Thursday, June 28, 2012

After the decision - healthcare 2012

America's ObamaCare monster lurches forward.

It is hideous. Bits and pieces have fallen off, more will fall. It lost an elbow with the unexpected medicaid ruling.

Still, it moves. Lurches become steps. Trillions of dollars will build momentum. Plans made are being executed.

There will be ways to incent states to extend medicaid coverage. I am sure of that.

Some predict renewed GOP vigor and an enraged Tea Party.

I don't think so. I think that the American infotainment industry is now going to start talking about what the mandate really means. That mountain will become a molehill.

More importantly, the healthcare industry is going to pivot to making this concrete. Corporations hate uncertainty, and they hate reversing course. Romney will listen to them.

I would not be surprised if the ObamaCare hate dies as quickly as the 'defense of marriage' passion.

The monster is ours. We can rebuild him ...

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Browsing the blog backlist - we need a new app

I follow about 150-250 active blogs including the "Core" blogs I read religiously.

It's a good reading list, far superior to the days when I read The Economist (RIP 2006, but a bit better lately) and the NYT. Still, there's something wrong.

The wrong bit is that there's rich material buried in the backlog of many of those blogs, and in blogs that no longer publish but are still online. Obviously some of that material is better than what I'm reading now.

We need a tool to surface that material and make it available. A blog backlist browser tool.

I'd like, for example, to give a set of 20 or so blogs and have a convenient way to read posts from years back. I've tried doing this in the "new" Google Reader, and it really doesn't work. 

Has anyone heard of anything like this?

Google's A.I. recognizes cats. Laugh while you can.

Google's brain module was trained on YouTube stills. From vast amounts of data, one image spontaneously emerged ...
Using large-scale brain simulations for machine learning and A.I. | Official Google Blog 
".. we developed a distributed computing infrastructure for training large-scale neural networks. Then, we took an artificial neural network and spread the computation across 16,000 of our CPU cores (in our data centers), and trained models with more than 1 billion connections.  
...  to our amusement, one of our artificial neurons learned to respond strongly to pictures of... cats ... it “discovered” what a cat looked like by itself from only unlabeled YouTube stills. That’s what we mean by self-taught learning... 
... Using this large-scale neural network, we also significantly improved the state of the art on a standard image classification test—in fact, we saw a 70 percent relative improvement in accuracy. We achieved that by taking advantage of the vast amounts of unlabeled data available on the web, and using it to augment a much more limited set of labeled data. This is something we’re really focused on—how to develop machine learning systems that scale well, so that we can take advantage of vast sets of unlabeled training data.... 
... working on scaling our systems to train even larger models. To give you a sense of what we mean by “larger”—while there’s no accepted way to compare artificial neural networks to biological brains, as a very rough comparison an adult human brain has around 100 trillion connections.... 
..  working with other groups within Google on applying this artificial neural network approach to other areas such as speech recognition and natural language modeling."
Hah, hah, a cat. That's so funny. Unless you're a mouse of course.

The mouse cortex has 14 million neurons and a maximum of 45K connections per neuron, so ballpark estimate, perhaps 300 billion connections (real estimates are probably known from the mouse connectome project but I couldn't find them). So in this first pass Google has less than 1% of a mouse connectome.

Assuming they double the connectome every two years, they should hit mouse scale in nine years, or around 2021. There's a good chance you and will still be around then.

I've long felt that once we had a "mouse-equivalent" connectome we could probably stop worrying about global warming, social security, meteor impacts, cheap bioweapons, and the Yellowstone super volcano.

Really, we're just mice writ large. That cat is looking hungry.

Incidentally, Google didn't use the politically incorrect two letter acronym in the blog post, but they put it, with periods (?), in the post title.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Best cities of North America - Chicago, New York, Montreal ... and Minneapolis

A report on bike share safety in NYC makes a number of safety recommendations and includes a graph of North America's best cities:

We see famous city names like Toronto, Chicago, San Francisco, Vancouver.

And then, way out on the right site of the best of the best ... Minneapolis (and, damn you, Portland to the right of us).

