Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A billion dollar infographic - terrific

The Billion Dollar Gram (via Gruber) is a sensational infographic from a visualization site (Information is Beautiful).

There are some stretches. The 'worst case' cost of the US financial crisis to US Government only makes sense if you include sub-employment GDP Gap as a cost (which it is, but most don't include it and that's a hit for the US as a whole rather than the Feds). Also the New Deal vs. 2009 bailout doesn't account for the US of 1930 versus a vastly larger and richer nation. Between population and economic growth the US economy is probably at least 20-50 times bigger than in 1930.

I did like $465 to "Feed and educate every child on earth for 5 years" vs. $316 - Bribes received by Russian officials.

Are you getting enough out of iPhone

It may have more features than you realize:
iPhone and Google Maps: Go to here -- just drop the freakin' pin ...

.... Today, when I was switching from Map to List view, the "Drop Pin" button caught my eye. I'd ignored it for a while. What the heck did it do, anyway?

Riiiggght. It drops a pin on the map. It seems to leave it there, after the first time I did this the button changed to "Replace Pin". I didn't see a way to "Undrop Pin" -- maybe once you put it on any map it's bound to a map forever.

You can move the Pin around, bookmark it, get directions to it, etc...
We need product documentation like "Power User tips and things longtime users tend to miss".

A world without AIDS?

I was in medical school when we learned of Haitian men and San Francisco gay men with strange skin lesions and odd pneumonias.

We learned a lot very quickly, but none of it was very good. By the late 1980s to early 1990s many people, myself included, expected vast numbers of deaths in Africa.

Over the past decade though, the tide has slowly turned, until today I read ...
BBC NEWS | Many more receiving HIV therapy

... Testing is the gateway to treatment, and in many areas facilities providing this service increased by about 35%, noted the Towards Universal Access report which looked at 158 countries.

'An Aids free generation is no longer an impossibility - the elimination of vertical transmission is in sight,' said Jimmy Kolker, head of the HIV/Aids division at UNICEF....
Recent glimmers of hope on immunization, and confirmation of the protective effects of circumcision must also be contributing to this new optimism. Perversely, the impending extinction of our fellow primates will also reduce exposure to HIV reservoirs.

Great credit must go to all of those, African and otherwise, who fought for the widespread dissemination of treatment to impoverished nations against great skepticism about its efficacy and the fears of drug manufacturers.

This is not, of course, the same as curing AIDS. This is about preventing transmission of the virus within the human population, until transmission is so rare that the disease is effectively eliminated.

I expect I'll live to see it happen.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

iPhone 2014 – what will it be like?

Brinna’s brother has an mobile, so she wants her iPhone now. If we stick with the Junior High rule, that means 2014.

So what will the iPhone of 2014 be like? Will it vote?

I bet it will be a lot like the iPhone of 2009. Mostly better, in some ways worse. That’s the way things usually go after the first mad sprint of a real breakthrough.

MacOS Classic had some serious issues (esp post-multifinder with stability and TCP/IP support), but eighteen years later OS X is not an immensely better OS. It’s mostly better, but there have been significant regressions too. The real shocker was the transition from the command line to the very first Mac.

Equally dramatically, digital cameras went from near worthless to 5 megapixel SLRs in just a few years. Since then, however, progress has been gradual.

So it’s reasonable to expect the iPhone-equivalents of 2014 to follow the same incremental path.

We will see more speech UI development and some workable speech-to-text input. We will probably see better support of external displays, and we may even see a 1992-PalmOS-style external keyboard. Laptops will be squeezed between netbooks and iPhone-equivalents. Augmented reality apps will be mainstream, and we’ll have more bandwidth.

Otherwise, pretty much what we have now.

Which is really an amazing statement about what Apple has done to the mobile industry.

Monday, September 28, 2009

When OS X truly sucks: screen sharing

I tried OS X screen sharing again today.

I do this every few months, to remind myself how badly OS X screen sharing sucks.

Yeah, I'm on Leopard, but from all I read Snow Leopard takes OS X remote control from extremely lousy to really lousy.

It's painful for a Mac user to remember that Microsoft Remote Desktop Services (similar to Citrix remote desktop) is about ten years old.

Microsoft (Citrix?) used to have some serious skills.

Update: Speaking of Apple senescence, I remember when the OS could 'remember' the location of files stored on a server and mount the server on demand. Now if I click a shortcut to a network folder I get "A volume failed to mount". Once upon a time I'd get a login.

That capability was lost in the last few years of OS X development, one of several dumbing-down changes to the OS.

Google Apps - vote for your favorite feature

Apple's problem is that Steve Jobs decides what we need. Microsoft's problem is that it should have been split into several competing companies ten years ago. Google's problem is that they combine Attention Deficit Disorder with a mystical belief in the power of the metamind.

The best we poor geeks can do is mix and match and try to keep our data liberated.

With Apple bitching on Discussion Groups can sometimes help -- the secret is to get a long thread going.

