Sunday, July 29, 2012

Minnesota: There is official bicycle parking at the Rosedale Mall (aka Rosedale center)

(and now for something completely different).

I made my most recent Apple store trip by bicycle. Before I set out I tried to find a bike parking slot at the typical old-style suburban mall near my office -- the Rosedale Center (mall).

All I found was a lonely picture of someone's bike padlocked to a stairway railing.

That's why I wrote this post; so that Google will now know the answer to that question.

The answer, as you might suppose from the title, is yes.

The official response is that there are "bike racks at the Food Court entrance and the entrance near Green Mill."

In my case I used a quite nice set of racks that are immediately behind the Apple Store; I wonder if they were installed for employees. (Incidentally, if you're picking up a 27" iMac you can park here for 30 minutes. Wish I'd known that prior to my last visit.)

IMG 1760  2012 07 24 at 11 35 29

There's another set of similar racks to the right of this location; I think they're the "food court entrance" racks and they at 45.01217, -93.17242:

Screen shot 2012 07 29 at 7 35 43 PM

Now you know. Kudos to the mall for having such fine bicycle parking, now they just need to note it on their web site.

Poverty in the west

For much of human history slavery, rape, abuse of children and women, heavy drinking, murder, cruelty, and animal torture were commonplace and accepted.

Not so much now, at least in wealthy nations. Humans are immensely imperfect and prone to regression, but we are better than we were. Progress happens.

Progress happens, but then the bar goes up. We clean the air of LA and the acid rain of the Northeast, so we get global CO2 management as our next assignment. We work through a chunk of our racist and genocidal history, and we get to work on gay marriage. Fifty years from now we won't eat animals. And so it goes.

Poverty elimination is also on the list. Might be an even harder problem than CO2 emissions. The good news is that worldwide poverty is improving very quickly...

US intelligence agency sees world poverty in sharp drop, rising fight for resources by 2030 - The Washington Post

Poverty across the planet will be virtually eliminated by 2030, with a rising middle class of some two billion people pushing for more rights and demanding more resources, the chief of the top U.S. intelligence analysis shop said Saturday.

If current trends continue, the 1 billion people who live on less than a dollar a day now will drop to half that number in roughly two decades, Christoper Kojm said...

I don't think 'virtually eliminated' means what Kojm thinks it means - but this is good news all the same.

The bad news is that poverty in America isn't going away.  Peter Edelman runs the numbers  on our brand of poverty ...

Why Can’t We End Poverty in America? - Peter Edelman - NYT NYT

... The lowest percentage in poverty since we started counting was 11.1 percent in 1973. The rate climbed as high as 15.2 percent in 1983. In 2000, after a spurt of prosperity, it went back down to 11.3 percent, and yet 15 million more people are poor today...

... We’ve been drowning in a flood of low-wage jobs for the last 40 years. Most of the income of people in poverty comes from work. According to the most recent data available from the Census Bureau, 104 million people — a third of the population — have annual incomes below twice the poverty line, less than $38,000 for a family of three. They struggle to make ends meet every month.

Half the jobs in the nation pay less than $34,000 a year, according to the Economic Policy Institute. A quarter pay below the poverty line for a family of four, less than $23,000 annually. Families that can send another adult to work have done better, but single mothers (and fathers) don’t have that option. Poverty among families with children headed by single mothers exceeds 40 percent.

Wages for those who work on jobs in the bottom half have been stuck since 1973, increasing just 7 percent...

Addressing these problems will be challenging. Children are very expensive in a post-industrial society, yet much of American poverty is concentrated in father-free families managed by a single mother. Their poverty would be easier to manage if they had made different fertility choices; simplistic income subsidies could incent politically unsustainable behaviors.

Fortunately there are strategies which eliminate perverse incentives. Tying income to managed work, providing health and child care (including easy access to contraception), and quality educational programs alleviate poverty and provides the means and incentives to make thoughtful fertility choices.

A different slice of our poverty comes from a mismatch between post-industrial employment and human skills. This isn't going a way, 3D printing of manufactured goods will do to manufacturing what full text search did to the law. Meanwhile six percent of Americans suffer from a serious mental illness every year and twenty-five percent of Americans have a measured IQ less than 90. Given changes in technology, and the automation of many jobs, is it conceivable that 20% of Americans are relatively disabled?

Again, the strategy for this community is subsidized work -- the same strategy used for the "special needs" community. (Since I won't get to retire ever, I assume I'll be in this community sooner or later.) 

We know what we need to do. We even know where the money will come from -- from taxing CO2 emissions, financial transactions, and the 5% (ouch).

Sooner or later, we'll do it.

See also:

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Facebook's share price: based on my ads, it's going to stay in the 20s

Facebook opened at 38 and it's down to 24 (7/28/2012). Facebook has earned less money than expected.

I don't know where Facebook's money was supposed to come from, but Facebook claims advertising pays the bills:

Advertising on Facebook

Ads help keep Facebook free
From the beginning, the people who built Facebook wanted it to be free for everyone. It now costs over a billion dollars a year to run Facebook, and delivering ads is how Facebook pays for this.

You see personalized ads
Facebook tries to show you the ads you’ll be most interested in. These ads are chosen based on the things you do with Facebook such as liking a page, and info Facebook receives from you and other sources. Dig into the details.