We rock.

Incidentally, the curve shows that as more people cycle the risk of death per cyclist falls (safety in numbers). Vancouver is everyone's target; Minneapolis and Portland need to study Vancouver's example.

My hunch for Minneapolis (and especially Saint Paul) is that the best way to reduce bicycle fatalities here is to enforce our neglected crosswalk law. Since that law primarily protect pedestrians that sounds a bit odd, but I think of this as falling under the 'broken windows' theory of bicycle and pedestrian safety. MSP drivers are gross violators of the crosswalk law and there's zero police enforcement. It's trivial to setup law enforcement sting operations, and it would make all drivers more conscious of their urban surroundings.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Wayback machine: My 2001 web site

The Wayback machine archived at least part of my old web site in 2001...

It was just a personal site, I think it is cool that a shade of it lives on, and of course for me it's fun to see the old page.

The menu on the right side included things of interest over a decade ago
  • A "starter" page for family physicians (used to teach net use)
  • FrontPage (97) esp: how to use
  • WiFi for home
  • MORE and GrandView - old beloved apps
  • My personal medical notes
  • Our Family News page (still active and updated)
  • Commuting bike page (still gets many hits, but it's archived)
  • Palm and "WWAN" - which back then was wireless wide area networking -- a bit before the BB, much less the iPhone
The site was dependent on a robust wysiwyg personal web site editor, and that technology died around 2001. On July 19, 2002, when my brother was lost, I wrote my first blog post. Almost ten years ago.

I archived the site in 2011, but the old links still work (they're simply not exposed) and I still search the site. If I ever find a replacement for FrontPage 97 I would at least like to resurrect the bicycling page in my domain. (When I retire I can go back to hosting pages under my "real name".)

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Minneapolis Friday Night Skate: 1998-2011

I wasn't at the very first Minneapolis Friday Night skate, but I remember Allan and Mike ...

Inline Skating (Rollerblading) Resource Center - Starting a Night Skate

... Mike Merriman and Allan Wright started the Minneapolis Friday Night Skate in 1998. More or less following the strategies above, the Minneapolis FNS was instantly successful with several dozen skaters the first evening. Participation rose dramatically with publication of a full article in a local paper, appearance by Allan on the local news station (the weatherman joined him on skates), and taping of the event by another television station. By the second year, the skate had reached levels of 150 skaters each time....

From the above page on starting a night skate you'll get to Zephyr Adventures, Allan still owns it and runs tours.

I think I joined in 1998 or 1999. I do remember the excitement; 100 skaters is a lot in Minneapolis. The skate varied over the years, but it usually looked something like this:

Screen shot 2012 06 16 at 10 09 54 PM

 In the early years there was a hint of anarchy to the skate. Even then we were Minnesotans and not kids besides -- so it was only mildly improper. 

Allan was dashing and charismatic, so it's not surprising that attendance declined after he moved on. Perhaps more importantly, inline skating popularity peaked in the mid 90s. By the early 2000s we were fortunate to get 30 skaters, but that was still an excellent number. 

Even in 2009, when family obligations kept me away from most of the skates, I loved it. The Stone Arch bridge, the spiral trail to Gold Medal Park, the seamy side of Hennepin, flying through Loring in the moonlight, waving to the crowds on Nicollet, watching the best skaters do leaps down the stairs, swooping down the hill and past the Nicollet Inn...

Things go away. By 2010 I'd stopped going, the numbers were too low. Bill F stuck it out through 2011, but sometimes he was the only skater. This year his FNS web site went offline.

One day, perhaps, inline skating will make a comeback, and maybe someone else will do a Friday Night Skate. Or perhaps it will pass into the history of Minneapolis, remembered by very few people. 

And this one blog post.

The evolution of spam: Nordstrom and mandatory spam acceptance

We've come a long way baby.

A year ago Nordstrom's began offering optional email receipts as "a convenient, environmentally friendly alternative to paper receipts."