With Google you can look for one of their periodic attempts to survey their customer base, such as this suggest a feature for Google Apps poll. Give it a try! Note, however, you can't vote to "Burn Google Sites to the Ground and Start Over".

And Microsoft? Despair is recommended.

Update: Some related posts

In Our Time - The Weak Shall Inherit the Earth

In the 2003 In Our Time explored the cultural history of war: BBC - Radio 4 - The Art of War.

During the programme, one of the guests mentions Karl Pearson an early 20th century social Darwinist and "Professor of Eugenics" [1]. Pearson praised war as the engine of racial fitness and national progress. If not for war, it was said in Pearson's time, "the weak shall inherit the earth" [2].

These memes are with us still, though in the west they are rarely explicit.

[1] Those of us who did med school stats may remember the "Pearson distribution". Same guy.
[2] It's not clear from the discussion if the phrase came from Pearson, but I suspect it was a common usage of the time. Not for the first time I wish there were more IOT transcripts. The "After Our Time" wiki has @50 IOT transcripts, but the blog and wiki was only active for a few months in 2007. Among those few transcripts, incidentally, are early programmes that have been lost, including one featuring Stephen Jay Gould.

Update Feb 17, 2010: The Lost Episodes are now online.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The problem with software (an ongoing series)

How’s this …

We know how to make quite good applications with small teams and 3-7 year lifespans.

We don’t know how to cost-effectively make equally good applications with large teams and 10-30 year lifespans. The costs rise as some power function of lifespan and team size.

We may need different corporate structures to create these applications.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Mysteries of modern capitalism: The missing iPhone 2.5 mm headset adapter

The B000YE54F8 2.5mm to 3.5mm Stereo Audio Headset Adapter for Apple iPhone is a piece of .99 cent junk. I know it’s junk, because the identical pair I bought a year ago have both broken (APLIPHONEHFA2) and there’s no reputable reseller of any variant of these devices.

I also know that before they came apart, my adapters worked.

Junk this is, but it’s also #14 in its Amazon sales category: Cell Phones & Service > Accessories > Data & Connectivity > Data Cables.

This is curious.

There’s clearly a lot of demand for a product that allows one to use an older high-quality headset (2.5 mm) with an iPhone (3.5 mm). Lots of people who’ve spent $50 or more on headsets are taking a flyer on buying this, and that market is not going away. (Really, Bluetooth sucks. And even if it didn’t, why spend $100 for a decent Bluetooth headset when you already own a great high end headset that doesn’t burden the iPhone’s hurtin’ battery?)

So why doesn’t a company like Griffin sell a decent adapter for, say, $20 for a pair? I suspect good ones would cost $2 to make and package, so we’re talking a pretty sweet profit margin. It’s not like Griffin has a line of Bluetooth headsets they need to protect.

That’s the mystery.

Of course I have a theory.

I suspect Apple has a patent on the layout of the iPhone’s headset connector [1]. The license fees are probably wicked, or even unavailable. Apple does sell Bluetooth headsets. The cheapo vendors are dodging the licensing fees, and Apple can’t be bothered to go after them.

Any other theories?

[1] Yes, I also used to think these layouts followed some kind of standard. That was before I experimented with various AV connectors. If there is any kind of standard manufacturers don’t follow it.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Avoid Alzheimer's - hold the Provigil?

I've a hunch that this is true - lack of sleep linked to Alzheimer's.

In the past few years there's been a lot of interest in the misuse of modafinil (Provigil). It's being used to extend waking hours rather than to treat narcolepsy.

Maybe this isn't the smartest move ...

Speaking of which, I should go to bed now.

iTunes U - the Singularity is behind us

Despite my IOT habit, I've only today rediscovered iTunes U in iTunes 9...

This still brings tears to my eyes. As I (incorrectly - Bill Gates Sr only did the foreword) wrote in 2006 about an early casualty of tech churn ...
... I remember reading the book written by Bill Gate's father (yes, his father) called 'The New Papyrus'. It was all about the how the data CD would revolutionize the world. This was before the net became public. I was amazed by the CD back then, and I wrote a letter to a Canadian development organization on how it could dramatically change the delivery of knowledge to what was then called the 'third world'...
iTunes U, Aaronson’s MIT lectures on theoretical computer science, MIT OpenCourseWare, OpenAccess journals and the BBC’s In Our Time are now freely available to a good portion of the world. Even in poor nations, they are likely accessible in many universities.

I beat on Apple and Google all the time, but, really, the iPhone and iTunes U would stun a geek of 1986. We entropics do not appreciate how far we have traveled.

Gawande and NEJM cost of care roundtable

I really hope my man Obama (apologies for the familiarity, but I'll never again see a President I like so much) gets his health care bill.

At best, however, it will only be the start of the journey. We haven't even begun to talk seriously about health care costs, and about getting the best possible care that we can afford to provide every American.

We'd be better off if the GOP weren't a smoldering wreck of a party; even the best government is no substitute for well managed markets. (Obviously the problem with unmanaged health care markets is the ice floe.)

Heck, even 16 years ago we had far more intelligent discussions about health care costs and systems than we're having now. Maybe we're getting senile, or maybe we're seeing the side-effects of relative media impoverishment.

