Saturday, July 31, 2010

Steve Jobs on Parental Controls - the Mac is dead

Sometimes, if you send an email to, someone responds under the name Steve Jobs.

I assume it's mostly a PR person, but I suspect sometimes it is Steve Jobs. I bet Howard Hughes, in his prime, did something similar.

I've never written Jobs about my suffering with OS X Parental Controls or the MobileMe debacle that did me in. Still, I can imagine how the correspondence might go ...
Dear Steve, 
I've tried and tried to make Parental Controls work, but, honestly, they don't. If all the bugs were fixed the very latest version would probably work with the web of 2003. These days, however, all the web sites of interest use https encryption, which isn't supported by OS X Parental Controls.  MobileMe is one of the very worst offenders. Even when we hack around the limitations, Parental Controls is too broad. We want access to our Google Apps, but not to Google Image Search ....
"Jobs" would reply ...
 Buy the kid an iPad.
He'd be right. The family Mac is dead. iOS is the future.

I've wasted weeks of effort trying to make an OS X machine relatively child safe. I can do that with an iPhone or iPad in a few minutes -- assuming the iPhone is configured to sync to the cloud.

All I have to do is turn off three things: Safari, YouTube, and App Install [1]. Then I install purpose-specific apps that provide select services (NOT web apps). So I install Wikipanion instead of linking to Wikipedia. Wolfram Alpha instead of Google Search. Apple's Contacts and Calendar (sync to our Google Apps) rather than Google's web apps. The NYTimes app rather than a link to the NYT web site.

History has moved on.

[1] With iOS 3 if you disable App Installation on the iPhone you can't install from iTunes either. There's no UI indication of what the cause is, the iTunes App Install screen is just non-responsive.

Megan McCardle is the John C Dvorak of the Atlantic

The Atlantic's Megan McCardle can't be as dumb as she seems to be.

She must be the John Dvorak of news journalism ...
John C. Dvorak - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
... In a chat with Dave Winer in June 2006, Dvorak mentioned how he deliberately upsets Mac users in order to boost his site traffic...

Dog are seriously weird animals

Dogs are really, really, weird ...
Dog brains in a spin
... No other animal has enjoyed the level of human affection and companionship like the dog, nor undergone such a systemic and deliberate intervention in its biology through breeding, the authors note. The diversity suggests a unique level of plasticity in the canine genome...
It's as though they're evolutionary speed freaks ...
Survival of the cutest' proves Darwin right

... the skull shapes of domestic dogs varied as much as those of the whole order [carnivora]. It also showed that the extremes of diversity were farther apart in domestic dogs than in the rest of the order. This means, for instance, that a Collie has a skull shape that is more different from that of a Pekingese than the skull shape of the cat is from that of a walrus.

Dr Drake explains: "We usually think of evolution as a slow and gradual process, but the incredible amount of diversity in domestic dogs has originated through selective breeding in just the last few hundred years, and particularly after the modern purebred dog breeds were established in the last 150 years."

By contrast, the order Carnivora dates back at least 60 million years. The massive diversity in the shapes of the dogs' skulls emphatically proves that selection has a powerful role to play in evolution and the level of diversity that separates species and even families can be generated within a single species, in this case in dogs.

Much of the diversity of domestic dog skulls is outside the range of variation in the Carnivora, and thus represents skull shapes that are entirely novel.

Dr Klingenberg adds: "Domestic dogs are boldly going where no self respecting carnivore ever has gone before.

"Domestic dogs don't live in the wild so they don't have to run after things and kill them - their food comes out of a tin and the toughest thing they'll ever have to chew is their owner's slippers. So they can get away with a lot of variation that would affect functions such as breathing and chewing and would therefore lead to their extinction.

"Natural selection has been relaxed and replaced with artificial selection for various shapes that breeders favour."

Domestic dogs are a model species for studying longer term natural selection. Darwin studied them, as well as pigeons and other domesticated species.

Drake and Klingenberg compared the amazing amount of diversity in dogs to the entire order Carnivora. They measured the positions of 50 recognizable points on the skulls of dogs and their 'cousins' from the rest of the orderCarnivora, and analyzed shape variation with newly developed methods.

