Tuesday, April 29, 2014

illumiNITE Reflective Wind Pants: a weirdly unique product

Have you ever tried to buy high visibility wind pants? Something in bright orange for example?

Good luck with that. Ninja black is the rule. The one exception I’ve found is the illumiNITE Reflective Pant. Yeah, it’s black (sigh), but at least it shows up very brightly when exposed to headlights. That’s better than everything else I’ve seen — and the $45 price is very competitive. I just bought a pair and they seem well made — they’re my new small stuff sack bike/walkabout pants. The only downside is they don’t pack into an enlarged pocket, in fact they only have one zippered back pocket.

I’ve bought two other IllumiNITE products — a pair of running tights (company don’t have much of a modeling budget, they fit better than they do in the picture and I’m no model) and a pair of pants that are, sadly, no longer available. The pants are a real loss — two pockets and ankle zippers, comfortable loose fit but shaped enough to stay out of the way. I wear ‘em skiing, bicycling and running; they’ve held up for years.

IllumiNITE could do with a bit more business — I don’t see their stuff outside of their web site. They’re a funny little enterprise …

llumiNITE ink is a time-saving, easy to use all in one ink that eliminates the measuring and mixing associated with traditional reflective mediums. This means that we can add reflectivity to rolled goods, and create garments with large reflective areas rather than strips and dots. You've heard this story before--We liked the product so much we bought the company!

We operate out of a historic mill building in Fall River, MA--a city with an apparel and textile tradition that dates back to the industrial revolution. Our aim is to be friendly and accessible. Because we're a small company, it's likely that when you contact us you'll be speaking to one of our principals. Here’s a little introduction to the crew …

 Half of the crew is missing the descriptive text …

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Apple and healthcare -- what if Cook went for the ring?

Everyone expects Apple to soon sell some personal monitoring device like the suspiciously defunct Nike Fuel Band. We remember that the “revolutionary” iPod was just another MP3 player [1]; we expect something like that.

We expect it, and we expect to yawn. It will be overpriced and the value proposition will be even less clear than the soon-to-be-ex-iPad value prop.

But what if Cook surprises? What if he’s tired of being Apple’s accountant? What could Apple do to surprise us?

No, Apple wouldn’t do some kind “electronic health record” type thing. They’re not that dumb. But Apple is powerful enough to get, for example, both Cerner and EpicCare to use an Apple supported direct-to-patient connection channel. It would entirely proprietary of course, but it would be big. The rest of the HCIT industry would follow along. Apple could build the elder-care infrastructure I’ve imagined (and make use of the iPhablet-displaced iPads). There’s a lot of room to play if one stays clear of both the medical device regulatory framework and the brutal economics of the provider-oriented market.

Personally, I expect FuelBand 2. But if any Apple creativity has survived Cook’s executive salary boosts and Jobs wage-suppression scheme there is room for surprise.

- fn - 

[1] The revolutionary bit was iTunes and CD ripping to go with the iPod. All forgotten now. The first iPhone blew my mind, but some of the early PalmOS phones sorta kinda had the idea. Apple invents more than Microsoft (Samsung learned to follow from the master), but it also builds on what’s before.

Salmon, Picketty, Corporate Persons, Eco-Econ, and why we shouldn't worry

I haven’t read Picketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century. I’ll skim it in the library some day, but I’m fine outsourcing that work to DeLong, Krugman and Noah.

I do have opinions of course! I’m good at having opinions.

I believe Picketty is fundamentally correct, and it’s good to see our focus shifting from income inequality to wealth inequality. I think there are many malign social and economic consequences of wealth accumulation, but the greatest threat is likely the damage to democracy. Alas, wealth concentration and corruption of government are self-reinforcing trends. It is wise to give the rich extra votes, lest they overthrow democracy entirely, but fatal to give them all the votes.

What I haven’t seen in the discussions so far is the understanding that the modern oligarch is not necessarily human. Corporations are persons too, and even the Kock Brothers are not quite as wealthy as APPL. Corporations and similar self-sustaining entities have an emergent will of their own; Voters, Corporations and Plutocrats contend for control of avowed democracies [1]. The Rise of the Machine is a pithy phrase for our RCIIT disrupted AI age, but the Corporate entity is a form of emergent machine too.