Still, even among the senile, there are often moments of relatively clarity. The inimitable Gawande, mutant time traveler extraordinaire, is at it again in a NEJM roundtable discussion.

Briefly, Gawande and his fellow gurus are with me. We need to deal with costs, but Americans are completely unable to even begin an intelligent discussion -- and the Gaia-infected GOP is too devoted to ending human civilization to make any kind of contribution.

So we do coverage now, and hope we come up with a way to slow the progression of Alzheimer's Disease. That would both lower health care costs and contribute to a more intelligent discussion in 2014.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Fear the Cloud - Blogger's unfixed 5000 post limit

Today I discovered that several hundred early posts in this blog were no longer searchable or editable. I'm not the only victim of this hole in the Cloud ...
Gordon's Tech: Blogger is broken - the undocumented 5000 post limit
Blogger has an undocumented 5,000 post limit. At least one of my blogs is well past that limit. Using the blogger dashboard I am unable to search for, view, or edit about 400 posts written in 2003 and 2004.

The bug was recognized in July 22nd 2009. At that time Google was 'working on a fix'.

It's almost October, so they may not be working terribly hard...
Blogger is not a first tier Google product like Search or Maps, but it's no side-project to be casually forgotten. So what conclusion should we draw from an unfixed bug like this one?

Update: This bug led me to review my July and August 2003 posts. In those days this was primarily a tech notes blog, but by Sept I was putting that material into a blog that later became I scanned a mix of old tech posts and the kind of material found now in

I'm still annoyed at Google's sullenly unfixed bug, but I did enjoy reviewing the old material. I back-linked from some newer posts to 2003 versions of the same thing ...

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Gift exchanges and lawn mower tips

I am fond of gift trades.

Gregies small engine repair is about a mile from my home. It's been there for about 40 years. The owner has candy for kids and treats for dogs.

When the owner repaired my mower two years ago, he told me it was pretty crummy. Even so he didn't want me to throw it out. I think for him engines are personal.

When I got tired of my lousy mower I went to him for a new one. I was too late though, winter is coming and he's done restocking mowers. He told me where to buy a new one.

Before I left, I gave him my old mower. It would cost me money to dispose of, and he wanted it. I didn't ask for money.

In return he gave me advice. He taught me how to adjust the strike plate in my old push mower, and now, for the first time I can remember, it seems to work. He told me to not to use my new mower on steep ground for more than about 20-30 seconds, because in a modern 4 cylinder engine the oil won't circulate well enough. [1]

He also, indirectly, explained why push mowers really can't really come back [2].

I appreciate these gift exchanges. They are one reason I rarely sell used items -- I prefer to give them away.

[1] In older 2 cylinder models the oil is mixed with gas, they don't have this weakness. There's more Free Advice on his web site. Good luck finding methanol-free gas in Minnesota.

[2] The blades must be periodically sharpened, and it is slow, tedious work. In a world where labor is costly they're too expensive to maintain. Push mowers can only really return if the sharpening problem is solved. (Significant money may await those who solve the sharpening problem.)

Beware the traps of the Software World

I remember the World before I walked in Software.

So I know Something that is True and Important (STI). Those who were born to Software know it in their bones, but they don't know to speak it. Only we between worlds can tell these terrible secrets.

Gather close dear reader; I would have done well to understand this some years ago.

The STI is that that the Software World is kin to the Badlands of South Dakota.

When you Walk in Software you walk among mazes and valleys and cliffs. Promising paths end in sharp drops and hard walls.

Developers build things that seem right, until you walk off the end of the metaphor. The problem is more than bugs and complexity, it is something innate to imagination made digital.

In the physical world, we don't use spend months using a drill, then discover that everything we've build with it must be abandoned. In the world of Software tools, that can happen. We can use software to store knowledge and meaning, then lose all the knowledge when the software stops working without replacement.

In the physical world it may be impossible to find a good toaster, but it's easy to figure out that a new toaster is no good. In the Software world you can invest months in learning a new tool before you find the fatal flaw. Five years ago I though Apple would enable merging of iPhoto Libraries (sorry, six years ago), but their marketing team decided that was an Aperture feature, not an iPhoto feature. [1]

In the physical world, it doesn't take five years to realize that your car isn't very good.

Perhaps, to a creature of Software, the physical world would seem tricksy. For a creature that's evolved to dirt and blood, however, the Software World is more treacherous -- even if it doesn't rip limbs off as well as a chainsaw might.

In the world of Software, explorers pay a high price. We Pioneers need to be far more careful about what tools and solutions we use, and we need find new ways to navigate this space.

We must train Scouts and Pioneers who will return from the badlands to warn all of the horrors of Sharepoint and Microsoft Word ...

[1] Yes, I know about the heroic 3rd party merge efforts of iPhoto Library Manager.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Health care reform – the reality problem

The problem, at long last, is becoming hard to avoid.

If everyone buys insurance, then our current health care system can provide “Lexus” care for a cost of about $13-15K for a family of 3-4 persons.