The team divided the dog breeds into categories according to function, such as hunting, herding, guarding and companion dogs. They found the companion (or pet) dogs were more variable than all the other categories put together...
What other animal lives in a world where natural selection has been relaxed and intra-species variation may be immense?

My iPhone Case - from Apple's FIRST emergency case distribution program

Apple's distributing mostly-black iPhone cases, but there's a 3-8 week wait.

In the meanwhile, I came across this Apple case while cleaning out a closet. It came, I think, with the third generation iPod.

Back then Apple's customers were furious because the lovely shiny jewel was seriously scratchable. After a few days of use it looked like cat fodder.

Apple's grudging response was to include a soft rubber pouch with each iPod. It looked cheap, but the darned thing was seriously well made. I used it for years.

Now it's the slip cover case for my iPhone 4. It gives some protection in my pocket, and it protects the phone from my antenna-killing hands. It will last until my second Apple customer-appeasing case arrives.

History and demographics - notes from a long commute

I've driven from the Great Lakes region to Montreal about twenty times over the past thirty years.

The route has changed.

Two years ago we stopped traveling along the old Erie Canal route. The northern US border, from the Lakes to Vermont, had become too depressing. There were too many signs of dying communities. History moved on eighty years ago, but the post-9/11 collapse of Canadian tourism and the the lousy US economy of the past decade have accelerated the long decline.

This year we're seeing the same changes along the Canadian route. Businesses are vanishing, gas stations are closing, communities are disappearing. In the towns we visited we saw almost no children. I suspect the causes are similar to the American changes, but the demographic decline seems even more marked. Some of these northern communities depended on the lumber trade; they would have had good years before the housing crash, very bad times now.

Fifteen years ago we thought that the net might allow these communities to prosper. I was a small town physician for five years in the 90s, and I liked where I lived. Maybe that will still happen, but there's a lot of competition from places with better airports and milder climates.

It's a story as old as the ghost towns of the old west. These communities are small enough that a few energetic people will keep a few of them alive, but most will fade away.

Update 8/26/10: Three of the cities on the list of the top 10 dying American Cities were related to the old Erie canal and NE manufacturing route: Cleveland, Buffalo and Albany.

Annals of evil businesses - tricking deadbeats

In desperate places, humans do desperate things.

We've a long way to go before we reach the depths of China's shame - the Sung dynasty's North Korea. We're not a different people though. Today can see echoes of that unspeakable desperation in the new businesses of mass disability America.

One of those new businesses is the collection of debts after the statute of limitations has expired. The trick is to get the deadbeat to pay just a tiny portion of the debt ...
Old Debts Never Die - They Are Sold to Collectors -

... [bad debt] claims are routinely sold on debt collection Web sites, where out-of-statute debt is for sale for a penny or less on the dollar. In most states, it is legal for collectors to pursue out-of-statute debt, as long as they do not file a lawsuit or threaten to do so....
... consumer groups and even some industry consultants argue that collectors routinely harass debtors for unpaid balances that have exceeded the statute of limitations. In some cases, collectors have unlawfully added fees and interest... 
... “It’s so cheap, if you can work it smart, you don’t need to collect that much,” said John Pratt, a consultant to the debt-buying industry and an author of “Debt Purchasing: An Investor’s Guide to Buying Debt” 
... In a report issued July 12, the Federal Trade Commission called for “significant reforms” in the debt collection industry and recommended that states change the murky laws that govern out-of-statute debt. The statute of limitations for debt varies by state, generally from three to 10 years. In many states, collectors can restart the clock if they can persuade the consumer to make even a tiny payment toward the old debt...
... “The point of the payments is not so much to get the money” as it is to restart the clock...
A lovely trick. Use every possible trick to get the debtor to make a small payment, and then they're trapped.

Of course most of the people doing this job will convince themselves they're only repaying deceit with deceit in the cause of virtue. That's a very human rationalization.

If we don't find a way to employ millions of unwanted Americans, these businesses will be more and more appealing.