You can impact the ads you see
Unlike ads on television, you can influence which ads you see on Facebook. Spot something that doesn’t interest you? Click the X and it’s gone.

Except ads are obviously not paying as expected. There are two reasons for this, one obvious and fixable, the other simply weird.

The obvious problem is that when i use I don't see ads. I assume that's why Facebook is working with Apple on a unified iOS/OS X integration strategy that will bring ads to mobile. (It's funny how many geeks claim it's app performance that's driving the rewrite.)

The weird problem shows up in my web browser. I see ads in my browser, but they are uninteresting or annoying. 

It's not I'm immune to advertising. I pay for a Silent Sports subscription so I can read their ads. So why can't Facebook give me interesting ads?

It's not that I don't try to help. I visited their 'interests' page -- but they didn't list any of my interests (I ran into the same problem with Google's ad-interests page years ago.) I "x out" the fb ads that are annoying or uninteresting, but I still don't get anything interesting. Facebook's two year old ad voting isn't working.

I'd love to read an article on why Facebook's ads are so poor, and why Google's are only somewhat better. The best minds of today's young are spent trying to get me to click on ads, I'm trying to help them, and it's not working. I get better ads on the rare occasion that I watch broadcast TV, and much better ads in magazines.

That's weird.

I can think of three possible causes. One is that the products and services I buy from don't need Facebook ads. They get more mileage from Facebook's free Pages. Another is that Facebook's leadership is mediocre and delusional. (I think the era of mega-wealth is making that age-old problem worse.) Lastly the real profit in facebook ads may come from exploiting the same population that watches daytime tv; I'm not worth bothering about.

I suspect all three answers are correct. Unless Facebook can do a great deal with Apple, or figure out how to make Pages pay without killing them[2], or come up with a new business model, their share price is going to be stuck in the 20s for years to come.

I really do need to learn how to make bets on relative spreads. [1]

See also:

[1] John A, I still have the notes you gave me! The linked article is about making bets on single trends, I'm more interested in bets on relative trends. (Ex: Divergence between Facebook/Google share prices over an 8 month period.)
[2]  About Sponsored Stories - Facebook Help Center

Friday, July 27, 2012

Google Fiber: a blog, not a G+ share

Google uses a blogspot blog, not a G+ channel, to tell us about Google Fiber.

I'm probably making too much of this ray of sunshine, but Google Fiber and open blogs are both old school GoogleMinus. My Google feeds have been shrinking since the dark day, this is the first one I've added in almost a year.

Is it coincidence that I ordered a Nexus 7 two days ago? If I'd known Google was that easy I'd have ordered a Nexus something months ago.

Really Google, if you want to win me back, just give St Paul Minnesota some of that fiber love. We're only 400 miles up highway 35E. I'll even put a mini-tower atop my home to provide data coverage to complement your t-mobile acquisition.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

You're 50 now. It's time to start plan 0.

Ken Murray hit a nerve when he wrote "how doctors die" last November. Now he's back with Doctors Really Do Die Differently.

Briefly, physicians are relatively good at dying. Maybe we just think about it more. Certainly we have a better idea than most civilians of what medicine can do (heart transplants) and what it can't do (run an effective code after respiratory arrest, prevent dementia, etc).

So I'm thinking now about plan 0.

No, not wills and living wills and the like -- Emily and I took care of that stuff decades ago and we've redone them several times. There's still work I need to do on digital archive plans and transferring domain names, but it's manageable.

No, not contingency plans for password and account information access. (Though, come to think of it, I do need to update the danged password archive. That's getting harder these days.)

Plan 0 isn't about those things. It's about emulating Molly Thunderpaws Squirrelbane. She lived to be an old dog, maybe a bit forgetful but good company. One day she's sick with some abdominal cancer. Heartbroken we feed her high cost lamb for her last few days. Which turned out to be 340 last days. It got quite expensive, since we obviously couldn't stop the therapeutic lamb. Cheaper than vincristine though, and tastier. Finally, her legs give out, friends gathered, and the vet made a house call. Perfect.

I have a bit of time to figure out plan 0, probably 30 years or so assuming a good morbidity compression strategy [1]. First I need to get euthenasia legalized, then I need to give the kids a financial incentive to bump me off, but not too much of an incentive ...

[1] Based on family history, health habits, current health, mortality curves and assuming medical progress continues to be very slow.

A shot in the dark - Am I my brother's keeper?

Roger Ebert wrote a column on gun control and received 650 comments.

He read them all.

Then he responded, with one of his best columns ever. Some of the lines are so well said I've excerpted them below. I've written about this many times, but, of course, not with his eloquence.

A shot in the dark - Roger Ebert's Journal

Catie and Caleb Medley went to the doomed midnight screening of "The Dark Knight Rises." It was a movie they'd been looking forward to for a year, her father said. Gunfire rang out. The bullets missed Catie, who was pregnant. Caleb was shot in the eye. On Tuesday, their son Hugo was born. Caleb is listed in critical condition, and the cost of emergency treatment for his head wound has already reached $2 million. The Medleys were uninsured.

... Many of the comments were about health care, and one of the arguments frequently heard was: "I don't want the federal government taxing me to pay for the medical costs of people who don't care enough to provide for their own costs."...