That’s the kind of care that my family enjoys. It’s not bad, really.

The problem, of course, is that Americans expect a bill more like $6-8K/year. We can’t do that in America. If we were to deliver health services at this price point, they’d be “Manhattan subway” services. An excellent form of transportation, but loud, smelly and lacking plush carpets.

So we have a reality problem.

Update 9/16/09: Economix has a relevant post. The $13-15K number turns out match a Kaiser study.

The roots of Klan 2.0 and 912 – A justified fear of change

The Klan, as I recall, had two major incarnations. The first was as a successful terrorist movement following the American Civil War. Klan 2.0, in the 1920s, was a reaction to the extraordinary cultural transitions of the early 20th century.

I’ve speculated that the birthers, baggers and deathers are also reacting to an increasingly incomprehensible world. Turns out the Senate minority leader might agree with me ..

Maureen Dowd - Rapping Joe’s Knuckles -

… as the minority leader, John Boehner, put it, are “scared to death that the country that they grew up in is not going to be the country that their kids and grandkids grew up in”…

I say might because I can’t find Dowd’s version of Boehner’s words anywhere else. Boehner’s quote appears with intriguingly different wording in a GOP blog:

"...when I talk to people at these rallies, it was pretty clear these people are scared to death," Boehner said. "And they’re scared to death about the future for their kids and their grandkids and the facts that the American dream may not be alive for their kids and grandkids."

and in a CQ Politics transcript

“George, when I talk to people at these rallies, it was pretty clear people are scared to death. And they’re scared to death about the future for their kids and their grandkids, and the facts that the American dream may not be alive for their kids and grandkids. That’s what really scares them.”

So what did Boehner really say? Both, one, or neither? Anyone know?

The common thread, at the least, is fear. These middle class white men fear that (their) America is changing, and that their male children face a bleak future.

They are right to be afraid. Testosterone is no longer helpful in the vast majority of well paying corporate jobs or in advanced education. The advantages of melanin depletion are still strong, but this recessive trait will continue its secular decline. Corporate employment requires a level of disruptive interpersonal tolerance that is difficult for this group. Globalized competition is eliminating employment options for all but the genetically gifted – and this group is not gifted.

They are wrong, of course, to think that they can stop this change. Or at least, to think they can stop it without turning American in a 21st century version of 1960s India – isolated, impoverished and frozen in time.

Sadly, like a fearful dog, they are biting the hand of the man most likely to help them – the community organizer turned President. Their fear, and their limited understanding, has turned them into pawns of fame seekers and power seekers alike.

Managing the irrational, yet entirely correct, fears of the baggers and the 912 Project is a great challenge for American politics. If we can’t figure out a way to ease their fears, we may yet live through the equivalent of Klan 3.0.

At least I’m old enough to have enjoyed the golden ‘90s! The 21st century has been tough for America, and it’s not going to get better soon.

Update 9/19/09: Frank Rich has an editorial with a related but distinct perspective.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Jimmy Carter

I do like Jimmy Carter. Whatever he was as President, he's been an awesome post-President ...
War Room -

... I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man,' Carter told NBC News' Brian Williams. 'I live in the South, and I've seen the South come a long way, and I've seen the rest of the country that share the South's attitude toward minority groups at that time, particularly African Americans. And that racism inclination still exists. And I think it's bubbled up to the surface because of the belief of many white people, not just in the South but around the country, that African-Americans are not qualified to lead this great country. It's an abominable circumstance, and it grieves me and concerns me very deeply....

Climate change deniers: fame is its own reward

George Monbiot challenged a professional climate change denier, Australian geologist Ian Plimer, to answer ten written questions about Plimer's recent book.

Plimer promised to respond, then chickened out.

He didn't have the courage of his own con.

Which brings us to the fuel for Plimer and Beck alike ...
This professor of denial can't even answer his own questions on climate change| George Monbiot
... There is nothing unusual about Professor Plimer. Most of the prominent climate change deniers who are not employed solely by the fossil fuel industry have a similar profile: men whose professional careers are about to end or have ended already. Attacking climate science looks like a guaranteed formula for achieving the public recognition they have either lost or never possessed. Such people will keep emerging for as long as the media are credulous enough to take them seriously...
Indeed, they'll even take comments from a 3rd tier blog like this one. Fame is a wonderful drug.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Tech churn: The Franklin Planner and Google Calendar

In the too brief glory days of the Palm, between the Palm III and the Vx, my wife used a Palm III and the Palm Desktop.

Then Palm added color and died.

I fought on to the bloody end, but Emily was wiser. She returned to the Franklin Planners we’d started using in 1994, when life got too messy for Letts of London.

Alas, we live now in the tech churn days of regency – when the old is gone and the young are unready. Change unwanted is upon us and the change we want is not yet ready.

Franklin’s business market has fallen to the BlackBerry and Exchange Server, and their home market is tempted by cheaper solutions, and – painfully – iPhones. Their web site is decrepit, their offerings increasingly disorganized. They appear to be going the way of the wrist watch.

