includes tests of vision, visual perception and reaction time, as well as assessment of cognitive and physician functioning. Driver training is available to new and experienced drivers to promote safety and competency behind the wheel. Training in the use of adaptive equipment is available.
When I was in practice the aging driver was one of my tougher management challenges. It's not only that driving ability decreases with advanced age, it's also that judgment often deteriorates in parallel with visual, sensory and motility loss.

As we boomers age, we're going to turn the roads into a slaughterhouse. For a time no-one will dare take the wheel from our voting hands. Bicyclists will become extinct (I suspect rising bicycle fatalities is a leading indicator of aged drivers), until finally the survivors will rise up. We'll then have to go through regular (q1-2y) examinations. Ultimately there will be enough of us near-suicidal 75+ yo non-drivers that we'll actually get a decent transit alternative going.

Or maybe cars will get "smart" enough that they can be "driven" by a fairly impaired person...

Goebbels is topical

A gentleman sitting by me at the Beanery referred me to a reference that's quite topical: Goebbels on Propaganda in 1931. In a world in which the Republican payola scandal (don't like the news? change it) and Rupert Murdoch's empire continue to grow, it pays to reread the master of mass movement fear-based propaganda: Goebbels.

Here Goebels is introducing a new magazine (Will and Way) that is to be a communication forum and messaging source for party activists. Will and Way was a key part of Goebbel's overall propaganda (messaging) strategy. The "Will" is the program, the "Way" is the propaganda channel.

I think of Will and Way as a cross between a community forum, a blog, and a newsletter. Here are excerpts from his introduction with my emphases (I deleted the irritating drivel that is typical of Nazi writing):
It is the task of National Socialist theory to construct a program that can hold its own in the daily political struggle. We have worked on this program since the start of the movement. Its basics are laid out in the 25 points [the party's official program, adopted in 1920]. The 25 points provide the foundation of all of National Socialist practice.

... It will not be the goal of this magazine to spread and deepen National Socialist theory and practice... Rather, our goal is to show practitioners the methods they can use to gradually gain power by winning the souls of the people.

... each of these methods requires a political group to win the sympathies of the broad masses, if it wishes over the long run to maintain is power. But the sympathy of the people does not come of itself; it must be won.

The means of gaining that support is propaganda. The task of propaganda is not to discover a theory or to develop a program, but rather to translate that theory and program into the language of the people, to make them comprehensible to the broad masses of the people. The goal of propaganda is to make what the theorists have discovered clear to the broad masses.

... No other political movement as understood the art of propaganda as well as the National Socialists. From its beginnings, it has put heart and soul into propaganda. What distinguishes it from all other political parties is the ability to see into the soul of the people and to speak the language of the man in the street. It uses all the means of modern technology. Leaflets, handbills, posters, mass demonstrations, the press, stage, film and radio — these are all tools of our propaganda. Whether or not they serve or harm the people depends on the use to which they are put.

In the long run, propaganda will reach the broad masses of the people only if at every stage it is uniform. Nothing confuses the people more than lack of clarity or aimlessness. The goal is not to present the common man with as many varied and contradictory theories as possible. The essence of propaganda is not in variety, but rather the forcefulness and persistence with which one selects ideas from the larger pool and hammers them into the masses using the most varied methods.

Therefore, we named this magazine "Will and Way." The will of the National Socialist movement is laid out in its program. The way changes every day...

... Today, we have a tight network of National Socialist propaganda throughout the country...National Socialist propaganda serves to educate the people. Its task is not only to win them for the tasks of today, but to assist in the transformation of the character of the broad masses. We are convinced that a new politics in Germany is possible only after a complete transformation of our national character, after an entirely new national way of thinking.

... Our goal in these pages is to bring will and way together in an unified synthesis of practical techniques. We are not writing for the general public, but rather for those active in daily politics throughout the country. It is a forum for discussion firmly tied to the party. Each who has something to say has the right and duty to speak. We will here exchange experiences, make proposals, criticize mistakes and suggest improvements.

These pages should over the course of time become a resource that political fighters will need for their daily battles. They should receive teaching, education and strength. They will receive the power to bring our ideas to Germany, and learn the ways and means to put a good theory into effective practice...