Facebook porn

Pornography is a violation of Facebook's terms of service. Even nudity is forbidden. A Google search on Facebook porn doesn't turn up a lot of hits, just a few local reports.

Thanks to an inquisitive mind I am obliged to closely monitor, however, I can affirm it exists. I flagged the page I found, so it will be probably be removed. It's unlikely to be the only one however.

It's easy to imagine a value prop for FB porn. With automation, cheap labor, and freely available image content a small investment could produce millions of pages -- just as on the public web. The startup costs are even lower because an entrepreneur can leverage existing web oriented infrastructure.

Thanks to Facebook's "like" and "share" network a page can reach its target audience quickly. Even if an individual page has a short lifespan the collective will be long lived.

The revenue comes from exploitation of the vulnerable and gullible population that are attracted to these pages. Their information could be sold at a profit, and they would subsequently be "friended" by counterfeit people who will introduce further exploitation from financial frauds to retail child porn.

It's an "attractive" business model -- for a certain kind of entrepreneur. There are even financial incentives for Facebook, since this same population is likely to fall for a number of Facebook's legal exploitations.

Is this really happening? I would be surprised if it weren't, but I suspect it's still a small operation. Just like spam was once a tiny portion of the email stream and splogs were a tiny portion of blogs ...

Update 7/31/10: A milder but related operation is illustrated by large numbers of machine generated baseball player fan pages. They share identical descriptions, format, and all include wikipedia quotes. They exists to harvest "fans" for marketing and other purposes. They're consistent with Facebook's terms of service, but it's fundamentally the same business model as I've described for the illegitimate porn pages.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The terror-industrial complex

Is this the last gasp of the Washington Post? At least they're going out in style.

Emphases mine. Clearly "top secret" is now meaningless.
A hidden world, growing beyond control | Top Secret America - washingtonpost.
The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work.
These are some of the findings of a two-year investigation by The Washington Post that discovered what amounts to an alternative geography of the United States, a Top Secret America hidden from public view and lacking in thorough oversight. After nine years of unprecedented spending and growth, the result is that the system put in place to keep the United States safe is so massive that its effectiveness is impossible to determine.
The investigation's other findings include:
* Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States.
* An estimated 854,000 people, nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C., hold top-secret security clearances.
* In Washington and the surrounding area, 33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since September 2001. Together they occupy the equivalent of almost three Pentagons or 22 U.S. Capitol buildings - about 17 million square feet of space...
Normally this would be a very sweet target for budget cutting, but now it's a form of bipartisan stimulus. Can't spend too much on security you know. (Of course this kind of Keystone Cops spending must actually reduce security).

WaPo has an online database summarizing what they learned from public records. The merely "secret" program was too vast to even consider.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Obligatory iPhone 4 antenna-gate post

I've Google shared way too many posts on iPhone 4 issues, but I haven't put out much on my blogs (ok, one post on Ive's cube-phone). These days I try to use my blogs for things that might have a useful lifespan, and my shares for transient stuff.

Of course I can't completely resist a comment. When my almost completely disconnected sister comments on the iPhone's glitches, it's hard not to join in. Even though my newly ordered iPhone is still waiting for me back home. Yes, that's a giveaway. Despite the obvious glitches, I feel I know enough about the iPhone to buy now rather than October.

We now know about several problems that make the 3GS design look brilliant:
  1. The proximity sensor malfunctions. This is a problem for people who hold the phone by their face; the touchscreen disable fails and facial contact disconnects calls. This flaw may also be responsible for the higher than 3GS call drop rate. There's supposedly a software fix on the way, but since Apple moved the sensor I suspect the fix will be imperfect.
  2. The armored glass is scratch resistant, but can chip (bumpers seem to help). Overall the phone seems more vulnerable than the 3GS.
  3. The antenna design seems no better than the 3GS design and is prone to a unique form of malfunction when some people's fingers bridge two antennas.
  4. The dropped call rate is higher than the 3GS - that's surprising but it may be due to the proximity sensor problems.
  5. There are problems with Exchange sync that are only partly fixed by an Apple update. This has gotten almost no attention, but for me it's by far the biggest problem. It will almost certainly be fixed with a software update.
As well there are the usual number of lemon-phones esp. with Bluetooth connectivity issues. (So do test your phone with a Bluetooth headset during the 30 day return period -- even if you don't normally use one.)