So goes the aged, but the replacements are unready. We’re not going to run Exchange Server at home, and Apple’s calendaring products are, to put it diplomatically, hideous failures. Google’s alternatives are the best of the lot, by which I mean they are barely acceptable if you’re an uber-geek.

Which I am, so we have a solution. In two weeks Emily’s cursed BlackBerry Pearl contract concludes, she’ll get my iPhone 3G, and I’ll get the new contract 3GS*. She’ll likely complement her gCal/ pair with a wall calendar and a wire bound notebook.

The Franklin Planner will move into history, but I bet she’ll miss it – especially when Google-Apple wars blow our calendaring out of the water.

Tech churn means that it will be ten years before it’s all somewhat seamless again.

* Yes, I get my new phone off her contract and she gets my aging 3G. Sorry. In the words of Sméagol … “My preciousssss”. [1]

Update 9/26/09: I lied. Emily, you see, reads my blog. She got the new phone in a lovely black blue case, and she was quite delighted. After playing with the fully prepped and loaded 3GS for a few minutes she went into deep future shock. She has a new appreciation for Apple's Satanic genius.

Pooping prions - this is more than interesting

Stanley Prusiner won his Nobel prize in 1997 at age 55 for discovering that protein malformation could be contagious. He called the twisted proteins that could catalyze like malformations prions.

Turns out he's still at work ...
Study Gives Insight Into Spread of Chronic Wasting Disease -

... Researchers are reporting that they have solved a longstanding mystery about the rapid spread of a fatal brain infection in deer, elk and moose in the Midwest and West.

The infectious agent, which leads to chronic wasting disease, is spread in the feces of infected animals long before they become ill, according to a study published online Wednesday by the journal Nature. The agent is retained in the soil, where it, along with plants, is eaten by other animals, which then become infected.

The finding explains the extremely high rates of transmission among deer, said the study’s lead author, Dr. Stanley B. Prusiner, director of the Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases at the University of California, San Francisco.

First identified in deer in Colorado in 1967, the disease is now found throughout 14 states and 2 Canadian provinces. It leads to emaciation, staggering and death.

Unlike other animals, Dr. Prusiner said, deer give off the infectious agent, a form of protein called a prion, from lymph tissue in their intestinal linings up to a year before they develop the disease. By contrast, cattle that develop a related disease, mad cow, do not easily shed prions into the environment but accumulate them in their brains and spinal tissues.

There is no evidence to date that humans who hunt, kill and eat deer have developed chronic wasting disease. Nor does the prion that causes it pass naturally to other animal species in the wild....

... In captive herds, up to 90 percent of animals develop the disease, Dr. Prusiner said. In wild herds, a third of animals can be infected...

... prions tended to bind to clay in soil and to persist indefinitely. When deer graze on infected dirt, prions that are tightly bound to clay will persist for long periods in their intestinal regions. So there is no chance chronic wasting disease will be eradicated, he said. Outside the laboratory, nothing can inactivate prions bound to soil. They are also impervious to radiation.
So what's the chance that this is the only instance of fecal-oral Prion disease in all of history?

Right. This is probably as common as dirt.

We're going to be learning a lot more about fecal-oral prion disorders in all animals, including humans. We'll also learn how organisms adapt to an indestructible infectious "agent".

This is a big discovery.

Global finance and parasites

Kudos to those veterans who predicted nothing would be fixed.

I don't blame Obama. Between the Great Recession, Health insurance reform, North Korea, Peak Oil, global warming, Pakistan, the Bush legacy of torture, corruption and the dismantling of government, Africa and Klan 2.0, the man has a few things on his mind.

In the absence of Presidential authority bank reform is a long shot. This gang can buy a Senator for pin money and a Congressman for loose change [1].

As they say in DC, "If you want a friend, get a dog. If you want justice, give up."

This time the US government can't help us. What's a small investor to do?

Personally, I want to read a book called "Investing in a Crooked Market", but I haven't found it yet. So, what the heck, I'll speculate that ...
  1. Without real reform we can expect that banks will continue to pick investor's pockets -- including the pockets of their own shareholders.
  2. There'll be a mega-Recession every 7 to 10 years and we'll read more about 19th century "cycles".
  3. Traditional "value investing" will become a chump's game.
  4. Investors will look to well regulated markets in Europe and Canada, forsaking London and the United States.
There's probably some way to make money playing this crooked game but it has nothing to do with creating value. It's about cold blooded application of the Greater Fool principle in a bubble economy.

In the longer run, I wonder if we can think of these corrupt banks as a form of overly successful parasite on the current model of corporate finance. Biological parasites weaken their hosts, and these Finance parasites will have the same effect. They'll reduce the competitive advantage of stocks over other forms of corporate finance.

In time a new way to fund corporations will emerge as an alternative to the traditional publicly traded company. The old stock market will die off, and new parasites will emerge to start the cycle all over again ...

Update: When I wrote this post I created a new tag to group my Great Recession posts. Along the way I came across a 2004 speech by Morgan Stanley's Stephen Roach. I'd say he came out of this looking rather clever.