So when we think of wealth and income inequality, and the driving force of emergent process, we need to remember that while Russia’s oligarchs are (mostly vile) humans, ours are more mixed. That’s not necessarily a bad thing - GOOGL is a better master than David Koch. Consider, for example, the silencing of Felix Salmon:

Today is Felix's last day at Reuters. Here's the link to his mega-million word blog archive (start from the beginning, in March 2009, if you like). Because we're source-agnostic, you can also find some of his best stuff from the Reuters era at Wired, Slate, the Atlantic, News Genius, CJR, the NYT, and NY Mag. There's also Felix TV, his personal site, his Tumblr, his Medium archive, and, of course, the Twitter feed we all aspire to.

Once upon a time, a feudal Baron or Russian oligarch would have violently silenced an annoying critic like Salmon (example: Piketty - no exit). Today’s system simply found him a safe and silent home. I approve of this inhuman efficiency.

So what comes next? Salmon is right that our system of Human Plutocrats and emergent Corporate entities is more or less stable (think - stability of ancient Egypt). I think Krugman is wrong that establishment economics fully describes what’s happening [2]; we still need to develop eco-econ — which is notecological economics”. Eco-econ is the study of how economic systems recapitulate biological systems; and how economic parasites evolve and thrive [3]. Eco-econ will give us some ideas on how our current system may evolve.

In any event, I’m not entirely pessimistic. Complex adaptive systems have confounded my past predictions. Greece and the EU should have collapsed, but the center held [4]. In any case, there are bigger disruptions coming [5]. We won’t have to worry about Human plutocrats for very long….

See also

and from my stuff

- fn -

[1] I like that 2011 post and the graphic I did then. I’d put “plutocrats” in the upper right these days. The debt ceiling fight of 2011, showed that Corporations and Plutocrats could be smarter than Voters, and the rise of the Tea Party shows that Corporations can be smarter than Voters and Plutocrats. Corporations, and most Plutocrats, are more progressive on sexual orientation and tribal origin than Voters. Corporations have neither gender nor pigment, and they are all tribes of one.

I could write a separate post about why I can’t simply edit the above graphic, but even I find that tech failure too depressing to contemplate.

[2] I don’t think Krugman believes this himself - but he doesn’t yet know how to model his psychohistory framework. He’s still working on the robotics angle.

[3] I just made this up today, but I dimly recall reading that the basic premises of eco-econ have turned up in the literature many times since Darwin described natural selection in biological systems. These days, of course, we apply natural selection to the evolution of the multiverse. Applications to economics are relatively modest.

[4] Perhaps because Corporations and Plutocrats outweighed Voters again — probably better or for worse.

[5] Short version — we are now confident that life-compatible exoplanets are dirt common, so the combination of the Drake Equation (no, it’s not stupid) and the Fermi Paradox means that wandering/curious/communicative civilizations are short-lived. That implies we are short-lived, because we’re like that. The most likely thing to finish us off are our technological heirs.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Einstellung effect: simple truths we cannot see.

Epistemic closure (in political thought). Confirmation bias [6]. Availability heuristic (Kahneman System 1). Premature cognitive commitment. Even, perhaps [5], delusion. These are all forms of cognitive bias [1].

They drive me nuts [7]. Not because I have a problem with the concept of cognitive bias, but because I always know I’m missing something obvious.

It’s just out there. A better solution to a problem, something I’m doing wrong and can’t see it, a problem I don’t even know I have. Something in my blind spot that’s closing fast. An opportunity, a threat an ….. argggggggghhh!

Ok, I’m back. Do you know how hard it is to find a paper bag in 2014?

Cognitive bias is why, more than most people I know, I’m always seeking criticism. That includes anybody, often not a friend [2], who is happy to tell me why I’m an idiot. Every so often see what I missed, and the joy of that correction more than compensates for minor tweaks of my thick skin.

So I’m happy to point to a new entry in the ‘what am I missing’ category — the Einstellung Effect. This is best described in a SciAm article that’s available from the 1st author’s web site (pdf, see also 2008 academic pub). Bilalić and McLeod’s work adds neurophysiology to one version of premature cognitive closure; a tantalizing connection given how much we seem to think with our bodies [3].

Their recent research has explored cognitive error in expert chess players whose very expertise leads them to errors more naive players would avoid. They seem to have adopted their visual cortex to solve certain thinking problems [4], and thus to be afflicted by the visual processing adaptations that evolved for the physical world (emphases mine)…

Why Good Thoughts Block Better Ones, Bilalić and McLeod, SciAm March 2014

…  Building on Luchins’s early work, psychologists replicated the Einstellung effect in many different laboratory studies with both novices and experts exercising a range of mental abilities, but exactly how and why it happened was never clear. Recently, by recording the eye movements of highly skilled chess players, we have solved the mystery. It turns out that people under the influence of this cognitive shortcut are literally blind to certain details in their environment that could provide them with a more effective solution. New research also suggests that many different cognitive biases discovered by psychologists over the years—those in the courtroom and the hospital, for instance— are in fact variations of the Einstellung effect.