Overall Apple would have done better to stick the retina display into the 3GS design, but of course that wouldn't sell as well. Damned consumers.

These are genuine disappointments, but in the first four aren't a big deal for me. I always use a case because my devices live a rough life, so that takes care of most of the glass and antenna problems. I almost always use a wired ear set so that takes care of the proximity sensor issue and perhaps the dropped call bugs.

The fifth problem, which gets no attention, is a serious issue for me. If they cause problems with my iPhone 4 I'll have to return the device until they're fixed.

Overall Apple has stumbled with the iPhone 4 compared to the 3GS, but their stumbles are trivial compared to the vast array of Android-device malfunctions. (Such as 1-2 hour batter life in highly touted models.) The beauty of buying an Apple device is that an important fraction of the buyers are rabid zealots prone to loud garment rending. These people are my friends. They are the only thing that keeps an eternally arrogant and ever more powerful Apple from going completely off the rails.

Keep up the wailing Apple fanatics. I don't love Apple, but I do love you.

My personal iPhone 4 review will be up on my tech blog by August. Based on past experience, it will be somewhat different from the 10,000 other reviews on the net. I'll update this post with a link when it's online.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Retiring at 70? Don't legalize marijuana.

There are two obvious fixes for social security (medicare is more troublesome):
  1. Means test benefits.
  2. Sell American citizenship to the young elite of the world (Canada's fix)
  3. Fiddle with taxes
A really nasty fix would be to raise the social security payoff age to 70. Nasty, because those who need social security most die younger than the elite and lose employment sooner. Unsurprisingly, that's the proposal people are talking about now.

Never mind that we've made no progress at all on slowing the onset of dementia. All of the promising treatments or preventive measures of the past decade have failed. We've got nothing that works, and very little in the pipeline. Knowledge workers are not going to be doing knowledge jobs in their late 60s, so if they need social security income they'll need a plan B to get from 62 or so to 70.

Which is why the boomer generation should oppose marijuana legalization. Retail marijuana distribution is the tupperware business of the future. It's pretty much risk-free; if we're prosecuted we get free food and lodging until social security kicks in.

Maybe we should consider option 2.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Don Berwick to run CMS is like ...

This was always going to be a recess appointment ...
Obama Bypassing Congress to Appoint Chief of Medicare and Medicaid -
President Obama will bypass Congress and appoint Dr. Donald M. Berwick, a health policy expert, to run Medicare and Medicaid, the White House said Tuesday...
Bush Jr appointed Thomas Scully to CMS. Scully betrayed the American people and then took a payoff job at big pharma.

Berwick is the anti-Scully.

Appointing Berwick to run CMS is like appointing Hercules to run the Augean stables. It's a mind-boggling appointment. Since it's a recess appointment it's only good until late 2011, but by then Berwick may be ready to move on.

Apple's Potemkin iOS exchange support - the problem with being a peripheral customer

Sometimes I run across a bug so astounding my brain rejects it.

That's why I've only now recognized this 2 year old iPhoneOS (iOS 2 and iOS 3) bug ...
Apple - Support - Discussions - Exchange Calendar Sync Issues List ...
... There also doesn't seem to be a way of deleting/editing just one occurence of a meeting in a series.

I tried to delete one single occurence and the iPhone deleted the whole series....
Now I know what happened to several of my recurring meetings over the past year. The bug is with meetings to which one has been invited.

There's no way Apple didn't know about this bug (really, it's more than a mere bug - there are no words ...) when they shipped iPhone OS 2. They chose not to fix it in iOS 3. I wouldn't be surprised if it's still broken in iOS 4.

BlackBerry (RIP) doesn't do this. Windows Mobile (RIP) didn't do this. I suspect this wouldn't be accepted in PalmOS (RIP) or Symbian (RIP). I would bet Android doesn't have this bug.