Update 9/15/09: Consider regulatory oversight. Regulatory agencies breed lobbyists. Lobbyists breed campaign donations and post-political wealth. Therefore Senators want regulatory agencies. The more agencies, the more "regulatory arbitrage"-- opportunities to game the agencies. So banks and other regulated for profit corporations also want more regulatory agencies.

Since both politicians and finance corporations want more regulatory agencies we get more of them every year. Reform seems impossible. (NPR 9/15/09)

Surprise - physicians are big Obama supporters

Physicians are big "ObamaCare" supporters.

Surprise. Not.
Poll Finds Most Doctors Support Public Option : NPR

... a new survey finds some surprising results: A large majority of doctors say there should be a public option.

When polled, "nearly three-quarters of physicians supported some form of a public option, either alone or in combination with private insurance options," says Dr. Salomeh Keyhani. She and Dr. Alex Federman, both internists and researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, conducted a random survey, by mail and by phone, of 2,130 doctors. They surveyed them from June right up to early September.

Most doctors — 63 percent — say they favor giving patients a choice that would include both public and private insurance. That's the position of President Obama and of many congressional Democrats. In addition, another 10 percent of doctors say they favor a public option only; they'd like to see a single-payer health care system. Together, the two groups add up to 73 percent...
This is only "surprising" if you think the AMA, which more or less supports insurance reform, represents physicians.

In reality the AMA represents surgeons and proceduralists. These specialists may well lose income with health insurance reform, so it's impressive that the AMA is not marching with the 9/12 neo-Klan. Even many physicians who've most benefitted from the crazed economics of American healthcare know it's broken.

On the other hand, most physicians are not surgeons, and most don't belong to the AMA. Support in this group is probably in the 85% range since reform may be relatively beneficial -- and it will help their patients.

Physicians are just one of Obama's secret weapons. He's keeping them in reserve on the left flank. On the right flank are the nurses ...

Montreal style rent-a-bike coming to Minneapolis?

Looks like Minneapolis is going to introduce the public bikes we saw in Montreal ...

" ... Nonprofit Nice Ride Minnesota plans to inaugurate a $3.7 million system of 1,000 heavy-duty bikes and 80 locking kiosks in and around downtown Minneapolis next May. For an annual fee of $60 or a daily charge of $5, you'll be able to take unlimited free rides of up to half an hour between the computerized locking stations..."

We saw quite a few riders on these Bixi ultra-rugged bikes. In Montreal if you exceed the 30 min ride, the cost is another $5 or so. Beyond that the price rises exponentially; the pricing ensures that riders bike between the locking kiosks and that bikes are moved into circulation when not in use. The sheer mass of these low performance/high reliability bikes makes long trips unfeasible anyway.

I don't know if they'll play as well in Minneapolis. As much as I love the Twins, they're not in Montreal's league for tourist attractions. On the other hand, we do have a marvelous network of bicycle paths.

It's a cool experiment. I'll probably buy a one year pass just to help encourage them.

Update 10/30/09: The NYT has some background. The bikes are "Velib", they cost about $3,500 each, and they originated in Paris. Unfortunately, they've become the target of Parisian sociopathies and have been heavily vandalized. I think they'll do a lot better in the Twin Cities.

Update 6/4/10: Visiting Montreal, I noticed a significant problem with the scheme. They now allow no more than two bikes to be charged on one credit card. So if you have one parent and two children, or two parents and three children, you're out of luck.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Birthers, Deathers and Truthers - the reason behind the madness

Birthers believe Barack Obama's birth certificate was faked. Deathers believe Obama's health care reform bill is Soylent Green in disguise. Truthers believe the 9/11 attack was an inside job, that mines detonated prior to airplane impact.

Millions believe these things. I've been astonished to find that even learned people fall for one or the other -- particularly people raised in cultures where the media makes our flacks look good.

Millions believe in these stories, but they can't for the life of them spin an evidence-based or even rationally empiric argument for their positions.

So should we mock the weak, or, with greater wisdom, accept that Reason is a hard road that few follow?

I would say neither.

I have had the opportunity to observe someone with a quite low IQ be right when I am wrong. True, he cannot usually explain his reasoning - perhaps because he cannot translate the workings of his mind into words. Nonetheless, he's right more often than chance would allow. Sometimes the weak are wrong, but sometimes there's a rightness they cannot express.

So instead of mocking them, I will try to articulate the unexpressed reasoning of the Birthers, Deathers and and Truthers.

The Birther claims are utterly implausible. Yet, how plausible is that the same America that reelected George Bush and Dick Cheney would elect a brilliant champion of Reason with a Black wife, Black children, a Black father and the middle name of Hussein?

Really. Think about it. America?! It's absolutely implausible.

The Birthers are delusional, but perhaps they are reacting to the sheer implausibility of Barack Obama. Myself I tend to suspect the benign intervention of extra-terrestrials.