... In our imagination it's always other people who get sick. I have a reader who tells me he's never been sick a day in his life. I tell him that's interesting from an autobiographical point of view, but otherwise not relevant. I can assure him that unless he's killed in an accident, sooner or later he will most surely get sick, and sooner or later he will most surely die.

Are we our brothers' keepers? Many people who resort to scripture are under the impression that we are not. They forget that it was Cain who said he was not his brother's keeper, after murdering Abel. In a similar sense, if our fellow citizens die because they have no access to competent medical care, they argue that we are not their keepers...

... I quote from the Bible for a particular reason. Many of the opponents of Universal Health Care identify themselves as Christians, yet when you get to the bottom of their arguments, you'll find them based not on Christianity but on Ayn Rand capitalism...

Ebert is talking about prosperity theology (wikipedia, see also Prosperity Theology | Christian Bible Studies [1]), a belief that wealth is a sign of god's approval, and poverty of god's disapproval. Since sin earns god's disapproval, the poor are sinners.

Although American Christians have brought prosperity theology to new heights, it's not unique to Christianity or to Mormonism. Hinduism's justification of caste maps well to the idea that poverty goes with sin, and wealth with grace.

In 2012 the fundamental difference between the right and the liberal is how we answer the question: "Am I my brother's keeper". Ironically, avowed Christians often give the answer of Cain and Ayn, while secular humanists often give the answer of Abel.

Cain and Abel. Romney and Obama. Some things never change ...

[1] Probably the only time I've ever linked to Christian Bible site.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Zenith CruisePad 1996

I found this in some archives.

A little bit of history from 1996. An antecedent to the iPad, the CruisePad was a wireless thin client sold into healthcare verticals ...

Zenith just announced its MultiCruise system that supports 5-60 simultaneous users of its mobile CruisePAD (640x480 VGA LCD 3.2 lb with integrated touch- or stylus-activated dignitzer panel). The system works with standard DOS, WIndows 3.x, Windows 95, and Windows NT applications. The wireless communication uses Integrated Spread Spectrum Frequency Hopping radio that supports a standard range of up to 500 feet in office environments, unlimited range if a network of CruiseLAN/Access Point nodes is installed. Thus, a clinic could implement an interactive EMR system enabling clinicians with CruisePADs to access the system anywhere in the clinic without hard wiring PC's in every room. A complete 5-user system, including single Pentium (upgradable to 4 processors) server with 36MB RAM (upgradable to 768MB), 850MB HD (upgradable to 24GB), keyboard, montor, 5 CruisePADs, and an extended version of Windows NT Server lists for "about $15,000."

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Apple's profits disappoint. So what has Apple done for me lately?

Apple's margins disappointed today, and the stock dropped.

Coincidentally, I just ordered a Nexus 7 for $200.
Or maybe that's not entirely coincidental. What, after all, has Apple done for me lately?
Apple forced me to migrate from MobileMe/OS X to iCloud/Lion - causing significant pain for my family and me with zero perceived benefits. Actually, less than zero benefits. Lion is a slug on our previously lively MacBook, and iCloud has added nothing but severe pain while eliminating iWeb and Gallery.
Apple botched the MobileMe Gallery to iPhoto transition, destroying some user's iPhoto Libraries (I was spared that one).
Ten years late Apple enabled iPhoto Library integration -- but incompletely and only with Aperture and Lion (this is actually the least of their sins).
Apple is changing the iPhone Dock Connector. That would be tolerable if they were going to something that was USB standard compatible, but rumor expects another proprietary connector.
I could go on. Bottom line - Apple has done a lot for me over the past decade, but not so much over the past two years.
That's part of why I ordered a Nexus 7 today rather than wait for an iPad 8". If the Nexus works I'll wait until next spring to look at the iPad. Maybe. Google is definitely evil, but lately they've been less incompetent than Apple.
Evil is bad, but incompetence is worse.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Usenet: it's time to put a stake in it

Google has rebooted Google Groups for Business. I'd was surprised by the reboot, so the announcement brought me back to my old Groups account.

I found Google had me listed as a member of Yes, a usenet group. Google inherited them when it rescued the DejaNews usenet archive from oblivion [1].

There are still posts to the group that pass Google's spam filters -- one every few weeks. Alas, even they look like spam. I saw some older posts from a year before.

Wikipedia tells us that most of the usenet traffic now is spam and "binaries" newsgroups. The article gives the impression that those binaries range from illegal software to child porn. Most ISPs don't carry usenet any more; I'm sure Google doesn't index the binaries and I suspect it filters most of the spam.

It's time to put a stake in usenet. At the funeral, we should consider the lessons it taught us.

[1] I was a keen DejaNews user. I used to 'tag' my usenet posts with a unique string to enable retrieval and review (for example). I'm tempted to add this search string to my Google Custom Search engine, but I'm a bit leary of breaking the engine.

Facebook changing: it's not about friends or games any more ...

My slice of Facebook is changing in ways that are interesting, but not necessarily profitable for Facebook.

Consider this "Likes" list from the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board's Facebook Page:

Screen shot 2012 07 22 at 7 17 51 PM

Many of the items on this page are of interest to me. Likewise for the items on the St. Paul pages. Not to mention the Pages I maintain for Minnesota Special Hockey Eagles and the Minnesota Inline Skate Club.

