April 2014 Archives

Is the Golden Age of antibiotics drawing to a close? Will our children grow up in a world where minor infections that have been easily curable for decades are once again life-threatening? This is a huge public health concern with far greater impact than the availability of health insurance. Developing new antibiotics and preventing a return to bacteria-dominated health environment should be a top priority of the federal government.

The spread of deadly superbugs that evade even the most powerful antibiotics is no longer a prediction but is happening right now across the world, United Nations officials said on Wednesday.

Antibiotic resistance has the potential to affect anyone, of any age, in any country, the U.N.'s World Health Organisation (WHO) said in a report. It is now a major threat to public health, of which "the implications will be devastating".

"The world is headed for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades can once again kill," said Keiji Fukuda, the WHO's assistant director-general for health security.

Finally someone has improved on the millennia-old axe for splitting wood by hand! Behold: The Vipukirves, or Leveraxe.


So what makes a lever different than a wedge in this scenario? The Vipukirves still has a sharpened blade at the end, but it has a projection coming off the side that shifts the center of gravity away from the middle. At the point of impact, the edge is driven into the wood and slows down, but the kinetic energy contained in the 1.9 kilogram axe head continues down and to the side (because of the odd center of gravity). The rotational energy actually pushes the wood apart like a lever. A single strike can open an 8 cm gap in a log, which is more than enough to separate it.

Simple and brilliant. Also easy to mechanize.

Three million Californians are newly insured thanks to Obamacare, but they can't find any doctors willing to take them. One of the big philosophical problems with Obamacare is that it makes the assumption that getting someone health insurance will inevitably lead to that person getting health care. That isn't true.

Thinn Ong was thrilled to qualify for a subsidy on the health care exchange. She is paying $200 a month in premiums. But the single mother of two is asking, what for?

"Yeah, I sign it. I got it. But where's my doctor? Who's my doctor? I don't know," said a frustrated Ong.

Nguyen said the newly insured patients checked the physicians' lists they were provided and were told they weren't accepting new patients or they did not participate in the plan.

Dr. Kevin Grumbach of UCSF called the phenomenon "medical homelessness," where patients are caught adrift in a system woefully short of primary care doctors.

"Insurance coverage is a necessary but not a sufficient condition to assure that people get access to care when they need it," Grumbach said.

Those who can't find a doctor are supposed to lodge a complaint with state regulators, who have been denying the existence of a doctor shortage for months.

The NYT has a great piece about direct primary care: doctors who have stopped taking insurance and instead work for cash. Like a normal business. Surprise! It works pretty well.

Lee Spangler, vice president of medical economics with the medical association, said Texas was seeing an increase in practices like these because they gave doctors more flexibility to determine the services they provide and to cut costs for their practices.

"A physician has very little ability to negotiate all policies and procedures that come with insurance contracts," Mr. Spangler said, adding that some insurance companies can even dictate the business hours during which doctors can be paid. "Basically you get rid of all those shackles in terms of having a carrier dictate to the practice how to deliver medical services."

It is the direct primary care business model that proves most attractive, Mr. Spangler said, adding that doctors "want to get out from under what has been stacked up on them."

Bizarrely, "some people" seem to be more worried about health insurance than actual health care. Could it be that these "some people" make their livings as middlemen who don't want patients to go straight to doctors?

Some health care specialists worry that if too many practitioners choose this path, the state could be left struggling to find doctors to accommodate patients with insurance as the federal health care overhaul is making such coverage mandatory for most Texans. So far, efforts to enroll Texans in the federal insurance marketplace -- crucial to the success of the Affordable Care Act -- have made a small dent in the state's uninsured population, which has reached 6 million, according to United States Census Bureau data. The federal Department of Health and Human Services reported that 295,000 Texans had signed up for insurance coverage in the federal marketplace as of March 1.

"We have to find ways of stretching the current number of primary care doctors to meet that demand," said Dr. Clare Hawkins, president of the Texas Academy of Family Physicians. "Direct primary care goes in the other direction."

What if you passed a law mandating insurance, but no doctors showed up?