So what do we know about depression anyway?

Drugs Raise Risk of Suicide (

A meta-analysis is reported to claim that the SSRIs increase suicide risk. This WaPo article didn't mention the effect size, but suicide is, in technical terms, a "hard end point". It can be measured fairly clearly. If the suicide-outcomes are unclear then that's important. The study suggests the SSRIs are not dramatically lowering suicide risks compared to placebo. I doubt this study really answers questions; but it may tell us we know even less than we thought we did.

This doesn't mean, but the way, that non-SSRI anti-depressants are safer. Maybe they increase suicide rates too compared to placebo. I remember 20 years ago that my teachers warned of "activation" during early treatment being associated with suicide. (As soon as the depressed patient gets more energy, they get around to actually getting something done -- but that something is suicide.)

At the end of the day the main lesson is that we (meaning the quite corrupt government that we electand reelect) let the pharmas get away with selective publication of efficacy and safety data. As a result we lack important answers. That has to change.

Another lesson concerns all the beatings primary care physicians get about "undertreating depression". I've long been skeptical of those studies because:

1. Even when primary care docs treat depression payor rules and patient preferences often mean euphemistic ICD-9 codes are used.
2. I've not felt comfortable about the data we had on the disorder. I don't feel we understand the disorder(s) or the therapies very well -- especially outside of referral clinics treating depression with psychotic features.

This doesn't mean I or my primary care colleagues did a great job with depression. Instead I'd say more humility is needed from every quarter.

By the way, we also need to do something about corruption in government.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Gwynne Dyer's site has 8 new articles


The eccentric web site of Gwynne Dyer, an iconoclastic journalist and military historian, suddenly has 8 new articles to read from his Jan/Feb publications. All are worth reading. I'd quote and blog from a few but the odd web pages confound the BlogThis! bookmarklet.

I tried to get the webmaster to complement the site with an RSS feed, but s/he really didn't understand what I was writing. I am curious as to why Dyer does it this way. Heck, I'd make him a better site for free! I can only guess it's done by a relative.

Free business ideas: outsourcing claims processing for patients AND a web site for business idea distribution and related services

For various reasons we spend a fair bit of time in our household dealing with errors in healthcare claims processing. (See also my prior post!)

Both providers and payors commonly make errors in healthcare claims processing. It's a complex process in which failure is not merely an accident, it's an emergent property of the system. Ultimately we (ok, my wife) is called upon to resolve the errors.

The work of error resolution is tedious and time consuming. We would like to outsource it; we'd be willing to pay a good amount per claim to have someone else track payment, make calls, resolve complaints. I think this could be a viable business. A reasonably well designed set of processes could probably turn a tedious chore for a person into a routine 5-15 minute task for a well run business. At $15 per managed error each worker could bring in about $90 an hour. Increased automation could improve that earnings stream substantially.

Perhaps some enterprising bookkeeper, working at home, would want to launch such a business. If they kept costs low they could grow it off cash flow (early profitability) while gaining expertise and scaling upwards.

Anyone want to try? No rights reserved on this idea!

PS. Here's another business idea. Set up a web site where one could submit requests for new businesses. Charge $2 to people who want to outline a business they'd like someone to deliver. Then support the site by advertising and on revenue for business requests. All ideas would enter the public domain. For an extra fee charge would-be entrepreneurs for business-process patent searches around the business ideas. Then grow the web site with additional services around implementing the business proposals. This business could be fairly big and interesting -- except the barriers to entry are low so the competition would be significant. Maybe eBay or Amazon would buy a well run startup.

I come up with business ideas all the time. They're all for things I'd like to have. I'm happy to give them away. So here are two business ideas for today. No rights reserved, but if they're not patented I've just placed them in the public domain. So don't try to patent them.

Aggregate databases: what my shadow medical profile will look like

In an earlier post I noted the inevitable rise of the "total information awareness" "shadow profile", the picture of a person that emerges when one aggregates data across a diverse set of databases with a variety of primary purposes: Faughnan's Notes: The national identification card and database.

My profile will make interesting reading. Due to an uncharacterized error in a payor's/provider manager information system a variety of claims are being directed against one of my employer's benefits program. The claims are for services are not covered by this benefit program, so the claims are being rejected.