I "liked" quite a few of these Minneapolis Parks related pages. When I browse my list of Likes (painful term), many, if not most, are local organizations and businesses rather than people. These organizations used to try to reach me through newspapers or the US Mail, now I read them on Facebook.

I don't seem game invitations any more (mercifully); they're tucked away on the right upper page. Periodically I decline them all.

I don't see that much activity from friends and family. Some are quite active (thanks MC!) but most don't post at all. Many stopped using Facebook.

So my slice of Facebook isn't about games or celebrities (never was). It's still a bit about friends and family. Most of all though, it's about organizations and businesses I want to hear from, including local government.

How does Facebook make any money from this? They're going to have to start charging for Pages at some point ...

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Aurora - the rational response is better schizophrenia management

Robert Ebert:  "Here is a record of mass shootings in the United States since 2005. It is 62 pages long ... The hell with it. I'm tired of repeating the obvious."

Gail Collins: "Did you catch the one last week in Tuscaloosa? Seventeen people at a bar, hit by a gunman with an assault weapon."

Well said, but both Collins and Ebert know we're not going to get meaningful gun control in the United States any time in the next twenty years. We'll get a Carbon Tax long before we'll get weapon management.

American gun control died when the NRA pushed Bush to a statistical tie with Gore, and brought us the torture presidency.

In any case, it's not clear even strict gun control would be more successful than the American War on Drugs. There are vast numbers of inexpensive and effective weapons of mass murder in the US. The cost of havoc is low.

As a nation, we've gone a long way down a rough road.

That doesn't mean we can't do anything. It's almost certain that the latest killer is mentally ill, probably paranoid schizophrenic. As a nation, our care of the mentally ill is abysmal in blue and red states alike. Physicians have fled the specialty of psychiatry and we're dramatically short of the family physicians who might fill the gap.

If we're going to get anything of value from this soon-to-be forgotten nightmare, it won't be from some incremental and soon eroded change to Colorado's gun control laws. It will come from leveraging Obamney Care's new financing for mental illness. We need to make it much easier for friends, family, and teachers to get help for paranoid schizophrenics, and we need to provide support for treated schizophrenics to stay well.

Update 7/22/2012: A slightly different take from a Columbine book author:

The Unknown Why in the Aurora Killings - David Cullen -

... Dylan Klebold was an extreme and rare case. A vast majority of depressives are a danger only to themselves. But it is equally true that of the tiny fraction of people who commit mass murder, most are not psychopaths like Eric Harris or deeply mentally ill like Seung-Hui Cho at Virginia Tech. Far more often, they are suicidal and deeply depressed. The Secret Service’s landmark study of school shooters in 2002 determined that 78 percent of those shooters had experienced suicidal thoughts or attempts before mass murder...

It's a bit odd to say that someone who is suicidal and has delusional symptoms of major depression is not "deeply mentally ill", but Cullen is not a physician.

I think what he's trying to say is that most shooters are mentally ill, but that psychotic or severe depression is more common than schizophrenia.

I haven't been able to find any public health literature, but it's important to note that many shooters don't survive to get to a full psychiatric evaluation. One of the best responses to the Aurora shooting would be to fund a review of psychiatric issues in shooters and identify intervention opportunities.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Google World Wonders Project

Google World Wonders Project. Wonders, world, pretty much what is says on the can.

As of today not all of the new antarctic street view image have been added to the site.

Google's evil level falls a bit when I browse this.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Why Montreal is the #1 bicycle city in North America.

Portland and Minneapolis have been fighting for bicycle glory over the past few years. We usually trade #1 and #2 spots with the hilly city in American rankings.

It's harder to find comparable rankings that include Montreal; I've seen it ranked #1 in NA but I can't find the reference. Looking at this picture though, I suspect it deserves the #1 slot ...

This dull looking landscape is Rue Berri, a major North-South urban artery that parallels the much more fashionable rue St Denis. What you're looking at is not a car lane, it's a two way bicycle avenue carved out of an urban street sometime in the past decade. Alongside is one of Montreal's extensive bixi bike stations (they were first in NA to have 'em, I think Minneapolis was 2nd.)

These separate bike avenues have their own lights and signals; Minneapolis has approximately 1 bike light in the entire city (more are coming). It's comparable to what I saw in Munich 20 years ago.

I'd love to know how Montreal managed this transformation. Maybe a group of Minnesota cycling advocates should make a fact-finding trip to Montreal. I recommend grabbing a Bixi bike at the Berri/UQAM stop, riding north to dinner on Prince Arthur, then down St Denis to Brioche Lyonnaise for desert and then a five minute drop to the river and Vieux Montreal for a beverage on the pier.

See also:

Montreal and Minneapolis: Unremarked differences 4/2011

Why does Thrifty Rental provide car key sets bigger than my iPhone?

When I rented from Thrifty recently I got this set of keys:


There were two keys with batteries, each 1cm thick at the head. A third valet key, designed to provide ignition access without trunk access, is securely bound to the other two with a fixed cable.

Yes, the "valet key" cannot be distributed without the full access key.

Two full access keys.

Taken together, they dwarf my iPhone. With a wallet in one front pocket and an iPhone in the other, there's no way to comfortably carry them in conventional pants -- even if these are the only keys you carry.

Why does Thrifty do this?