… the mere possibility of the smothered mate move was stubbornly masking alternative solutions… infrared camera revealed that even when the players said they were looking for a faster solution—and indeed believed they were doing so—they did not actually shift their gaze away from the squares they had already identified as part of the smothered mate move.

I think of Delusion as an extreme manifestation of the Einstellung effect. Given our emerging understanding of autism and schizophrenia as similar manifestations of a neural network injury, I wonder if we’ll find connections between delusional beliefs and visual networks…

- fn -

[1] I love Wikipedia’s “List” articles; I suspect Google’s Knowledge Graph loves ‘em too. See also Wikipedia’s recursive Lists of Lists of Lists

[2] My favorite corrector is an app.net correspondent who I don’t know enough to claim as a friend, but who is a wonderfully cordial correspondent. That’s the best of all.

[3] An extraordinarily brilliant college roommate, who was later disabled by a schizophrenia like disorder, first suggested this to me in 1981. So the modern literature did not surprise me. Incidentally, he subsequently acquired a PhD and joined a NASA research facility. He found a way around his disorder.

[4] No, I cannot resist thinking of using GPUs to solve parallelism problems faster than CPUs.

[5] I personally think of delusion as an extreme form of cognitive closure; and I think it’s far more common than the psychotic disorders. An area ripe for research.

[6] Via the Einstellung article, a fantastic quote from one Francis Bacon’s 1620 Novum Organum:

“The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion . . . draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects or despises, or else by some distinction sets aside and rejects.... Men ... mark the events where they are fulfilled, but where they fail, though this happen much oftener, neglect and pass them by. But with far more subtlety does this mischief insinuate itself into philosophy and the sciences, in which the first conclusion colours and brings into conformity with itself all that comes after.”

Bacon always amazes. I’d declare him “father of cognitive science” for this quote alone. “Epistemic closure” is not new …

[7] This isn’t a new obsession. As a first year med student @1982 I devoured a 1970s text on clinical diagnosis that listed common cognitive errors, beginning with confirmation bias. This book has been rewritten many times since, alas the title and author are lost to my memory.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Beijing Genomics Institute - the second coming of eugenics

Via Funny Times [1], I came across allegations of a confident eugenics program (emphases mine):

NEWS of the WEIRD - Current News

Beijing Genomics Institute scientists are closing in on a technology to allow parents to choose, from several embryos, the one most likely to yield the smartest offspring. London’s Daily Mail (in January, referencing recent work in Wired, The Wall Street Journal and The New Yorker) explained that BGI will have identified high-potential mathematics genes (by mapping the cells of geniuses) so that researchers can search for those among a couple’s array of embryos...

… One Chinese researcher acknowledged the “controversial" nature of the work, "especially in the West," but added, "That's not the case in China."

Eugenics is more accepted in Asia and Eastern Europe than in the west, but eugenics acceptance is growing quickly here. On the other hand, “Funny Times” and “News of the Weird” are not exactly the New York Times.

Tracing the sources I came across an article I read a year ago on Zhao Bowen, a young genius who dropped out to join China’s prestigious Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI)…

Why Are Some People So Smart? The Answer Could Spawn a Generation of Superbabies | Science | WIRED

… Zhao’s goal is to use those machines to examine the genetic underpinnings of genius like his own. He wants nothing less than to crack the code for intelligence by studying the genomes of thousands of prodigies, not just from China but around the world. He and his collaborators, a transnational group of intelligence researchers, fully expect they will succeed in identifying a genetic basis for IQ. They also expect that within a decade their research will be used to screen embryos during in vitro fertilization, boosting the IQ of unborn children by up to 20 points. In theory, that’s the difference between a kid who struggles through high school and one who sails into college….

Hmmm. I suppose “closing in” is only a bit of a stretch on “within a decade” - within allowable parameters of a comic news site. So it’s not surprising the BGI web site doesn’t yet have an explicit page on embryo selection (termination of the inadequate) for higher IQ.

It’s an interesting site to browse though. The English and Japanese pages feature Euro models — including an array of Aryan blondes. (They don’t know you’re not supposed to use blondes in eugenics programs.) I couldn’t find any retail services on the Chinese site — that’s curious. Maybe wealthy Chinese like to use English language web sites?