The Deathers are likewise perversely wrong about the health care reform mission. They are not wrong to worry however. If Obama succeeds, as I think he will, the world of health care will be recast. Nobody knows what all the side-effects and unanticipated consequences will be. The Deathers' are right to be fearful, though they should fear the status quo more.

Lastly, the Truthers. To defend their irrational beliefs, consider my own story.

When the towers fell I was sure that we'd face a long struggle against a brilliant and implacable foe. I forecast mass casualties in America. The falling cost of havoc meant we'd soon face detonation of a truck born black market nuke in an American city. There were so many, many ways for smart people to wreak havoc on a modern industrial nation - a terrible struggle lay ahead.

Except, like a lot of other people, I was wrong. When poor, pitiful, Richard Reid tried to ignite his shoes I began to doubt, and the more we saw, the more al Qaeda seemed to be a conspiracy of the dullard -- especially compared to, say, Hamas.

So how could these medieval drudges have ever been so horribly, terribly successful? It defies Reason that such a convoluted plot should have worked. Nobody has a confident answer -- save the Truthers.

Birthers, Deathers, Truthers -- all of them wrong in what they say and write. Yet, despite the wrongness of their words, their feelings are easy to understand. We live in a profoundly strange and unpredictable world.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Pawlenty's humorous political move - opting out of health care

Minnesota has term limits. So my GOP governor, Tim Pawlenty, is not running for reelection.

If he were, this bit of inside humor would finish him ...
Pawlenty: It's "A Viable Option" To Invoke State Sovereignty, Keep Minnesota Out of Health Care Reform | TPMDC

Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN), a possible presidential candidate in 2012, is now indicating that he could invoke state sovereignty and prevent his home state of Minnesota from participating in a federal health care reform effort if one passes, Minnesota Public Radio reports.

"Depending on what the federal government comes out with here, asserting the 10th Amendment may be a viable option," Pawlenty said, when asked about it by a caller on a Republican Governors Association conference call. "But we don't know the details. As one of the other callers said, we can't get the President to outline what he does or doesn't support in any detail. So we'll have to see, I would have to say that it's a possibility."

Pawlenty made it clear that he and other Republican governors will be more assertive about the 10th Amendment: "I think we can see hopefully see a resurgence in claims and maybe even bring up lawsuits if need be."

The same view -- properly called nullification, a doctrine dating back to the pre-Civil War days in the South -- had previously been expressed by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN).
Pawlenty would be commuting by helicopter if he ever did anything so stupid, but it's not going to happen.

Pawlenty is an ambitious egomaniac, but he's not stupid. Problem is, his presidential ambition means he needs the support of the GOP base. That base is now largely frightened white men fearing the end of privilege, so Pawlenty has to say a lot of stupid things.

He can't leave Minnesota soon enough.

9/13/09: He chickens out.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Speech

I read The Speech.

Shorter version:
Dear Democratic Senators:

I'm going to do this. Oppose me and I'll take you with me to the grave. Stick with me and you might live.
Why do I think he'll win?

Because two days ago he sucker punched the birthers and the deathers, and their media and GOP exploiters. He had them all frothing mad about his socialist education speech, and then told students to work hard and listen to their parents. Played 'em all for fools, so they're off balance when he delivers The Speech.

That was just a love tap. Obama, Emanuel, and the rest of the team have not yet begun to fight.

My money is on Obama to win.

Monday, September 07, 2009

The good side of the Wiki - search

Will we have Wikis in ten years? I don't know. Maybe something else will turn the Wiki into the Gopher of 2010.

Whatever comes along, I hope it preserves some of things that make Wikis work. Not all of these features are obvious, so I'll provide some personal background.

I use a Sharepoint* Wiki to manage all the information surrounding some new software we're developing. Not everything goes into the Wiki, but everything I work with has a Wiki pointer. It's where I go to find things.

I use the Wiki because Search Works for Wikis. It works for the same reason that full-text search works so well for email. The units of information are small (1-2 screens instead of 100 pages), titles can be descriptive, and author and date metadata are available. Wikis have the added advantage of the hyperlink enabling link weighted search results.

I can find things in the Wiki very quickly.

Whatever replaces the Wiki in the next generation of tech churn, I'm hoping it will be as Search friendly as the Wiki of 2009.

* How do I know humanity is doomed? Sharepoint 2007 is a fantastic commercial success -- and it's bloody awful. That's another story though.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Death of email part XI: forwarded emails with big red phishing warnings

I own a few domains, including a Google Apps domain we use for our family [1]. My immediate family members, excluding Kateva (canid), have calendars and emails in the family domain. Overall, it works pretty well. It pounds Apple's warped MobileMe into the sand. Savagely.

For reasons that aren't worth trying to describe, I've used an email redirector for some of these accounts. This is forwarding at the domain level, not forwarding from an email account.

This used to work pretty well, but when I tested it on a new account two problems appeared:
  1. It was filtered to Google spam.
  2. A BIG RED PHISHING warning appeared when I opened the email.
I was able to correct this by marking it as 'not spam' and 'not phishing' (the UI for the latter is a bit non-obvious, I had to follow the help link in the phishing notice).