Divorce is never pretty and my point here isn't to focus on the relationship between Tony Podesta and Heather Miller Podesta. Their relationship is their business. What is of public interest, however, is that the Podesta divorce proceedings reveal a lot about the Washington power culture. It is revolting that our government is structured in such a way that parasitical lobbyists can enrich themselves by building labyrinthine laws and regulations to dole out favors to politically-connected rent-seekers. Argh! Sorry for all the buzzwords.

Our country and our civilization are being strangled by over-regulation. I'm not against all regulation, but even the Library of Congress has no idea how many laws, regulations, and court decisions there are.

As government expands, extending its reach to every aspect of business, every sector of the economy, private citizens and corporations require sherpas to lead them through the mountains of regulations and tax provisions, to discover exemptions and special favors and other forms of relief or favoritism to improve the bottom line. And who better to act as sherpas than the relatives of the Democrats who impose the regulations and tax provisions in the first place, who better than the lively proprietors of a family business operating in the luxurious and morally uncomplicated world of the caste of limousine liberals who dominate politics, culture, news, and finance.

Corporations give to Democratic politicians, avoiding the scrutiny of liberal attack dogs in the media and nonprofit sectors, and enjoying the ego boost that comes with being on the "right side of history." Then those corporations hire the Podestas to get them out of the Rube Goldberg traps the Democrats have enacted into law. John's innovation was to establish a corporate-funded think tank where the burdensome policies would be concocted, and whose staff would go on to man the regulatory agencies that put their wool-headed ideas into practice. And to whom do the corporations turn when they find themselves on the receiving end of all this uplift, all this do-goodery, all this progress, hope, and change? Why, to the man in the red Prada loafers, and to his flamboyantly patterned wife.

Thanks to the Heartbleed exploit announced earlier this week we basically need to change all our passwords for everything. Here's some detail from Bruce Schneier:

Basically, an attacker can grab 64K of memory from a server. The attack leaves no trace, and can be done multiple times to grab a different random 64K of memory. This means that anything in memory -- SSL private keys, user keys, anything -- is vulnerable. And you have to assume that it is all compromised. All of it.

"Catastrophic" is the right word. On the scale of 1 to 10, this is an 11.

Half a million sites are vulnerable, including my own. Test your vulnerability here.

The bug has been patched. After you patch your systems, you have to get a new public/private key pair, update your SSL certificate, and then change every password that could potentially be affected.

At this point, the probability is close to one that every target has had its private keys extracted by multiple intelligence agencies. The real question is whether or not someone deliberately inserted this bug into OpenSSL, and has had two years of unfettered access to everything. My guess is accident, but I have no proof.

I strongly recommend creating a new unique password for each of your accounts. Yes, this is a headache, but LastPass will make it a lot easier.

It's conventional wisdom that you can detect lies by watching for signs of nervousness: sweating, blinking, eye contact, etc. However, apparently it's much more reliable to watch for signs that your quarry is thinking hard: signs of cognitive load.

Lying can be cognitively demanding. You must suppress the truth and construct a falsehood that is plausible on its face and does not contradict anything known by the listener, nor likely to be known. You must tell it in a convincing way and you must remember the story. This usually takes time and concentration, both of which may give off secondary cues and reduce performance on simultaneous tasks.

When nervous we blink our eyes more often, but we blink less under increasing cognitive load (for example when solving arithmetic problems). Recent studies of deception suggest that we blink less when deceiving -- that is, cognitive load rules. Nervousness makes us fidget more, but cognitive load has the opposite effect. Again, contra-usual expectation, people often fidget less in deceptive situations. And consistent with cognitive load effects, men use fewer hand gestures while deceiving and both sexes often employ longer pauses when speaking deceptively.

[The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life]

It's also worth reading about red flags that police detectives use to identify liars.

When questioned, deceptive people generally want to say as little as possible.

Although deceptive people do not say much, they tend to spontaneously give a justification for what little they are saying, without being prompted.

They tend to repeat questions before answering them, perhaps to give themselves time to concoct an answer.

They often monitor the listener's reaction to what they are saying.