A manager told me that the extra remote reduces customers complaints about dead remote batteries. More importantly, he said, they lose fewer keys now that they've moved to this massive set. I assume he meant it's much harder to dash for a plane with a key in the pocket -- these suckers are impossible to forget.

Of course they could achieve the same effect by putting a 3 inch wood cylinder together with a single key. If you lost that one though you'd only pay a huge markup on a single key, instead of a huge markup on 3 keys. Maybe Thrifty's rental business is sustained by lost key fees.

Does anyone know a rental business that has a sane key chain?

I hadn't paid much attention to car-sharing alternatives to the traditional rental business. After carrying these things for four days though, I'm keenly interested.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

How Google can save itself - sell privacy.

It's been 3 years since the Google-Apple divorce, eight months since Google 1.0 died, and six months since I tried divorcing Google.

Divorcing Google, but planning to go out with something else. That hasn't worked out so well; Apple in particular is exploring new domains of pain.

Meanwhile, the less-facebooky parts of Google+  are improving, even as Twitter enlists with the Sith (don't they know there can only be two?).

So I'm thinking about trying to reconcile with Google - assuming she's still into geeks. How could Google win us/me back?

Google could sell privacy.

Let me explain. In the modern world two populations have privacy. One is poor, lives on cash and checks, and doesn't have a cell phone. The other is Romney-class wealthy. The rest of us are the Transparent Society. We can't buy privacy.

That is, we can't buy it now, but Google could sell it.

Google could sell a yearly G+ privacy subscription for something like $200 year per person or $400 year per family (wild ass guesstimates). For that amount we'd have full control over what we share, and we'd opt out of all advertising and marketing. We'd still be able to opt in to ads if we wanted, and of course there'd be no shield from subpoena. We'd be able to turn on the parts of G+ we want, and disable those we don't want. We might even have the optional use of disposable avatars or identities.

It sounds like a lot of infrastructure to build for a few users, but Google needs to sell into the German and EU market. Their privacy laws are much stricter than America's privacy "suggestions". Google would also like to provide services for the under 13 group, and even in the US that requires enhanced privacy protection. So they have to build this infrastructure anyway.

At a stroke, this would rebuild Google's geek appeal. Most would decide not to pay the price, but there would be no grounds for objections -- because Google's contract with its users would be transparent.

Some of us would pay.

You can do it Google. Save yourself and we'll be happy again.

Is labor lumpish in whitewater times?

Krugman is famously dismissive about claims of structural aspects to underemployment (though years ago he wasn't as sure). DeLong, I think, is less sure.

Krugman points to the uniformity of underemployment. If there were structural causes, wouldn't we see areas of relative strength? It seems a bit much to claim that multiple broad-coverage structural shocks would produce such a homogeneous picture.

Fortunately, I fly under the radar (esp. under Paul's), so I am free to wonder about labor in the post-AI era complicated by the the rise of China and India and the enabling effect of IT on financial fraud. Stories like this catch my attention ...

Fix Law Schools - Atlantic Vincent Rougeau  Mobile

... the jobs and high pay that used to greet new attorneys at large firms are gone, wiped away by innovations such as software that takes seconds to do the document discovery that once occupied junior attorneys for scores of (billable) hours while they learned their profession..

Enhanced search and discovery is only one small piece of the post-AI world, but there's a case to be made that it wiped out large portions of a profession. Brynjolfsson and McAfee expand that case in Race Against the Machine [1], though almost all of their fixes [1] increase economic output rather than addressing the core issue of mass disability. The exception, perhaps deliberately numbered 13 of 19, is easy to miss ...

13. Make it comparatively more attractive to hire a person than to buy more technology through incentives, rather than regulation. This can be done by, among other things, decreasing employer payroll taxes and providing subsidies or tax breaks for employing people who have been out of work for a long time. Taxes on congestion and pollution can more than make up for the reduced labor taxes.

Of course by "pollution ... tax" they mean "Carbon Tax" [1]. The fix here is the same fix that has been applied to provide employment for persons with cognitive disabilities such as low IQ and/or autism. In the modern world disability is a relative term that applies to a larger population.

If our whitewater times continue, we will either go there or go nowhere.

[1] They're popular at the "Singularity University" and their fixes are published in "World Future Society". Outcasts they are. Their fan base probably explains why the can't use the "Carbon" word, WFS/SU people have a weird problem with letter C. 

See also:

Health care: We don't want more stuff, we want more years.

Stanford's Chad Jones and Robert Hall tell us health care spending really is different ...

Why Americans want to spend more on health care (Louis Johnston, MinnPost, 7/6/12)

... Income elasticity measures how much more of a good or service a person will buy if their income goes up by 1 percent. For most goods and services this number is less than 1; that is, if income rises then people will buy more of most goods but they will increase their purchases by less than 1 percent. 

Years of life are different. If you have a medical procedure that extends your life, then the first, second, third and however many extra years you receive are all equally valuable. So if your income rises by 1 percent, you will increase your spending on medical care by at least 1 percent, and possibly more.

Jones, along with Robert E. Hall (also of Stanford) embedded this idea in an economic model and found that it does a good job predicting the path of health care expenditures from 1950 to 2000. Further, they show that if this is true, then the share of GDP we devote to health care could easily rise to 30 percent or more over the next 50 years as people choose to spend more on health care to obtain more years of life.