In addition to not being covered, they are also not my claims. They belong to another person.

Depending on how the benefit program manages data associated with rejected claims, however, the diagnostic codes (ICD-9) may well be retained in the system and associated with my name. Ten years from now, the corrupted descendant of "total information awareness" will be browsing shadow profiles identifying persons to be added to various "yelllow and black and grey". This particular database will have an interesting range of ICD-9 codes in the database; a set that might put me on a "yellow" list.

I'll also be uninsurable. Chances are there won't be any way to know why I'll be rejected for insurance, or strip-searched every time I fly, and there will be no way to correct the error. The only saving grace is that a lot of people will be in the same boat. We can commiserate in the restricted areas where undesirables might be allowed to congregate..

The use of databases for purposes other than their original intent will cause no end of problems.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Godel, Newton, Pauling: betrayed by intuition?

The New York Times > Arts > Connections: Truth, Incompleteness and the Godelian Way

This NYT Connections column has the most succinct description of Godel's most famous work that I recall reading:
Before Godel's incompleteness theorem was published in 1931, it was believed that not only was everything proven by mathematics true, but also that within its conceptual universe everything true could be proven. Mathematics is thus complete: nothing true is beyond its reach. Gdel shattered that dream. He showed that there were true statements in certain mathematical systems that could not be proven. And he did this with astonishing sleight of hand, producing a mathematical assertion that was both true and unprovable.

[jf: actually if memory serves a better statement might be: "He showed that there were true statements in certain nontrivial and interesting mathematical systems that could not be proven. And he did this with astonishing sleight of hand, producing a mathematical assertion that was both true and unprovable."]
But Godel's genius came with a price:
... those leaps and connections could go awry. Godel was an intermittent paranoiac, whose twisted visions often left his colleagues in dismay. He spent his later years working on a proof of the existence of God. He even died in the grip of a perverse esotericism. He feared eating, imagined elaborate plots, and literally wasted away. At his death in 1978, he weighed 65 pounds.
Genius, connections, intuition, courage, fascination with the infinite, then madness.

Thomas Nash, a nobel prize winner disabled for many years by paranoid schizophrenia comes to mind, but Godel was old for the onset of schizophrenia. What do we know, however, of the psychiatric disorders of genius? We are much more familiar with more conventional minds. I think also of Isaac Newton, who spent the latter half of his life wrapped up in Alchemy. Linus Pauling, who's powerful but misdirected intuition made him a peculiar pusher of vitamin C.

These extraordinary minds excelled at making connections and drawing inferences, at rethinking and radical leaps. Is the price of such excellence a predisposition to leaps beyond the bounds of reason?

"Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad".

The Tsunami: Things disappear.

The New York Times > International > Asia Pacific > Nam Khem Journal: The Tsunami's Horror Haunts a Thai Fishing Village
It was fate,' said Am Changkraichok, 68, a fisherman. 'If you were meant to die, you died. People visiting here to see friends, or foreigners here on holiday, all were here because their time had come to die.'

'I've lived here all my life but I was spared,' he said. 'How do you explain that? My time had not yet come. When I think like this, it makes me feel better. Nature decides. Things come and things disappear. If you don't just let go, it can make you crazy.'

Sunday, February 13, 2005

A truly useful cameraphone: document managing

The New York Times > Technology > Circuits > What's Next: Cellphones Get a New Job Description: Portable Scanner

This xerox product may come to market in 2006. Use a cameraphone to photograph a document, then server-based software does OCR and compression of a processed image.

I'd use it.

I suspect the cameraphone will need a 2mpix image and the ability to do near-focusing to be truly useful. So most of the cameraphones sold into the US market today won't work. (Korea gets all the good cameraphones.)

An early shot in the human vs. hybrid wars

U.S. Denies Patent for a Too-Human Hybrid (

Two activists set up a patent case in order to establish that a human/chimp genetic hybrid could not be patented. Their goal was to begin to declare some work "off limits" by either removing the profit incentive or seizing the patent itself. The courts indeed ruled that human beings could not be patented and that the theoretical hybrid was "too close" to human to patent.

It will be interesting to see where the human/non-human boundary is. Can one patent a modified chimpanzee? If so the boundary is extremely close. If not, then what about other primates? Dolphins? Non-primates? Non-mammals?