They often initially slow down their speech because they have to create their story and monitor your reaction, and when they have it straight "will spew it out faster," Geiselman said.

They tend to use sentence fragments more frequently than truthful people; often, they will start an answer, back up and not complete the sentence.

They are more likely to press their lips when asked a sensitive question and are more likely to play with their hair or engage in other "grooming" behaviors. Gesturing toward one's self with the hands tends to be a sign of deception; gesturing outwardly is not.
Truthful people, if challenged about details, will often deny that they are lying and explain even more, while deceptive people generally will not provide more specifics.

When asked a difficult question, truthful people will often look away because the question requires concentration, while dishonest people will look away only briefly, if at all, unless it is a question that should require intense concentration.

Joe Biden loves community college professors and sleeps with one every night:

He profusely praised the educators and argued they're "the best kept secret in America."

"Jill is probably right," he added. "I think I'd have the same attitude...did I not sleep with a community college professor every night."

As the audience laughed, Biden interjected.

"Oh, the same one, the same one," he said, waving his hands in an attempt to clarify. "The same one."

His wife. Good stuff.

Guess what? The penis is not the worst place to be stung by a bee.

"The Schmidt Sting Pain Index rates the painfulness of 78 Hymenoptera species, using the honey bee as a reference point. However, the question of how sting painfulness varies depending on body location remains unanswered. This study rated the painfulness of honey bee stings over 25 body locations in one subject (the author). Pain was rated on a 1-10 scale, relative to an internal standard, the forearm. In the single subject, pain ratings were consistent over three repetitions. Sting location was a significant predictor of the pain rating in a linear model (p < 0.0001, DF = 25, 94, F = 27.4). The three least painful locations were the skull, middle toe tip, and upper arm (all scoring a 2.3). The three most painful locations were the nostril, upper lip, and penis shaft (9.0, 8.7, and 7.3, respectively). This study provides an index of how the painfulness of a honey bee sting varies depending on body location."


Ok, so I'm estimating the number of bee-stings... the actual number could be as few as 75 if the author didn't test all 78 species. But still.

Eerily silent.

Why do these animal fight videos always include alligators or a crocodiles? Because they're slow, so there's plenty of time to prepare the camera? Because reptiles are alien and scary to our mammalian brains? Because gators and crocs get into lots of fights?

Lions vs. Crocodiles vs. Buffalos and Crocodile vs. Elephant.

And yes, it looks like I posted this video four years ago! What does it say about the title-generating hash-function inside my brain that I came up with the exact same post title last time?

Everyone has heard about BitCoin by now, but did you know that crypto-currencies are just a subset of Distributed Autonomous Corporations?

Distributed Autonomous Corporations (DAC) run without any human involvement under the control of an incorruptible set of business rules. (That's why they must be distributed and autonomous.) These rules are implemented as publicly auditable open source software distributed across the computers of their stakeholders. You become a stakeholder by buying "stock" in the company or being paid in that stock to provide services for the company. This stock may entitle you to a share of its "profits", participation in its growth, and/or a say in how it is run.

Calculate the cost of raising your kids and then freak out when you read the article. Are you back?

I'm expecting a third baby "any day now". My two ex utero children feel expensive at times, but I can guarantee you that I'm not spending anywhere close to the yearly estimate of that calculator. When our new baby is born my wife is going to stop working full time to take care of the kids and do some freelancing. When those paychecks stop it will "cost" us some money, but she's still going to be very productive with non-baby activities and likely still earning some income.

As with many financial articles, I'm left wondering "what are they spending all that money on???". The top rated comment to that CNN article, by "Guest", sums up my perspective quite well:

The hardest financial way for a parent to raise a kid? To try and live up to the American Upper Class ideal with a bedroom for every child, multiple bathrooms, car payments, smartphone plans for every teen, all the cable TV channels, all the brand name clothes, etc., etc., etc..

As a parent, when you quit being materialistic, and help your kids be free of materialism - it is amazing how much more affordable it is to raise children!

Here's an article from 2007 that mentions some flaws in the USDA's methodology.

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