Thinking about the rise in medical spending this way puts health care policy in a different light. People want to live longer, better lives, and they are willing to pay for it. They don’t want more stuff, they want more life...

Life extending [1] health care is an inexhaustible good. That's what simplistic happiness studies, like a pseudo-science [2] article claiming that $75,000 is "enough", usually miss. They implicitly assume, or indirectly measure, good health [3].

Years ago, when health care spending was a mere 12% of GDP (we're about 15% now), my partner, Dr. John H, saw no reason why it wouldn't, and shouldn't rise to a then unthinkable 15% or more. His point was that people like being healthy, and to the extent that health care works, they will want more of it.

Health care that is perceived to be effective is the ultimate growth industry.

That's why this is where we'll end up. We could do much worse.

[1] A shorthand for extending life that we care about, particularly life-years of loved ones. More years of dementia don't count, though significant disability has less impact that many imagine. I assume there's some amount of quality lifespan that would, depending on one's memory, have an income elasticity of less than one. Science fiction writers often put that at somewhere between 300 and 30,000 years.
[2] I read the published study; "Participants answered our questions as part of a larger online survey, in return for points that could be redeemed for prizes." Can you image a less representative population? Needless to say they didn't define what household income meant, yet they turned this into a NYT article.
[3] The Jimmy Johns' insultingly stupid parable of the mexican banker is a particularly egregious example. 

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Where would I hide a military AI project?

If I were a somewhat different person, and life played out quite differently, I can imagine being a senior NSA bureaucrat.

I'd read about Google's cat-recognition engine, and the likelihood of a mouse-level AI within the decade, and I'd be thinking that the NSA needs to get there first.

Not because there's an obvious military application, but because there could be a weapon in there somewhere and because someone in China is thinking the same thing.

So I'd add a few hundred million a year to my off-budget budget; just  pocket change really. Then I'd build a data center for my testing and I'd get to a mouse level AI in six years. If I needed to I could pry the secret sauce out of Google's hands; I'm sure there a ways to do that but it's probably not necessary. Google publishes much of its AI research.

I'd build it just to see what it was like, and so I could assess the military potential.

Problem is, modern AI experiments take a lot of power and produce a lot of heat. I wonder how I'd disguise it...

How China might play the Koreas

Even by China's standards, North Korea is a hideous place.

Why does China keep it going then? Is it merely for cheap labor? A way to keep America busy? Fear that a free North Korea would inspire the Chinese people?

Or do China's rulers have another game in mind ...

Top South Korean Aide Steps Down Over Pact With Japan

... It quickly became apparent, however, that the government had underestimated South Koreans’ misgivings about cooperating militarily with Japan. Mr. Lee’s political opponents quickly seized on that disquiet to begin an election-year offensive, accusing Mr. Lee of kowtowing to Washington and, with various civic groups, likening the conservative governing camp to the past Korean “traitors” who secretly cooperated with Japan’s annexation of the Korean Peninsula in 1910...

...  he could not withstand the furor over reports that he played an important role in negotiating the pact with Japan, a country most South Koreans still view with animosity because of its often-brutal colonial rule in the early 20th century and its territorial claim to a set of islets administered by South Korea.

After the Lee government announced the deal last Thursday, accusations flew that the government was “pro-Japanese,” a far worse charge in South Korea than being “pro-North Korean.” ...

Hmm. Sounds like a country that could be turned.

Perhaps the prize in this game is separating South Korea from the West, either as a democracy or as an authoritarian oligarchy. Preferably the latter.

The prize for neutrality, or for alliance, would be unification on South Korean terms.

I wonder if NK's military leaders think this too.  I doubt they like the idea. They should be working hard to keep South Korea allied with the US.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

The Standard Model - summarized

In a most excellent overview of the Higgs(es?) news, The Economist manages the best concise summary of the Standard Model that I've read anywhere (emphases mine) ...

The Higgs boson: Gotcha! | The Economist:

... the Standard Model, the best explanation to date for how the universe works—except in the domain of gravity, which is governed by the general theory of relativity. The model comprises 17 particles. Of these, 12 are fermions such as quarks (which coalesce into neutrons and protons in atomic nuclei) and electrons (which whizz around those nuclei). They make up matter. A further four particles, known as gauge bosons, transmit forces and so allow fermions to interact: photons convey electromagnetism, which holds electrons in orbit around atoms; gluons link quarks into protons and neutrons via the strong nuclear force; W and Z bosons carry the weak nuclear force, which is responsible for certain types of radioactive decay. And then there is the Higgs.

The Higgs, though a boson (meaning it has a particular sort of value of a quantum-mechanical property known as spin), is not a gauge boson. Physicists need it not to transmit a force but to give mass to other particles. Two of the 16 others, the photon and the gluon, are massless. But without the Higgs, or something like it, there is no explanation of where the mass of the other particles comes from.

For fermions this is no big deal. The Standard Model’s rules would let mass be ascribed to them without further explanation. But the same trick does not work with bosons. In the absence of a Higgs, the rules of the Standard Model demand that bosons be massless. The W and Z are not. They are very heavy indeed, weighing almost as much as 100 protons. This makes the Higgs the keystone of the Standard Model...