BGI does market one screening test that sounds ominous on first glance …

Genetic Testing for Reproductive Health | BGI Health

… Hearing impairment is a common disease in which the congenital form accounts for approximately 60% of the cases. Conventional hearing tests exhibit low coverage and low accuracy. Genetic Testing for hearing impairment allows timely and accurate identification of newborns or adults carrying the susceptibility genes of hearing impairment and late-onset hearing loss…

Except they claim this is “neonatal” testing. China might be (for the moment) good with selective abortion, but infanticide is another matter.  Their most suspicious publicly available page shows in my browser with an IP address rather than a text url:

Preimplantation Genetic Screening/Diagnosis (PGS/PGD) | BGI Health

… Preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) detects and avoids the transfer of embryos with genetic abnormalities with the aim of increasing the IVF pregnancy and delivery rates…

… reduce the risk of miscarriage increasing the likelihood of success which benefits the patients emotionally and can help them to avoid costly efforts for repeat in vitro fertilization attempts should failure occur

…. Rigghhhtt. This one is winking so hard it’s gonna sprain an eyelid.

The second eugenics age is well underway.

[1] Comic relief for commie collectivists. It’s always funnier when the GOP is in power.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Exercising hard as an old person - one year of CrossFit

Dave Foley, who is 67 to my 55, describes what it’s like to run hard as a senior citizen …

Silent Sports: Getting along with getting old Part II

… Age tends to level the competitive playing field. Guys who trained fanatically 20 years ago, logging 100 miles a week, may not be able to run 50 miles over a seven day period now. Years of hard running does take a toll.

However, if you put in 40 miles weekly at a comfortable pace in the 1980s, it is quite likely you can still log about the same weekly mileage.

Those tortoises, who routinely got bested by the hares they faced in their youth, may now find themselves shooting past those one-time speedsters. And those newcomers, who didn’t even start running until they were in their 40s, they’ve got fresh legs and may now be racing past the ancient tortoises and hares.

… Stretching is optional, but the first steps of a run must be gentle ones. If timing a run is important, then slowly jog a half mile before clicking the watch on…

… No running at all for the last two or three days before a competition. In this way you actually may arrive at a race site with absolutely no muscle stiffness. Don’t be deceived. No matter what your brain tells you, you are still as old as the Rolling Stones…

… Banish all thoughts of “No woman is gonna beat me” because they can and they will.

… the leg muscles of senior runners fatigue before their lungs. That means that when your aching quads won’t push you any faster, you’re likely still able to easily converse with other runners….

… The race to the finish is no longer a venue for heroic sprints. If you haven’t been practicing sprinting, don’t try or your hamstring is apt to split open like the skin of bratwurst on a hot grill…

… Seconds after crossing the finish line, expect to have a race official hovering next to you saying, “Are you O.K.?” Apparently old guys who race hard look awful….

… we can avoid most injuries by listening to our bodies. And since those daily runs burn up calories, we can eat more than our sedentary peers and still stay trim. Although our bodies may ache a little, most days it feels good to be out running. And if the science is correct, we are going to enjoy longer, healthier lives as runners.

… sone days I feel young and my feet seem to fly down the road. A nine-minute mile on these days feels no different then the sixes I once ran…

I suspect Dave still felt kind of middle-aged at 55. Me, my kids tell me I’m already ancient. Even so, my routine exercise intensity has never been higher. Sure, I’ve been stronger and faster — but even at my most active I didn’t do CrossFit level intensity week after week. Unlike Dave, because I was less active previously,  I can keep setting “personal bests” even as I get older. It’s not that time is running backwards, it’s that I’m getting closer to my biological potential even as it declines. I’ll probably hit the limit this coming year, but  think I can manage that. For now it’s good to be stronger and faster than I was 10 years ago. I’m even learning to run - an activity I avoided in favor of everything else.

I can’t speak for the incredibles who compete in CrossFit Masters (starts at 45, 60+ is all one group), but there are a few rules that I follow to try to stay out of trouble. For exercises that specify “Rx" weights, I aim for 70-80% of the women’s Rx. Years ago I had a bad back, so I’m careful with technique and deadliest; I’ll add reps if I feel too strong. I’m not embarrassed to use the women’s bar when that makes sense, and “no woman is gonna beat me” is laughable. I’m regularly beaten by some women who are themselves over 40.

Most of all I pay attention to what hurts. I’ve been nursing a right medial tendon ache for a couple of months, so I go easy on that one. On chin-ups I’ll “band up” and do more with my left arm - go for more reps with more bands.

There are some things I can’t dodge. I’m lucky to have good knees, but when those go I’ll have to pass on to something else. It’s  hard to do CrossFit without squats (it should be called SquatFit).

Not yet though. Maybe I’ll get another year …