Of course there are alway a few skeptics who doubted Nordstrom's integrity, but USA Today was reassuring

Retailers ditch paper and pen, use email for receipts -

... no retailer serious about building a relationship with its customers would consider taking advantage of email access, said John Talbott, assistant director of Indiana University's Center for Education and Research in Retailing.

That's because for the retailer, the most significant benefit is being able to offer a service customers appreciate, he said. It isn't about cutting costs, he said, as less than 1% of a retailer's total revenue goes toward paper and ink for receipts.

Instead, the driving force is providing an option that makes the store a more appealing place to shop...

Yesterday Emily bought a shirt at Nordstrom's. The email receipt, she was told, was mandatory. No, of course there'd be no spam. She doesn't have a spam account, so she gave them her gmail account.

She got her first Nordstrom spam a few hours later. I'll show her how to use filters later today.

Not to worry though, paper receipts are not long for this world. Soon we'll be buying things with our phones. No spam there, since of course there's no tie between our phone's unique identifier and our email and phone number.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Median net worth stasis: health and demographics?

Salmon of the Trinity [1] notes that Median net worth has actually been static for about 30 years. So we can either fund social security, or learn to live with elderly beggars, or invest in Soylent Green.

It's a fascinating result; seemingly consistent with other studies on long term wage stagnation. I'm looking forward to more discussion, including ...
  1. What is the effect of demographics, in particular what is the mean age of the median net worth over the past 30 years? We know our population is aging, and we know net worth increases far faster in one's 20s than in one's forties.
  2. What is the relationship to savings? (Presumably, other than "housing", it means we're not saving - see "social security")
  3. How much of this is because of health care and education costs? How much more expensive is it to raise a child in 2010 than it 1980?
  4. Is there an "occult inflation" contributor?
  5. Is it coincidental that this stasis corresponds with the widespread dissemination of programmable technologies?
[1] Krugman, Klein and Salmon

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Why bicyclists run red lights

France Grants Cyclists the Right to Run Red Lights. Basically, cyclists are to treat a red light as a one-way stop sign.

There are moves to do something similar in several states, but it will probably be a few years before it's accepted in Minnesota. In the meantime running a red light on a bicycle is theoretically illegal here. (There's an exception for "long lights" where it's obvious that the bicycle isn't triggering a light sensor.)

Theoretically, because I can't find any Google hits on anyone actually getting ticketed for it. Still, I think bicycle tickets come with auto license points, and that's a big deal. So I'd rather not get a ticket.

Which is a bit of a shame, because there are really good reasons for bicyclists to treat a red light as a one-way stop sign.

From a bicyclist's point of view, the biggest road risks are distracted drivers, incompetent drivers, and angry drivers. These drivers are dangerous everywhere, but they're particularly dangerous at intersections where they can, for example, make a right turn into a bike while chatting on the phone. At an intersection, a bicycle is stuck in bad company.

Going through the red light though, that gets us clear of the distracted and the angry. It also makes us quite visible to cars that will catch up from behind -- they take notice of lawbreakers. We love to be seen.

Of course such insubordination makes angry drivers angry -- but they'd find a way to be angry at bicycles anyway. At least they can be righteously angry, which is a warm and fuzzy kind of angry that may make them less dangerous to bicyclists, spouses, and small animals.

I'm a boringly law abiding geezer, but I'm staring to think the lifesaving advantages of lawbreaking may offset the minimal risk of a ticket...

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Buying bicycle gear online - some sources

Bicycles last a long time, and touring bicycle technology [2] was pretty much optimized by the 1990s [1]. My oldest bike is 35, my youngest is 15. Barring major accidents, they'll outlive me.

Good bike gear lasts a very long time too. I bought one of my favorite tools in the late 60s. Good panniers will survive at least a decade of the worst winter riding.

Which means it's tough to run a business that sells good bicycle gear. There are no viruses to drive upgrade cycles, and after you've sold your first ten thousand bicycle bags there's nobody left to sell to [3]. The only good news is that bicycle use has been growing for the past few years.