I've read elsewhere that in the absence of the Higgs particles would zip around at the speed of light. Evidently, not so! The problem is rather with the W and Z bosons. That's quite different, but there's something about this summary that feels more authoritative.

I've pasted that text into Notational Velocity/SimpleNote so I have it in my extended memory.

There's more in the article ...

...  the model requires its 20 or so constants to be exactly what they are to an uncomfortable 32 decimal places. Insert different values and the upshot is nonsensical predictions, like phenomena occurring with a likelihood of more than 100%.

... One way to look beyond the Standard Model is to question the Higgs’s status as an elementary particle. According to an idea called technicolour, if it were instead made up of all-new kinds of quark held together by a new interaction, akin to but distinct from the strong force, the need for fine-tuning disappears.

Alternatively, the Higgs can maintain its elementary status, but gain siblings. This is a consequence of an idea called supersymmetry, or susy for short. Just as all the known particles of matter have antimatter versions in the Standard Model, in the world of susy every known boson, including the Higgs, has one or more fermion partners, and every known fermion has one or more associated bosons....

Google's Project Glass - it's not for the young

I've changed my mind about Project Glass. I thought it was proof that Brin's vast wealth had driven him mad, and that Google was doing a high speed version of Microsoft's trajectory.

Now I realize that there is a market.

No, not the models who must, by now, be demanding triple rates to appear in Google's career-ending ads.

No, not even Google's geeks, who must be frantically looking for new employment.

No, the market is old people. Geezers. People like me; or maybe me + 5-10 years.

We don't mind that Google Glass looks stupid -- we're ugly and we know it.

We don't mind that Google Glass makes us look like Borg -- we're already good with artificial hips, knees, lenses, bones, ears and more. Nature is overrated and wears out too soon.

We don't mind wearing glasses, we need them anyway.

We don't mind having something identifying people for us,  recording where we've been and what we've done, selling us things we don't need, and warning us of suspicious strangers and oncoming traffic. We are either going to die or get demented, and the way medicine is going the latter is more likely. We need a bionic brain; an ever present AI keeping us roughly on track and advertising cut-rate colonoscopy.

Google Glass is going to be very big. It just won't be very sexy.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Computing 2012: The End of all Empires

I grew up in a bipolar world.

Yes, the USSR vs. USA, but also the bipolar world of Microsoft and Apple. One was ruthless and ruled by corporate power, the other was a stylish tyranny.

Times changed. The USSR fell apart leaving a Russian mafia state ruled by a mobster, and the USA fell into a spiral of fear, wealth concentration, political corruption, and institutional failure. China grew wealthy, but turned into a fascist state run by oligarchs and mobsters. The EU has Greece and Italy and the second Great Depression. India, Brazil, everyone has problems, nobody is a secure Power. Now we live in a multipolar world.

Weirdly, the same thing has happened to the world of computing (now including phones). Microsoft's slow collapse is this week's Vanity Fair special. Google joined the Sith and all it got was dorkware, a human-free social network, and a profit-free phone. Post-IPO Facebook is rich and frail looking. Dell, HP, Motorola, RIM and Nokia are history.

Ahh, but what about Apple? Isn't Apple going from power to power -- even in the old Mac/Windows wars?

That's how it looks - to the press. Today. But I'm just coming off an epic 1 week fiasco involving OS X Lion and iCloud. It ended with me deciding to keep my primary machine on Snow Leopard and reverting my iPhone to iTunes sync after years of MobileMe sync. I'll try again when Mountain Lion is out.

Yes, few people will run into the problems I have had (arising at least in part from an obscure geeky bug with OS X/Unix vs Windows "line termination"). Many people, however, will run into some problems. My experience shows that many months after Apple's grandiose iCloud launch and insane MobileMe/iCloud migration, they still don't have troubleshooting tools and procedures or, amazingly, any way to delete your data. It's as though they thought they'd get everything right the first time -- perhaps because everyone associated with MobileMe was purged.

That's a hell of a miss for a corporation with billions in the bank and a fifteen year history of bungling online services.

Then there's the Apple ID/FairPlay/iCloud problems. My friends are struggling with these. Other friends can't figure out how to manage Ringtones on iTunes.

Perhaps most worrisome of all, Apple is providing mega-compensation packages to its corporate executives because, apparently, they must be retained. An unavoidable step with inevitable consequences. Bad consequences.

Apple doesn't look strong to me. It looks vulnerable.

Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook. None of them are serving me well. None of them are looking all that strong.

All the Empires are falling. My personal balancing act is becoming more complex all the time.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Traveling in Europe with an AT&T unlocked iPhone 3GS

Peter, a friend of mine, recently bought a used A&T 3GS from another friend. Since the phone's contract had passed AT&T approved a request for iTunes carrier-lock removal. So it was no longer a carrier-locked phone.

Peter took the phone to Europe and did very well with it there. I've not read many success stories so I'll pass on what he emailed...

Traveling to Europe the past several years I've taken along a very basic 2007 era unlocked Nokia GSM cell phone. It was always very easy to find small mobile phone stores. I would just walk in and buy a SIM card for that country for about €10 or so. It usually came with some calling time credit (easy to buy more credit at phone stores and some local shops), and the young guys staffing the stores were always helpful with setup assistance.