There are so many painful lessons here. I'll list a few

  1. Apple doesn't want the iPhone to be used by businesses. This goes beyond incompetence into the realm of strategy. Why not?
  2. Of all the five competing platforms who do care about basic Exchange server support, four are dead (RIM is dead, but doesn't know it yet). Business calendar support doesn't matter in the current smartphone market.
  3. I don't need yet another source for antenna rants; the iPhone 4 antenna bug is easy to workaround. This bug doesn't a fix. It's far more important. I need to start reading different bloggers. 
Actually, I doubt there's anyone who writes about bugs like these. That's the real lesson. Productivity users of the iPhone are just along for the ride. We don't get to steer.

PS. Anyone know what calendaring system Apple uses internally? It can't be Exchange Server ...

Sunday, July 04, 2010

What it takes to be American's Number One biking city - Newest Minneapolis bike trail

My mother loved big band dancing. From the 40s to the 50s she worked all day, danced all night. She danced on, but the crowds got smaller. The world was moving on.

That's how I felt at the Minneapolis Friday Night Skate a few weeks ago. Three of us showed up. Two  were geezers who could remember the glory days when we had over a 100 skaters; a third was a significant other. Just as well the turnout was so low -- the route sucked. Last year even a small group could have a good time going through the downtown, this year the new Twins stadium crowd have zapped the old route and the loss of the Hennepin bike lane made for a hard skate.

I'm not surprised that the urban skate is fading. I love urban inline, but it's a contact sport mostly done by geezers. I was surprised that we'd lost the Hennepin trail. That's not how Minneapolis got to be the #1 biking town in the US.

Happily, we're exchanging it for something much better ...

With the Minneapolis City Council's approval Friday of the purchase of a final easement, the most expensive, complicated and eagerly awaited mile of bike trail in Minneapolis has the go-ahead to break ground in mid-July

The project will extend the Cedar Lake Trail from where it now ends, near Lee's Liquor Lounge, to the Mississippi River at the Federal Reserve Bank ...  The new link will create the first traffic-free route through downtown for bicyclists who have had to dodge cars on Hennepin Avenue to bridge the gap to the river ... The 18-foot-wide pathway typically will be elevated 5 feet higher than the adjoining Northstar commuter rail tracks. There will be twin bike lanes of 4 1/2 feet each, and a 6-foot-wide pedestrian path.

The city project site shows Cedar Lake Trail Phase III - it will run along 4th street, so about 4 blocks north west of Hennepin and passing under the Twins Target Field promenade (so it will be a bit odd in places). It's supposed to be done in November 2010.

It took a lot of work to get this bicycle trail done by a lot of people and an earmark as well ...

"It's the most difficult acquisition the city has ever done," said Bill Cherrier, a city engineering supervisor. The city had to buy easements for portions of 26 parcels along the Burlington Northern Santa Fe rail trench. The new trail will be cut into the east edge of the trench, passing under the Target Field promenade.

"It almost slipped away," said Keith Prussing, longtime president of Cedar Lake Park Association.... With help from its legislator, Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, they won $1.4 million in state bonding in 2004. U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., an avid bicyclist, earmarked $3 million in federal money to go with an previously allocated $2.3 million. The city also contributed.

The project's complicated machinations brought it to the City Council 24 times for 31 separate approvals of negotiations, easements, settlements and grant requests, in a legislative history that dates back to at least 1999.

"I hope -- I really hope -- that this is the last action we have to take," said Council Member Lisa Goodman, who inherited the project from former Council Member Jackie Cherryhomes. She recalled visiting the former president of the Federal Reserve Bank as part of a delegation that eventually prevailed with the view that the north end of the trail, in a ramp running past the bank and connecting to West River Parkway, would not pose a security risk

Sheesh. The bicycle trail was considered a security risk for the bank? As if the existing roads weren't a problem? Congratulations to those who struggled through an 11 year process to get a single trail built. It ain't easy to be a bicycling city in the USA.