What the heck, the hybrids will be developed in China anyway. I am positive, by the way, that someone somewhere has at some time created an embryo that was part human and part chimpanzee. It's too easy to do for humans to resist trying, even if they were never to speak of it.

This battle, of course, is only beginning. If we survive the next forty years we'll see much more of it. This "first shot", however, is an historic event.

Abused nations and abused children

Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | Iraq trapped in a terrible vice between ruthless insurgents and unloved occupiers

A Guardian reporter leaving Iraq summarizes the state of the occupation, from an admittedly limited perspective. One story he related really stood out. I doubt the Bushies understood this phenomenon:
...Then at some point Iraqis will have to become reconciled to the the crimes of the past. Giving Saddam and his deputies a fair trial in Baghdad will be a start, but not enough. The emotional and psychological cost of a dictatorship that for three decades persecuted so many is difficult to fathom.

Shortly after the war a quiet Iraqi from Hilla, Ali Abid Hassan, took me to a mass grave outside the town where he was supposed to have been killed and buried along with 3,000 others after the regime crushed an uprising in 1991. He was shot but crawled away to safety.

Among the reeds he showed me where it had happened. On a pathway we found the tokens of history: some vertebrae, a rib bone, one button and 11 long, creamy-brown teeth. A year later I went back and asked him about Saddam's brief appearance in court and he of all people was deeply troubled. "I couldn't bear to see him in such a miserable condition. He shouldn't be humiliated; after all he was our president. He was our father," he said. Then I asked if he thought Saddam should be punished. "He deserves the ultimate punishment. Yes, death. He executed many of us.
A man who ought to hate Saddam as much as any person alive, is troubled by the humiliation of "his father".

Anyone who's worked with battered women and abused children will recognize those sentiments. What a festering mess.

Iraq: worse than you think?

The Counterterrorism Blog: Iran's Great Victory

I've been following this counterterrorism blog for a while. It's not a left/democrat/liberal site, but neither is it pro-Bush. Mostly it's professional military and, as the name goes, counterterrorism journalists and hobbyists. It's rationalist/secular, so it's something I can relate to even when I may disagree.

This post includes an alleged statement by a "senior military commander". The claim is that religious Shia dominance of the new legislature may be virtually complete, with no balancing Kurdish block of significance and no significant secular block. The alleged author also describes very effective insurgent military action and implies Iraqi forces are completely penetrated by insurgent intelligence.

We'll know in a few days if the claims of the political outcome are correct.

At around the same time I read reports that the US training of Iraqi forces is failing dismally. I also see reports that the new Saudi education minister is a Wahabbi zealot who could have been appointed by bin Laden, and that the Saudis are backpedalling on their counter-terrorism initiatives.

I am very interested in what the Sunni/Wahabbi Saudis make of the rise of Shia Iraq, the rise of Shia Iran, and the fall of the Iraqi Sunni elite.

I'm also curious as to whether bin Laden is all that keen on how this is turning out; does he truly favor Iran? I'd thought the Wahabbi were always suspicious that Iran was a bit too civilized (not to mention that Zoroastrian skeleton in the closet).

The hypothesis that Iran has competely outplayed the US, and bin Laden, has not yet been disproved.

Who knows, maybe a truly dominant Iran will turn out to be a good thing. If anyone but me repeats that statement we'll know that the crisis of Iraq is plumbing new depths.

Each household borrows $3000 a year to run America

The New York Times > Week in Review > Cut Short: The Revolution That Wasn't

This is a helpful analogy.
...To most Americans, the federal budget, more than 2,000 pages of fine print, is hard to grasp; it isn't easy to summon a mental image of $2.57 trillion. One way to look at it is to consider how much the government spends per household. In the 1990's, the figure held steady at about $18,000, according to Brian M. Riedl, a budget analyst for the Heritage Foundation. But last year, it exceeded $20,000, adjusted for inflation, the highest amount since World War II. But the government only takes in $17,000 for each household. 'So right there,' Mr. Reidl said, 'we're borrowing $3,000 per household.'
We borrow from other countries, but mostly we borrow from the future. This is not necessarily irrational -- assuming the money is used wisely and that our future selves can afford the cost. Unfortunately we are borrowing more than the near future will likely repay.