Buying an in-country SIM card allowed cheap calls and texts within in that country, and more expensive calls out of the country. Keeping in touch with friends and family back home can also be done very cheaply, if calls are made from the US to the European network mobile phone by Google phone from a computer. These calls from the US to a European mobile phone will cost about 10-15 cents per minute (calls from a computer in Europe using Google phone to a US land line cost less than 10 cents per minute).

[Peter then acquired the iPhone ...]

Setup of this clean iPhone with factory settings was easier than expected. I didn't have a SIM card in the US, but the setup was very simple using my home wifi network and following on-screen prompts. During the wifi setup I easily register the phone under my name using my Apple ID number, and synced my Gmail contact data (since I had previously added phone numbers to my Gmail contacts, I now had both email and phone contact data on the iPhone). I then hooked the phone up to my MacBook (OSX 10.5.8) and synced with iTunes. I enabled iCloud for contacts, email and Photo Stream and then bought a few apps. Very easy and intuitive.

In Rome a few days later near my apartment I found a small neighborhood mobile store for a major Italian carrier (TIM). As usual the techy guy working there spoke English. The process was simple - I showed him the iPhone (though he was a little surprised that I had an un-locked US iPhone), and asked to buy a SIM card (€20 with €15 voice and SMS credit plus free unlimited data for 1 month). He then had to register it with my passport info and do a little setup. The whole process took about 30 minutes, and with a little lag in activation time I was up and running with iPhone voice and data service in Rome within 1 hour.

Note: iPhone 3Gs uses a regular sized SIM card, iPhone 4 and 4s use micro SIMs, which may be harder to find in Europe (though it is possible to "cutdown" a regular SIM to micro size). Also you can buy a new basic unlocked GSM phone in Europe for about €30.

During my 2 week stay in Rome, the iPhone was very helpful - calling local friends, restaurant reservations, email, camera, using GPS and maps for locating sites and restaurants, and finding walking routes between sites... Especially helpful purchased apps included: Italian dictionary and verbs, Rome2Go, Rome Travel Guide - Lonely Planet (linked to GPS maps this was incredible useful), Contact Sync for Google Gmail, TripColor and Kayak Pro.

Moral of this story: When traveling in Europe, an un-locked iPhone is a fantastic asset. Next best would be any unlocked GSM smart phone or basic phone.

I'm amazed that a 20 euro card came with unlimited data!

Air Conditioning and obesity

I ate lunch at my favorite diner. Great food, but too much.

Sometimes I put enough aside; but not today. I ate the whole thing.

After lunch I left the cool hole-in-the-wall and walked into the great heat wave of 2012 (which will seem benign in 2022). I walked slowly back to the office, trying not to touch myself.

I blame it on the air conditioning. If China Restaurant hadn't been pleasantly cool, I know I'd have stopped sooner. 

Of course there would be other consequences of a world without air conditioning. I'm relatively slender, and I feel the heat. If I were heavier, the heat would be even more uncomfortable. Another incentive to weigh less.

So is modern air conditioning a factor in our losing battle with fat?

The question has been asked ... 

International Journal of Obesity - Putative contributors to the secular increase in obesity: exploring the roads less traveled June 2006

...The thermoneutral zone (TNZ) is the range of ambient temperature in which energy expenditure is not required for homeothermy. Exposure to ambient temperatures above or below the TNZ increases energy expenditure, which all other things being equal, decreases energy stores (i.e., fat). This effect was shown in short-term controlled human experiments 41, 42 and the decreases in adiposity were evident in controlled animal experiments; these effects are widely exploited in livestock husbandry, where selecting the environment to maximize weight gain is critical.43 Animal44 and human45 studies show that excursions above the TNZ markedly reduce food intake. Herman45 cited a consumer survey suggesting that after an air-conditioning breakdown, restaurant sales drop dramatically...

Suggestive data, but the relationship to "TNZ" sounds dubious. The authors should have described the findings as interesting correlations with some evidence of causation, then mentioned TNZ as one mechanism among many.

I couldn't find any more recent references.

Bicycle light donation - a selfish way to give

Today's commute was as good as it gets. Warm, sunny, not too hot yet. Bit of a breeze. Streets quiet. Cars considerate and happy. A good ride for daydreams of doing good stuff.

Until one of my daydreams runs into something practical. Something like a program to donate towards $10 easy to install semi-sealed high reliability blinking red bike lights.

I could bring $200 to an interested bike shop, put up a small poster, and see how it goes.

It's the kind of low energy donation I might actually do, and, best of all, it's anonymous. So no spam!

Even better, it's selfish. I worry a bit about getting run over, but I worry a lot more about running someone else over. More blinkies, fewer nightmares. A program like this ought to appeal to people who never bike, particularly elderly drivers with good reason to fear low visibility bicycles. Unlike helmets, which some cyclists dislike (not me), just about everyone likes blinkies [1].

My next thought was that someone has to have set something up like this. Of course they have, including in Minneapolis four days ago ...
These are great programs, but I didn't see one that involved distribution at local bicycle shops like Cycles for Change, Express Bike Shop, or my local favorites. So there's room for growth.

Anyone know of other programs like this?

[1] Except for the Apocalypse flavor of libertarian. In my searches I found someone complaining about the corrupting influence of bicycle light donations.
[2] It's in the lab. Machine vision/radar to identify pedestrians, animals, and bicycles and alert drivers.