This is a great example of the tech churn meme I wrote of yesterday. Email is in a troubled state as it painfully moves from the old world of the naive net to the new world of authenticated messaging [2].

This redirect mechanism is clearly not going to work, perhaps because the redirecting domain has been used by spammers in forged email headers [3].

Ouch. This is definitely a problem. I have some workaround ideas, but this will be a bugger to test since Google doesn't talk much about what it's doing.


[1] Free edition. If google drops the price on their small business product I'd upgrade to get some customer support options.
[2] One reason people like facebook messaging is that it's deeply authenticated.
[3] The curse of old, private, domains. Mine is very old. There's no defense against such forgery. See also two 2006 posts about a related problem (this isn't new)

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Google storage isn't so free any more ...

Remember when Gmail storage was supposed to be "infinite"? That didn't last long, but at least the storage seemed to grow all the time.

Not so now. My Gmail storage is pretty static. When I started using Picasa I had to pay $20 a year to store my images with a 10GB limit.

I'm nearing the limit, and the next step is "40 GB ($75.00 USD per year)".

Ouch!! That's comparable to the cost of MobileMe, and it's just storage.

Google is getting to be expensive.

Update 9/6/09: I looked over a few of the usual suspects. I have a five year old SmugMug account, but their iPhoto uploader is awful. (PictureSync, which I used to use with them, has been abandoned.) I considered Flickr, but I don't want yet another service. MobileMe is about $70 for 20GB, so it's about the same cost as Google's services once you factor in its other features.

Through DreamHost (KATEVA is my promo code) I have unlimited storage that I'm already paying for, and automated installation of ZenPhoto. I have to export my images from iPhoto and upload them via FTP or sFTP to DreamHost. The downside is there's no provision to pass on any iPhoto metadata, but then that barely works with any of the alternatives. (Maybe MobileMe is better, but Apple routinely screws up anything to do with the intertubes.)

I'm still turning this over. For the meantime I'll use Facebook more (low res images) and use Picasa selectively to reduce my storage drain. Maybe Google will come up with a better approach in the near term

Whatever I do the good news is that I've long used a private blogger blog to track where photos go. So even if I change providers there's a single index to all of our albums.

Update 11/11/09: Google gave us a 75% drop in storage costs. About six months late, but very welcome. So I'm cool with Picasa now.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Baseball parent communication: is it getting easier?

Naively, one would think it's getting easier to communicate with the parents of a 10 yo baseball player. After all, we have so many more ways to communicate than we did in the dark ages. Let's count them ...

1910 (2)
  • Letter
  • Handout (person present)
1950 - all of the above plus (4)
  • Home phone (both parents)
  • Work phone (father)
1990 - all of the above plus (11)
  • Home phone (father) + answering machine
  • Home phone (mother) + answering machine
  • Work phone (mother) + answering machine
  • Home email (father)
  • Home email (mother)
  • Work email (father)
  • Work email (mother)
2009 - all of the above plus (now using m/f to represent mother/father) (20+)
  • Mobile phone (m/f) + answering machine
  • Web page
  • Blog with feed
  • Twitter
  • Facebook page
  • Google group or similar
  • Google Voice
  • SMS
  • MMS
  • Instant Messaging (multiple variants)
  • Other email (m/f)
  • and many more ...
So in about 100 years we've gone from 2 communication options to at least 20. So communicating about practice times, rain-outs, schedules, playoff and so on must be at least 10 times easier ...

Yeah, right.

Writing as a kid baseball coach, I'm guessing 1950 was probably the heyday of parental communication. Back then phone trees more or less worked and families were forced to more or less live in the same space. This year it was damned near impossible -- perhaps due to the profusion of communication channels, the increasingly failure of email (spam, message loss, account turnover) the disruption of employment changes (phone changes, lost mobile phone, etc), the failure of the feed reader, and the virus infestations that have disabled many XP-based home computers.

We tried to use a blog (so web access + feed) supplemented with email and, when pressed, a phone call (inevitably to a voice mail that seemed to be rarely checked). It didn't really work, but I"m not sure what would.

When it comes to communication, we're in full throttle tech churn. There's no common, standard communication channel that reaches a diverse group of people. We had one parent on Twitter, a few that checked their email somewhat reliably, perhaps 1-2 who would visit the web page, and several that were fairly unreachable.

I'm betting that we've reached an apotheosis of communication of communication dysfunction. Communication is important, and, sooner or later, people are going to figure out that we need fewer, better, options.

Alas, I suspect we won't get back to the highpoint of the 1950s for decades to come ...

Armstrong admits moon landing faked!!

Conspiracy Theorist Convinces Neil Armstrong Moon Landing Was Faked | Aug 31, 2009
Apollo 11 mission commander and famed astronaut Neil Armstrong shocked reporters at a press conference Monday, announcing he had been convinced that his historic first step on the moon was part of an elaborate hoax orchestrated by the United States government...
The best part is that apparently some people read this Onion spoof as fact. A delicious hit. (Sorry for the late post on this, I was on holiday when it was published. Just glad I got to read it.)