I used to belong to the Concord Coalition. Then I switched to organizations fighting corruption in government. Lastly I made a very strong effort for Kerry. All of these failed.

I figure all I can do now is buckle our life jackets and wait for the ship to run aground.

Arranged marriages for the wealthy unmarried

The New York Times > Magazine > The New Arranged Marriage

Janis Spindel arranges mergers and acquisitions for wealthy unmarried men:
... Janis Spindel Serious Matchmaking Incorporated's fees begin -- begin! -- at $20,000 for an initiation fee, plus $1,000 for a one-year membership that includes 12 dates.... An out-of-town client must fly Janis and an assistant first class and put them up in a hotel for the home visit. Additionally, a marriage bonus is expected -- sometimes it's a car or extravagant jewelry; other times it's cash. She has received gifts in the $75,000-to-$250,000 range.

Gorgeous [the prospect] tries to negotiate the price, but Janis flatly refuses. Then he says he's uncomfortable with the general idea of paying for dates and wonders what kind of women would date a man who needs to pay to find her. He doesn't want to be set up with ''shrews'' or women who are interested in him because he owns a successful business.

This strikes me as an extremely realistic concern. How else to describe the women who, Janis says, pay $750 for a 30-minute meeting to audition for her databank of women (6,800 of them, Janis claims) who want to marry a man rich enough to pay for her services?
As a young man I traveled the world as a Watson Fellow. I spent about 8 months in Bangkok in 1981; I've not been back since, but I'm told it's a different city now. In those days mergers and acquisitions were a common arrangement for visiting executives, executed with a mercenary understanding of power, advantage, and mutual benefit. To paraphrase Churchill, only the price has changed.

Dean as National Democratic Committee Chairman

The New York Times > Washington > Democrats Elect Dean as Committee Chairman

I'm glad Dr. Dean was chosen. He was widely smeared during the campaign, not only by the usual suspects but also by the NYT. I'm looking forward to his next steps.

Rural suicide - anything to do about it?

The New York Times > Health > Social Isolation, Guns and a 'Culture of Suicide'
When Professor Branas examined data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he found that the risk of dying by gunshot was the same in rural and urban areas from 1989 to 1999, findings that were published in The American Journal of Public Health. He has also concluded that in the most rural counties, the incidence of suicide with guns is greater than the incidence of murder with guns in major cities.
The article doesn't say which of the three alleged factors is the larger contributor to the high suicide rates. Suicide rates are also high in many scandinavian nations; I think guns less accessible there. Isolation is not only a part of most rural areas, it's a feature. Would more mental health workers really drop the suicide rate? It would be useful to have some data.

Maybe we could do something about the romanticization of suicide. In 20 years I've walked out of one movie -- The Dead Poets' Society. The romantic portrayal of the senseless suicide of the teen protagonist was infuriating. That's an uphill battle however.

We know there's a problem worth studying, but we've got a lot of work to figure out if there's anything to do about it.

Who will defend freedom? It's not illegal to take pictures of subways. Attack of the SF Muni Fare Inspectors

It's commonly believed that after 9/11 it became illegal to take pictures in subways and of public transit structures. This is an urban myth, but it's a myth accepted by many transit workers and some police. This post tells the story of a San Francisco photographer who persists in taking pictures and is first threatened by transit workers, then harassed by police.

This is how freedom goes away, one step at a time.

Once upon a time this story would have brought a mass of americans to the subway to snap pictures. I now fear that most of us lack the energy even for such a minor defense. I know many of my friends, post Nov 2nd, have withdrawn from the world of politics and discourse.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Passphrases? Nice try.

Why you shouldn't be using passwords of any kind on your Windows networks . . .

A microsoft security guru starts blogging, and gets attention for advocating passphrases as memorable alternatives to passwords.

I don't see passphrases as workable. I have hundreds of passwords to manage -- would hundreds of passphrases be any easier to manage? In any case it's not like people would choose passphrases randomly -- popular songs, famed bible quotes, historic expressions would all be over-represented.