Longevity - Homo neandertalis and technicalis

In a world where climate oscillated violently*, and humans wrestled with large animals, was male longevity not an evolutionary priority?

BBC - Radio 4 - Melvyn Bragg - In Our Time - The Neanderthals
... If you were a 30 year old Neanderthal, you were a very old man indeed...

Today, in terra technicalis, at least one population of Homo technicalis has a biological life expectancy of 88. Given what we know about how quickly humans evolve, has our aging rate changed?

Today a 30 yo male today in not remarkably less fit than a 20 yo male; marathons are often won by "older"men. Some loss of strength and healing speed is more than offset by experience. So why did earlier humans die so young?

Maybe we do age more slowly, but if we assume a 20% annual mortality rate among active hungers only (.8**20) *100% or 1.2% will live 20 years. So maybe they just led very dangerous lives ...

* What we have thought of as the "ice ages" might be better thought of as the "age of the chaos climate".

How I bought The Best of Oscar Wilde

Most of the categories in iBooks have free books on the right, retail books on the left.

That's how I flipped through several categories, adding free books to my mother's accessibility-friendly iPad.

Except for Classics.That category is all pay. So when I picked an interesting title on the right I bought "The Best of Oscar Wilde" for $5.

The sunk cost principle says I should give it no particular attention, but the serendipity principle says I should move it up my reading list.

Apple's iBookstore and a FairPlay DRM review

I'd delayed updating to iTunes 9.2, but the upgrade seems to have gone well.

I can now browse my "Protected book " (FairPlay 2) in iTunes, but of course I can't read them on my Mac. Surprisingly, I can't buy a "books" [1] using iTunes...
... the iBookstore is only available through iBooks on iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch at this time.
That's a curious limitation. I wonder if the publishers insisted on it. If they did, I assume it has something to do with copy protection.
Apple's book DRM rules are similar (identical?) to their app rules (emphases mine) ...

Books downloaded from the iBookstore can be placed on up to five computers you own that you’ve authorized with your iTunes Store account. You can sync your books to all iPads, iPhones, and iPod touches you own...

Apple says "five computers", not "five user accounts". A single computer can have a very large number of separate accounts, and each account can have a distinct iTunes account.

From past experiments I believe it is correct that Apple authorizes at the computer level, not the user level. The FairPlay DRM however is iTunes Store account specific. I don't think there's any documented limit to how many user accounts can share the same iTunes account, so in principle a single machine could have 100 iTunes accounts that could all share the same iTunes store account and thus the same FairPlay material. In turn each account can sync to an unlimited number of iDevices (I thought there used to be a limit!) -- though technically one person should "own" them. (How is that established?)

This DRM implementation means that DRMd material can be shared by a group of people so long as one person is making all the purchases ("ownership"). It's not a bad proxy for a "family of residence". So books can be shared within a family, as can music, video and apps.

It's never noted anywhere but on my blog, but this makes iPhone apps much cheaper for families than apps on other platforms (example: Wii).

The strategic impact of Apple FairPlay is underrated. It seems to suit everyone to keep it that way.

[1] Apple needs a word for the "books" that are rendered by

Friday, July 02, 2010

Broken bike path, Google and the postmodern world – good news

Do I trust my memory, or do I trust Google?

I was pretty sure the Hamline pedestrian bridge over the rail yard was closed, but Google said it was open:


I know my memory. I went with Google. The bridge was open.

A week later I planned out a bike trip for the family. We decided to take the Shepard Road trail. It’s bright green on Google.


Alas, this segment is under construction. The shape of the new trail looks beautiful, but it’s closed for now. We had to turn around. A bit of a bummer.

I thought of several ways that local bicycling groups could submit updates to Google, and how they could work with cash strapped local government to manage these trail closures. While I composed plans in my head I also submitted a problem report to Google. It took about 30 seconds. You can do this too. Just right click on a problem area in Google maps and select “Report a problem” …


About three days later I got this note from the Google Maps team:

Hi John,
Your Google Maps problem report has been reviewed, and you were right! We'll update the map soon and email you when you can see the change.