Long lasting gear also means I don't shop for things like bike bags very often, and I don't know where to go [5]. Which is why I'm posting this list of places I visited today. It's made up of a mixture of the usual suspects, plus dealers of Ortlieb bike bags [4] and stores that market on the best bicycle blogs. 

I've ordered them roughly by the quality of the web site:

- fn- 

[1] Electric shifters? Really? That would be dumb on a touring bike. Even disk brakes are a bit excessive (though I do like them on my mountain bike!). Plastic chains and intra-hub planetary gears maybe one day...
[2] For most riders in cities with decent bicycling infrastructure the touring bike is what you want. My archived 1990s page on bike/commuting made the case and  I still think that's right. 
[3] Maybe that number is higher these days. There are a lot more riders in MSP than there used to be. 
[4] An expensive very high quality elite brand. So only serious stores will sell them. I'm considering the Ortlieb Ultimate5 front bag for my old Raleigh International.
[5] We have some very good local bike shops -- my problem is schedule constraints. Your life may vary. Many of these retailers are also local shops. 

Update: Ironically, after listing these resources and reviewing my handlebar bag options, I decided I would need to make the time to visit one of my local bike shops, perhaps doing a special order there. I needed to see the bags.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

NYT's Bob Tedeschi gives me a parting gift - iOS Parental Controls don't work

A few months ago NYT's Bob Tedeschi missed the iOS Porn story - Apple's Parental Controls don't actually work.

I know, for example, of a special needs teenager who writes at a 2nd grade level but can get from Mobiata's FlightBoard to an embedded Webkit Google search on "hot chicks" in just a few mouse clicks - when Safari is disabled. (Anything with a Twitter share button is trivial to hack.)

Bob followed up on an email I sent him last January, but I didn't see anything in his NYT articles. Until today's farewell article  ... (emphasis mine)

Some Final Thoughts on a Booming Industry - Bob Tedeschi -

Having covered the boom and bust of the e-commerce industry, and then the boom and bust of the mortgage industry, I’m exiting the mobile apps beat before I see death and destruction again...

... Before stretching my journalistic legs elsewhere, though, I’d like to share a few closing thoughts about where the mobile apps industry might focus, if it hopes to stave off a bust of its own....

... No. 3: Allow greater parental controls.

If, 20 years ago, Google or Apple introduced a new television service or device that included thousands of pornographic channels, and then they marketed the product to children, you could imagine the outrage that would have generated.

Mobile devices are the younger generation’s TV sets, yet our new-age broadcasters deliver pornography and other potentially objectionable content to the devices without giving parents an easy way to reliably block that content.

As it now stands, parents who care about shielding their children from adult content on their mobile devices need a manual, an hour or more of free time and continued vigilance against apps that offer a portal to the open Web...

That bolded sentence -- that was for me. Thanks Bob.

Short of a humiliating Congressional hearing I've abandoned hope that Apple will do anything. Actually, I've pretty much abandoned all hope. Parents have embraced denial (which is a good thing when your kids are away at college, not so good when they're 10 yo). 

Unfortunately, I doubt developers can even choose to disable WebKit access when Safari is blocked. UIWebViewDelegate Protocol Reference, for example, only provides information on WebKit access, not Safari access. I'm pretty sure Apple doesn't provide Parental Control settings for use by 3rd party software.

Where is the religious right when I need them? Oh, yeah, fighting gay marriage. Way to keep your eye on the ball gang.

Fifty Lives: A Work of Historical Fiction

I want to view a work of historical fiction called "Fifty Lives: The Story of Humanity".

It could be an iPad app or a hard cover book. It could start as an undergraduate history class project blog that a professor would repurpose as a best selling book and then buy a villa in Spain.

The work starts in deep history and ends in 2010. It consists, of course, of the story of 50 "average" lives.

The lives are chosen to represent epochs of change and stability, but the primary focus is technological change. Lives can be chosen from anywhere on earth as long as are few technology regressions. So one could hop from China 1000 AD to Europe 1500 AD, but not Europe 1820 to Japan 1830.

I think it could be a popular book. Anyone know a history professor looking for a villa in Spain?