The blog did mention a few minor details that are probably not known to the average person:
  1. Passwords of under 10 characters are completely vulnerable. Software using "Sarca rainbow tables" are used to create all "possible LM or NT password hashes of a given length with a given character set". The "pre-computed password-hash-to-password-mappings" are then burned to DVD. The DVDs are used to crack systems using passwords under 10 characters.
  2. All dialects of Windows default to storing an "LH hash" for passwords below a certain (nn characters?) length. "The LM hash is no longer cryptographically secure and takes only seconds to crack with most tools".
  3. Password length may be more important than password complexity given current cracking tools. A good length is something like 42 characters or more.
This is all interesting, but it's pointless. It's fighting a lost war. We need biometric identifiers and/or physical tokens. This passphrase/password stuff is for the boids. (Let's not even mention the "secret question" madness.)

Firefox is 20% of bloglines access; The Firefox Center

Bloglines | Firefox Center

The Firefox browser now generates 20% of bloglines
(dominant web based blog monitoring and reading software) traffic. I'd call this an impressive leading indicator of future growth. Bloglines represents a "leading edge" clientele, but where the geeks go others will follow.

They've added a Firefox-centric page to support this growing user base.

The stupidity of the Secret Question and the death of passwords

Schneier on Security: The Curse of the Secret Question

I'm going to take some credit for this post by Schneier, the god of modern security. I wrote him a few weeks ago asking him to address the use of these inane "secret questions". Here he's done it, and in fine form. The stupidity behind these "secret questions" is breathtaking, but Schneier correctly points out (hey, it was in my email to him!) that this is yet another sign that passwords have passed their prime.
It's happened to all of us: We sign up for some online account, choose a difficult-to-remember and hard-to-guess password, and are then presented with a 'secret question' to answer. Twenty years ago, there was just one secret question: 'What's your mother's maiden name?' Today, there are more: 'What street did you grow up on?' 'What's the name of your first pet?' 'What's your favorite color?' And so on.

The point of all these questions is the same: a backup password. If you forget your password, the secret question can verify your identity so you can choose another password or have the site e-mail your current password to you. It's a great idea from a customer service perspective -- a user is less likely to forget his first pet's name than some random password -- but terrible for security. The answer to the secret question is much easier to guess than a good password, and the information is much more public. (I'll bet the name of my family's first pet is in some database somewhere.) And even worse, everybody seems to use the same series of secret questions.

The result is the normal security protocol (passwords) falls back to a much less secure protocol (secret questions). And the security of the entire system suffers.

What can one do? My usual technique is to type a completely random answer -- I madly slap at my keyboard for a few seconds -- and then forget about it. This ensures that some attacker can't bypass my password and try to guess the answer to my secret question, but is pretty unpleasant if I forget my password. The one time this happened to me, I had to call the company to get my password and question reset. (Honestly, I don't remember how I authenticated myself to the customer service rep at the other end of the phone line.)

Which is maybe what should have happened in the first place. I like to think that if I forget my password, it should be really hard to gain access to my account. I want it to be so hard that an attacker can't possibly do it. I know this is a customer service issue, but it's a security issue too. And if the password is controlling access to something important -- like my bank account -- then the bypass mechanism should be harder, not easier.

Passwords have reached the end of their useful life. Today, they only work for low-security applications. The secret question is just one manifestation of that fact.
In my case I wrote Schneier when a corporate system asked me for both my password and my secret question. Of course I knew the password (I use my generic ultra-low-security password for unimportant internal systems), but my "secret answer", like Schneier's, was a string of flailing keystrokes. I had to spend some days fighting with a mailbot to get both the secret answer and password reset. (BTW, corporate systems are usually far less service oriented than public systems, after all, the users have no power and no choice. Senior execs have power of course, but their admins deal with the software.)

CIA rebels not done yet

The New York Times > Washington > '01 Memo to Rice Warned of Qaeda and Offered Plan

We've known for some time that Clarke gave Condoleeza Rice specific warnings about al Qaeda -- which she ignored (she thought China and Russia were our big threats). The interesting news here is the role of the CIA in releasing a document:
A strategy document outlining proposals for eliminating the threat from Al Qaeda, given to Condoleezza Rice as she assumed the post of national security adviser in January 2001, warned that the terror network had cells in the United States and 40 other countries and sought unconventional weapons, according to a declassified version of the document.