Wow. I mean … wow.

Sometimes the postmodern world really does work quite well.

Google to make Gmail conversation threading optional - and apologizes for arrogance

I've screamed loudly about Gmail's obligate threading. It wouldn't be so bad if we could do Outlook-style subject editing to break the threads, but we can't. The fact that replies hide subject lines by default makes thread breaking even harder.

Google has been quite uninterested in my screams. There's a new boss though, and a new attitude ...
Disabling Gmail Conversations
... Last month, Henry Blodget reported that Google intends to make Gmail's conversations optional. 'Some Gmail users loathe the Conversations format -- complaining that is confusing and causes them to miss important messages. Google recently handed control over Gmail to a VP named Vic Gundotra. Vic regards Google's prior attitude toward issue as 'tone deafness' and plans to offer another option soon, sources say.'...
I love this guy. Google, I forgive you.

I hope Vic's attitude is contagious, and that Google is learning a reasonable amount of humility. Even as Apple has gone off the deep end of arrogance ...

See also:
Update: More evidence that Google is changing. They may be looking, for the first time, beyond the algorithm.

How quickly can humans evolve?

Even fifteen years ago cognitive science courses taught that the human mind was frozen in the Paleolithic Pleistocene. Humans didn’t evolve any more

Now we wonder how fast can humans evolve ...

Scientists Cite Fastest Case of Human Evolution – Nicholas Wade -

…. Comparing the genomes of Tibetans and Han Chinese, the majority ethnic group in China, the biologists found that at least 30 genes had undergone evolutionary change in the Tibetans as they adapted to life on the high plateau. Tibetans and Han Chinese split apart as recently as 3,000 years ago, say the biologists, a group at the Beijing Genomics Institute led by Xin Yi and Jian Wang. The report appears in Friday’s issue of Science.

If confirmed, this would be the most recent known example of human evolutionary change. Until now, the most recent such change was the spread of lactose tolerance — the ability to digest milk in adulthood — among northern Europeans about 7,500 years ago. But archaeologists say that the Tibetan plateau was inhabited much earlier than 3,000 years ago and that the geneticists’ date is incorrect.

When lowlanders try to live at high altitudes, their blood thickens as the body tries to counteract the low oxygen levels by churning out more red blood cells. This overproduction of red blood cells leads to chronic mountain sickness and to lesser fertility — Han Chinese living in Tibet have three times the infant mortality of Tibetans…

This is vicious selection; in pre-technological times the infant mortality gap was probably even greater.

Which reminds me of something I wrote two months ago

… Even after the development of agriculture and writing we see thousand year intervals of relative stasis in China, Egypt and Mesopotamia. How could this be when our fundamental technologies change in decades. Are the minds of modern Egyptians radically different from the minds of only 6,000 years ago? Why? Why do we see this graph at this time in human history?

What did humans do in Georgian caves for 30,000 years? Thirty thousand years of waving and sewing and nothing changes?! They could not have had the same brains we have. They seem more … Neandertal…

Six thousand years is twice the time it took humans to adapt to the Tibetan plateaus. So that’s plenty of time for brains to change.

Except brains are qualitatively different from red cells. Brains are a platform for minds. Left handed people flip hemispheric specializations, and yet seem to think very much like right handed people.

Think about that. Mutations that flip cardiac orientation are 100% lethal. Flipping hemispheres though – the mind adapts. People born with half a brain can function in human society. Five percent of the population have big ugly looking mutations in brain development systems – yet they seem fine.

The human mind can run similarly on a diverse infrastructure. The software analogy is irresistible. A browser running on an iPhone can look and act a lot like one running on a Win 7 box – but the two systems are very different.

This gives a lot more leeway to evolution. It means that the ‘variation controls’ on the genetic programs for neural development can be “set” (by evolution) to “high variation” – and we can still turn out functioning humans minds. It means that brains may be evolving very quickly – over the course of a thousands of years.

It will be interesting to compare the DNA of Homo sapiens 2000 BCE with Homo sapiens 2010 ACE.