The 13-page proposal presented to Dr. Rice by her top counterterrorism adviser, Richard A. Clarke, laid out ways to step up the fight against Al Qaeda, focusing on Osama bin Laden's headquarters in Afghanistan...

... The proposal and an accompanying three-page memorandum given to Dr. Rice by Mr. Clarke on Jan. 25, 2001, were discussed and quoted in brief by the independent commission studying the Sept. 11 attacks and in news reports and books last year. They were obtained by the private National Security Archive, which published the full versions, with minor deletions at the request of the Central Intelligence Agency, on its Web site late Thursday.
This is old news, but it's interesting that the CIA surrendered the document. These days it's generally pretty easy to refuse such requests. I wonder if the director of the CIA (a Bush loyalist) knew of this release.

Trash company, earn $42 million

The New York Times > Business > Fiorina Exiting Hewlett-Packard With More Than $42 Million

This wouldn't be so bad if she were getting the $42 million from Dell. But to get it from her own employers?

Can someone please sue the HP board?

Microsoft rot?

ABC News: Silicon Insider: R.I.P. Microsoft?

A Silicon Valley guy prophesies hard times for Microsoft:
Great, healthy companies not only dominate the market, but share of mind. Look at Apple these days. But when was the last time you thought about Microsoft, except in frustration or anger? The company just announced a powerful new search engine, designed to take on Google -- but did anybody notice? Meanwhile, open systems world -- created largely in response to Microsoft's heavy-handed hegemony -- is slowly carving away market share from Gates & Co.: Linux and Firefox hold the world's imagination these days, not Windows and Explorer. The only thing Microsoft seems busy at these days is patching and plugging holes...

... Microsoft has always had trouble with stand-alone applications, but in its core business it has been as relentless as the Borg. Now the company seems to have trouble executing even the one task that should take precedence over everything else: getting "Longhorn," its Windows replacement, to market. Longhorn is now two years late. That would be disastrous for a beloved product like the Macintosh, but for a product that is universally reviled as a necessary, but foul-tasting, medicine, this verges on criminal insanity. Or, more likely, organizational paralysis.

... And do college kids still dream of going to work at MS? Five years ago it was a source of pride to go to work for the Evil Empire -- now, who cares? It's just Motorola with wetter winters.
Of course, you say, he would say that. The death of Microsoft is dear to the heart of the Valley. This guy gets a bit of credibility though; he claims he also rang the bell for Carly/HP and for Silicon Graphics. (He doesn't mention the other 55 companies he said were going down ... :-)

On the other hand, the usual rules of capitalism don't apply to monopolies. And then there's the patent weapon. Microsoft hasn't even begun their scorched earth patent attack. They can't "go nuclear" until the EU accepts software patents, but that will probably happen within a month or so. Yet even then Microsoft must worry that India and China might rebel. Microsoft has an incredible weapon at hand, but like all doomsday weapons it can also destroy its master.

And even the monopoly isn't a perfect weapon. Microsoft bought the Bush administration, but the Bushies prize loyalty above all else -- and they suspect that deep down Gates despises them. The Bushies won't stay bought, and the EU is an even tougher case.

Beyond monopoly and patents, what does Microsoft have? Incredible numbers of brilliant people yes, but many of their best innovations are likely disruptive threats to Microsoft's cash stream (Office, XP). Their "nasty" innovations can further the monopoly; but that risks the delicate game Microsoft pays with corrupt governments. (Ok, so they also have more wealth than most nations and they can specify cash flow on demand -- but they're addicted to that cash flow.)

The fear of cash flow disruption, or of losing control of key governments, mean Microsoft's biggest innovations rarely get to market. Meanwhile Longhorn, a festering mass of complexity, recedes into the future, while historic legacies and worldwide dislike breed an endless horde of software attacks.

Years ago a judge who wouldn't be bought decided to split up Microsoft. He was overruled. Gates decided the empire must stay whole, and he made his Faustian deal with the Bushies. That might have been the right decision for a company that can mint money, but I suspect if Microsoft had been broken up its component parts wouldn't be in any way paralyzed today. Instead Microsoft is turning into the pre-breakup AT&T of the 21st century.