See also

Update 7/20/2010: John Hawks reviews the evidence for active selection. I think when he talks about "demographics" he might be talking about how the unification of dispersed human populations causes new phenotypes to emerge -- but he's tip-toeing around something and is being cryptic.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

The standard human lifespan is 88

Amidst all the coverage about genetic markers for long lived people, evidence that the maximal average lifespan is about 88:
BBC News - Genes predict living beyond 100 
... To live the additional 10-15 years beyond the age of 88, our paper is indicating that genetics are playing an increasingly important role.'
The scientists said that, when it came to genes associated with a predisposition to age-related diseases, centenarians and non-centenarians did not really differ.
'This is very surprising,' said Professor Sebastiani. 'It suggests that what makes these people live a very long life is not a lack of genetic predisposition to diseases, but rather an enrichment of longevity.'
So if one gets good medical care and avoids bad luck and bad habits, then the average person white American [1] can probably get to 88. To live much beyond 88 you need to have a slower than average aging rate.

Update: [1] I haven't seen this paper, but an earlier article by the same group suggests they were studying white Americans. This biological age limit may differ between human gene groups. I bet it does.

Jonathon Ive lays a second cube: The iPhone 4

Remember Apple's cube?

It was designed by Jonathon Ive. It was beautiful. It became a museum piece. It's a collectors item. It was incredibly stupid design and a commercial failure.

The cube showed what was great about Apple -- and how the company jumps the shark every few years.

They've done it again with Jonathon Ive's iPhone 4. It's not just the sensor and antenna bugs, the thing is as fragile as .... glass.

I'll buy one of course. With a protective case like the one my 3G has long lived in.

The cube was last sold in 2001. Apple, let's not do this again before 2020 ok?

Deficits, climate, BP and immigration: Saving America is suspiciously easy

I wasn’t smart enough for my undergrad, but the financial support was so good I couldn’t quit. Poverty is the mother of persistence. So I worked the system. I got credits for hanging out at USC [1] and learning “student advocacy” in a class full of beautiful women.

Man, I was good in those days.

During one particularly delightful class “retreat” we played prisoner’s dilemma. Course we didn’t know that’s what we were playing; we were supposed to defeat ourselves and learn valuable lessons. Except I figured it out, and, miraculously, I was able to convince my team to sabotage the game by always cooperating.

The retreat leaders were not happy.

These days it feels like America is in a game like that. A game we could win, except we choose to lose. The game masters must be getting desperate, because they keep making the answers easier.

We have serious problems with our demographics (hence health care costs, declining tax base), our CO2 production, our energy policies, and badly behaved corporations.

We can solve all of these problems, and win the game, with a few obvious moves.

Surely you can guess?

They are …

  1. Canadian-style immigration policy.
  2. Carbon tax.
  3. Percentage fines for corporate malfeasance rather than fixed dollar fines.
  4. End tax deductibility of corporate fines.

Obvious, ain’t it? I tell you, this game is rigged. The answers are so obvious I’ll just talk about the first one.

Sometime in the past twenty years a group of freakin’ geniuses in Canada ran the numbers. They didn’t look good. Canada’s demographic transition [2] was particularly quick, the government pays for health care, and Canadians had stopped smoking.

So they tried to figure out Canada’s value prop. It ain’t the climate or the wealth opportunities. They decided it’s the society. Relatively diverse, fairly peaceful, very secure from invasion, not much of a terrorist target, decent albeit rapidly decaying infrastructure, and all located on the border of a vast money machine.

Canada started selling citizenship. It worked brilliantly. Canada skimmed the cream of the world in the prime of their life, without having to educate most of them.

We could do that. That takes care of our demographics problem.

Four obvious fixes. Problems solved. Easy.

That leaves only the interesting question. Who’s running this rigged game?

[1] Didn’t cost a thing. USC had an “exchange” relationship with us. I never saw a USC student at tech, so it was all to our advantage.

[2] Quebec went from families with 10+ kids to 1-2 kids in about 10 years. Fastest demographic transition in history, and a marker for how quickly a society can change without quite blowing up.

See also: