Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The First Synthetic Organism: Our Victor Frankenstein Moment?

Remember where you were when you heard or read about this. It’s important.  

In a breakthrough effort for computational biology, the world's first complete computer model of an organism has been completed, Stanford researchers reported last week in the journal Cell. A team used data from more than 900 scientific papers to account for every molecular interaction that takes place in the life cycle of Mycoplasma genitalium, the world's smallest free-living bacterium.

Why is this a whole lot more than your run of the mill bioscience breakthrough?  Until now, knowing the ways and means of a bazillion sub-reactions and gears and wheels did not combine into a clear model of a whole organism. This is a true Frankenstein moment... in the best meaning of the term!  In that before, all we had were countless non-living pieces on the work bench.

Now... we know how to put them together.  Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha.

No, seriously.  Bwa-haha.

Biologist Craig Venter -- first to sequence the human genome -- has also been at the forefront of this quest to create synthetic life. See his TED Talk: On the Verge of Creating Artificial Life. In his book, Life at the Speed of Light: From the Double Helix to the Dawn of Digital Life, Venter explores these issues -- the challenges and controversies we will face as we head toward biological engineering of genes - and creating digital lifeforms….

Indeed, scientists are now working to create the first digital life form -- by peering into the code of life. OpenWorm is an open source computer simulation aimed at creating a virtual roundworm -- the caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegant), a microscopic nematode. This simulation will encompass every single neuron in the worm, and every connection between neurons.  The result? Watching worm behavior emerge from the data simulation.

In related news: Caltech researchers have created an artificial jellyfish from rat cells and sheets of silicone polymer. It can mimic the swimming motion of natural jellyfish via electrical stimulation which causes rapid contraction of the rat heart muscle cells.

"A powerful demonstration of engineering chimaeric systems of living and non-living components," says Joseph Vacanti of Massachusetts General Hospital. The team hopes to reverse-engineer other marine lifeforms.

Along those lines, take a look at Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves, by George M. Church and Ed Regis -- a look at how scientists will selectively alter the genomes of living organisms to…increase longevity, cure disease or …. even bring back extinct species.

==Science forges on! (Now to get politics to come along)==

Do you wish it were possible to transform American politics enough to calm down the "war on science" and transform it - instead - into a debate about science?

That's one goal of the good folks at Science Debate, who urge that matters of science and technology and the future be put on the agenda of candidates for high office, especially during the looming presidential debates. If we could get just one evening when the focus would be on the very forces -- from energy to innovation, climate change to the internet --  that drive change and propel so many challenges? Front and center? Exposing the intelligent cogency - or lack - in the men seeking to guide us into uncharted waters?  Please visit the site. Even better, sign the petition and viral it.

Barring that brilliant - but alas, unlikely, event - the folks at ScienceDebate.org have polled dozens of top scientific groups to come up with The Top American Science Questions in 2012 -- the most important science policy issues facing the United States.  Whatever your affiliation, this year do spend the time to look them over and then do send them on to your local candidates for Congress and assembly and so on.

Try it.  Then note who actually bothers to answer.

==On the Transparency Front==

BikeCams: Cyclists have long had a rocky coexistence with motorists and pedestrians.  Now some cyclists are wearing helmet-mounted cameras to record their encounters, exactly as portrayed in The Transparent Society.

From baby monitors to closed circuit television, 2.4 GHz video transmitters are in many consumer products these days. And yet, most owners of these video devices don't realize they're transmitting an unencrypted video signal that can be picked up by anyone.

See how one activist is offering these feeds on lamp post boxes to increase public awareness... in stunning correlation with scenes in my new novel EXISTENCE.  In a project, From Surveillance to Broadcast, Benjamin Gaulon has posted boxes on street corners, recording video feed that can be accessed, to increase public awareness of the capabilities of this technology.

No more hiding behind anonymity? YouTube is fighting against idiotic and often nasty/racist/sexist commenters by calling for full names when you upload or comment on videos.  We seem to be caught between a rock and a hard place.  Anonymity protects free speech... and unleashes the most vicious instincts from truly awful people.  Is there any way we could get to hold onto some accountability and feedback loops that encourage maturity and decency... while still keeping the most important benefits of anonymity?  (As it happens, I have a way, and someone could make millions while solving the problem...)

=== A Miscellany of Science News ===

Two shock waves in space, intersecting, might create a “regularity singularity” - interesting general relativity.

The National Ignition Facility completed a 500 terrawatt laser fusion shot. Wow.

Move to Kansas City right now!  Google announced plans to build the gigabit network back in February of 2010 and thousands of municipalities competed to be the future home of the planned network. In March, it selected Kansas City as the first  test of a network running fiber-optic cables directly to homes, and delivering Internet speeds roughly 100 times faster than the national broadband average. Watch for details next week.  (In Existence I briefly describe a completely unused, potentially fecund "right of way" into nearly every home!)

Watch an impressive and inspiring film about cetaceans and research into whales - with unbelievable photography - by Fabrice Schnoller and a team of French researchers.

Yes... science marches on.  Let's stay worthy of it.


Tim H. said...

Understand that the google project will be on both sides of the state line, haven't heard anything about the exact area to be served. If you come here, watch your hydration, we're having one of those summers, but it'd be a pleasure to meet you.

gwern said...


Acacia H. said...

It actually will be in two separate Kansas Cities (there is a Kansas City in two separate states).

Rob H.

Alex Tolley said...

A straw man Republican candidate might answer all the science debate questions with: keep the government out of the issue and let private industry deal with it.

If correct, the questions would not be helpful in elucidating competing solutions.

David Brin said...

A consensus is growing:

4:36 PM

Tacitus... As a medical professional, your opinion of this revised estimate of the Obamacare results?


Rob said...

Not seeing anything from that Boston Globe link but a blank page.

sociotard said...

Lost Native American Silent Film Found :

The Daughter of Dawn, an 80-minute feature film, was shot in July of 1920 in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge near Lawton, southwest Oklahoma. It was unique in the annals of silent film (or talkies, for that matter) for having a cast of 300 Comanches and Kiowas who brought their own clothes, horses, tipis, everyday props and who told their story without a single reference to the United States Cavalry. It was a love story, a four-person star-crossed romance that ends with the two main characters together happily ever after. There are two buffalo hunt sequences with actual herds of buffalo being chased down by hunters on bareback just as they had done on the Plains 50 years earlier.

LarryHart said...

Ian Gould in the previous post:

Paul the 0.1% tax that's been proposed by peopel liek john Stiglitz is a tax on all financial transactions.

so, when I get my wages transferred into my bank, 0.1% comes out; when I withdraw some of it, 0.1% comes out and so on.

The tax wouldn't really be structured that way, would it? That would be equivalent to getting change for a dollar and having income tax applied to the "transaction".

I understood the transaction tax to be applicable to buying and selling of stocks or equivalent equities. The purpose isn't so much to raise revenue as to discourage the practice of million-times-per-day program trading by making that practice unprofitable.

Tim H. said...

Robert, growing up here I neglected to point out the two KCs, but it's even worse, when you count the associated suburbs, greater Kansas City sprawls across three counties (Getting close to four.) in Missouri, and two counties in Kansas. For most of us, Google fiber's upside will be the impetus it may apply to AT&T, Time-Warner and Comcast towards speed and affordability.

steve davidson said...

http://www.boston.com/lifestyle/health/health_stew/2012/07/cbo_redoes_the_math_on_the_aca.html?rss_id=Most+Popular - that's how I got to the Globe's piece. Alternatively go to www.boston.com, select health and then lifestyle from the top menu and type "healthstew" into the search bar.

Paul451 said...

Why Johnny can't craft.


Quoth the article: "Young people grow up without developing the skills to fix things around the house," ... "In an earlier generation, we lost our connection to the land, and now we are losing our connection to the machinery we depend on," and even jobs that are considered "manual labour" are actually in the service industries - restaurants, big box stores, etc - not in manufacturing or repairing.

(Germany apparently has a culture of valuing craftwork, and is one of the few (post-)industrialised countries not exporting its manufacturing industry.)

The exception to lost skills is amongst migrants. "the manager of the Home Depot [...now finds] immigrant craftsmen gathered in abundance outside his store in the early morning, waiting for it to open so they can buy supplies for the day's work as contractors. Skilled day laborers, also mostly immigrants, wait quietly in hopes of being hired by the contractors."

Paul451 said...

Also the machine is made out of tissue paper. So that can't help.

LarryHart said...

I'm within 50 pages of finishing "Existence". I hate to spoil any of it for now (and I certainly don't want the ending spoiled for me!), but look forward to discussing in detail after some allowable time delay.

Dr Brin, concerning one character's uncharacteristic speculation that messages from aliens may be discernable if one buys multiple copies of a certain book--does that qualify as your first breaking of the fourth wall?


T said...

Paul451, I'm visualizing a papier-mache sort of construction, and hoping clean water was used...

soc said...

Noam Chomsky on the Magna Carta

I would love to see Dr. Brin on the Guardian with a lengthy post of this kind. It would really heighten the level of discussion and bring a much needed perspective.

David Brin said...

LarryHart is was multiple copies of ALL of the author's books. That is, the human who is fronting for alien lurkers who are messing with human readers' minds. And I haven't a clue what you're talking about. No idea at all.

David Brin said...

Have you folks noticed the huge national swell - sparked by one of the relatives of an Aurora victim - to not mention the perp's name?

I imagine he thought of it independently. Still, it's good to see good ideas gain traction. And someone has to stand up for the intellectual/historical side of things....

Unknown said...

"Have you folks noticed the huge national swell - sparked by one of the relatives of an Aurora victim - to not mention the perp's name?"

Yes, we've noticed the trend. It's stupid, and historical precedent proves it's a pointless exercise... something I mentioned in my previous comment, which seems to have been "mysteriously" deleted.

I'm really not sure why you think this is a great idea, because reasoned minds disagree with you. It's certainly true that a journalist who consciously omits germane information isn't doing journalism.

I also fail to understand your final statement, that "someone has to stand up for the intellectual/historical side of things..." What idea were you trying to convey here? Because historical veracity demands all the facts, not the cherry-picked facts.

If you want historical perspective, I will once again mention Herostratus. His contemporaries forbade mention of his name on pain of death, so as to deprive him of his sought-after fame. We all know how that turned out in the end.

And all the people jumping on this bandwagon still can't be certain that notoriety is what the perpetrator was really after.

Acacia H. said...

Is it? In today's society where fame has become such a big deal, where people regularly seek their 15 minutes of fame through YouTube and doing various stupid things just for a little notoriety? And what about the copycat criminals? Already one person was caught before he could go after his own theater and cause another incident.

If these criminals realize that their faces will be blurred and their names will not be uttered... will there be as much interest by angry hateful people who decide they can voice their message with an act of violence to commit these crimes?

If that Norwegian chap who I'll not name wasn't allowed to voice his opinions during the court trial and his face blurred out and his name hidden, and he knew this would happen... would have have committed that crime? (Would he have perpetuated an even worse one instead to kill even more people?)

There is a simple solution of course to fears of government Unnaming. Designate that the Unnaming is only done in instances of mass murders and the like. Unname serial killers and spree killers. But if all you did was tag a wall or participate in a demonstration the cops disliked... your name remains safe.

Besides. The Unnaming would only be for public discourse. If the person ever was freed... they'd have their old name back. And perhaps a touch of anonymity to live what's left of their life.

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

LarryHart is was multiple copies of ALL of the author's books. That is, the human who is fronting for alien lurkers who are messing with human readers' minds. And I haven't a clue what you're talking about. No idea at all.

Not sure where this is going exactly:


U-plift War

T-ransparent Society
H-eaven's Reach

B-rightness Reef
I-nfinity's Shore
G-lory Days

F-oundation's Triumph
R-iver of Time
K-iln People
S-tartide Rising

David Brin said...

Robert Poole I did not delete your comment. Why would I bother? Your remarks only glancingly refer to my essay, in ways that verify you simply skimmed on your way to leaping "aha!" in the modern ejaculatory style of reasoning.

LarryHart -- SEE UP THE BIG FORKS???? Or is that BORG KIS?? Next book is Sky Horizon

And Tomorrow Happens... and The Transparent Society ...

Jonathan S. said...

By all means, Mr. Poole, once again mention Herostratos. Then read Dr. Brin's essay again, the part where he states that historians believe the perpetrator's name was not in fact Herostratos - that the label was assigned so that his real name would not live in history.

In a similar vein, nicknames (mocking or otherwise) would both prevent notoriety for criminals, and protect the reputations of those not guilty (or who have served their time and are presumably rehabilitated). Referring to the shooter in Aurora by his name gives him the notoriety he may well have sought; calling him Accused.Aurora.20120720.001, however, frees me to state that the picture of him in court recently looks like the love child of Rob Schneider and Ronald McDonald without ever giving him a moment of actual fame. (Sadly, it does give a small boost to Rob Schneider, but he's only guilty of thinking he's funny...)

Ian Gould said...

Larry, there are lots of proposals for a gobal financial transactions tax.

Discouraging speculation is just one of the reasons such a tax is being proposed.

Several of the proposals start from quite different ideas. for example, the EU is talking about such a tax to eventually recoup the cost of bank bail-outs and to build up a fund to insure Eurozone bank deposits in future.

Others start with a specific problem (terrorism; global warming; absolute poverty) and propose the tax as a means to fund slutions.

The more broadly you impose the tax, the lower the rate you can impose on each transaction. That has two advantages: it makes it less attrctive to evade the tax and it means the tax is less likely to distort economic

(In many countries tax advantages for private homes such as interest deductions and capital gains tax exemptons have led to peopel putting a disproprtionate amount of money into housing. This mkes house price bubbles more likely and increases the economic harm such bubbles cause.)

Also a more or less universal tax on moving money through the banking system would be relatively easy and cheap to enforce and difficult to evade.

Bear in mind that the tax on a $1,000 transfer would be $1. You could rebate the tax on amounts less than that - which would open the way to some evasion (just do multiple transactions for $999)but would make it more likely that the tax was pad primarily by busiensses and the rich.

Unknown said...

@Jonathan S.

As I just stated, I hadn't seen Dr. Brin's essay when I wrote my prior comments in this thread. My reaction was to the comments he dropped into this discussion thread about the Aurora shooter.

I subsequently found the essay and read it.

First off, Brin says "some historians" believe Herostratus was not the lad's real name. Not all, some. What's interesting here is, I do not recall this conjecture from any of my history classes. I'd like a citation, because a quick search couldn't pull up any references that suggest this.

If this conjecture turns out to be false, it certainly undermines some of Dr. Brin's argument.

I wrote a much longer critique in the comment thread attached to the essay's blog entry.

Unknown said...

And actually, Dr. Brin, I now see that several comments are missing from this thread.

It's a bit hard to fathom how so many of these comments are disappearing...

Let's see. My first comment in this thread is gone. It mentioned the Aurora shooter's name. The second comment remains. The third I wrote was a response to Robert, and that is missing now.
The fourth I wrote a few minutes ago in direct reply to you, Dr. Brin, but that is gone. The fifth was written in response to Jonathan S.

And this would be number 6. I understand this is someone else's blog, and it's his prerogative to exercise editorial control over it. I'm assuming that "he" is you, Dr. Brin. But you say you've deleted nothing, so taking you at your word, this means my comments are disappearing due to a bug in the system... or else someone working for you has done the deed.

I understand you and I are going to disagree on this issue, but I was actually hoping to engage on some level as a meaningful voice of dissent.

In case you truly didn't see my last response to you, my initial comments were written strictly in response to your comments in this thread. I did eventually read your full essay, and commented there. At least that seems not to have disappeared.

LarryHart said...

Wait...I think it's coming in clearer now. Not exactly Star Wars, but...:

U-plift War

T-ransparent Society
H-eaven's Reach

F-oundation's Triumph
R-iver of Time
K-iln People
S-tartide Rising

David Brin said...

Does anybody have a clue what's happening to Robert Poole's postings? I certainly am not culling them. Indeed, I haven't done that to anybody in at least 6 months, maybe a year.

rewinn said...

SEE UP THE BIG FORKS plus TH TS SH (for Sky Horizon, Tomorrow Happens and Transparent Society):

"Be Freshest Thoughts, Skip!"

(Anagram Server is our Friend!)

Unknown said...

I've reported the problem on the Blogger forums. If it's a bug, they'll catch it soon (I hope).

I want to take a moment to apologize to Dr. Brin for assuming he'd deleted my comments. Since I usually take people to task for unwarranted assumptions and jumping to conclusions, I'm a little angry with myself for jumping to a conclusion.

Also, FWIW, I wish I had read your essay first before seeing your comments. Maybe then the comments would not have bewildered me for where they showed up or even why they showed up. Though even after reading your essay, I still find it interesting that you use Herostratus to bolster your argument when most accounts I've read hold his story up as a reason why such prohibitions never work.

David Brin said...

You seem a gent RP and welcome here at the brainiest blogmunity around. ;-)

I never claimed it would be a panacea. But if done the way I recommended... with ZERO actual erasure of knowledge or accountability... It would at worst be a harmless way for common folks to exact a satisfying symbolic payback.

In fact, enough mass killers have made vainglorious preenings... Manson, SIrhan, and the Sierra killer... that only the truly obstinately skeptical would deny some likely benefit, at minimal cost.

Tony Fisk said...

I have occasionally noticed that Blogger appears to accept my comments (even showing it on the comment postings), but then finding it doesn't appear in the actual blog page. A glitch in the javascript/AJAX glue? Short of the blogger mavens checking it out...., I'd recommend keeping an eye on how your comment is handled, and try restarting your browser if there's something odd going on.

On the matter of Herostratus, the wikipedia entry mentions that the authorities did attempt to suppress his name on pain of death, but not whether they did so by using a pseudonym. We apparently know of 'Herostratus' via Theopompus.

Shades of You-Know-Who.

Tony Fisk said...

... interesting coincidence: apparently, young H did his 15 minutes of fame on July 21, 356 BC (and, no, it's not a recent update!)

David Brin said...

Tony? Spell it out please? With links?

TheMadLibrarian said...

Paul451, I think there are several contributing factors to people no longer being able to do simple household repairs. Whereas my old car has an engine compartment big enough to crawl into, current cars are so tight and complicated that you need special tools to access many components. At present rates, the entire engine compartment will soon be encased in Lucite, with ports to add or remove fluid. It’s often cheaper and easier to buy new than repair old; just look at printers and iPods.
Time is also a factor. If you’re lucky enough to have a full time job, or worse yet, have to hold down 2 or 3 jobs to make ends meet, you often don’t have free time to tinker or putter about the house. Asking for time off is often hazardous to your job, or at least worth a guilt trip.
In our state, anything more complicated than replacing a wall outlet or ceiling fan is supposed to have a permit, compete with architectural drawings; all plumbing or electrical work has to be performed by licensed contractors. Often, upgrades on houses more than a few years old require extensive remodeling to bring construction in line with current codes. This is why my project to enclose my back porch got tabled, even though I am perfectly capable of doing the work myself. I can’t afford the fees to make the County happy, and if I sell the house someday, it will bite me unless all the work has the appropriate stamps and seals.

30 ogyppoo: How many fly by night contractors have you encountered?

Tacitus said...

The CBO report looks to me to be a good example of GIGO accounting.
I did not find much real information there.

It contains zero information on what health care is actually going to cost. It just pushes around some numbers about how many will be covered by an expansion of Medicaid versus some other method.

It looks very subject to gaming. For instance the Federal poverty level can be moved here and there. And did I actually read in the link that it costs $6,000 to enroll someone in Medicaid for the first time? What?



Acacia H. said...

Blogger has a long history of eating posts. While I thought it had gotten over that habit, the glitch may be reappearing once more.

Your best bet is to save your post in a Wordpad file before posting, and then checking back. Also, I've noticed that posts without URLs are less likely to get snacked upon.

Rob H.

Tony Fisk said...

Spell it out

On July 21, 356 BC, seeking notoriety, he [who must not be named] burned down the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus in ancient Greece

I had thought the Aurora killings were on the same date (actually July 20), and did a double check to see whether someone had 'tweaked' the entry.

Paul451 said...

Robert Poole,
"I've reported the problem on the Blogger forums. If it's a bug, they'll catch it soon (I hope)."

[Laughs and laughs and laughs]

Re: Johnny can't craft.
"[Engines in lucite.] It's often cheaper and easier to buy new than repair old; just look at printers and iPods."

Coincidentally, I was recently told exactly that. Valley gasket had blown, mechanic said it would be cheaper for me to buy a second hand motor than have him take it apart. (Family friend did it for me. Much cheaper... so far.)

There are brands known for luxury, and brands known for... well, being known. Perhaps there's room for a company that makes electrical appliances and electronic gadgets that are designed to be tinkered with. "American Craft - Because It's Yours".

Tacitus said...

Let me do a better job on that CBO health care report.

"It is hot right now and everyone needs lemonade. We project that in ten years it will be even hotter and people will be even thirstier."

"People with no money will get their lemonade for free at the municipal stand. People with a little money will also qualify for this, but we have some variables as to how much money. And some cities will have different rules than others in this regard."

"People with lots of money will of course buy their lemonade at a non muncipal stand."

"The glass of lemonade has to be the same at all stands."

"There is a problematic group who have a medium amount of money. Some do not want municipal lemonade. If they have to pay anything for it they will just wait until they are really thirsty, pay their Lemonade Tax (sorry, Lemonade Mandate) then drink a whole bunch all at once."

"We have absolutely no idea how much lemons will cost in ten years, and you demonstrate your ignorance by even asking such questions."

"If the municipal lemonade stands start losing money on the order of the Post Office something will have to be done about that. If you ask what, you must be a Republican or a racist, if that is not a redundant statement."


Tim H. said...

Tacitus, I suppose you already know that Pournelle's iron law applies equally well to non-governmental entities, so I need say no more. On repairability, it 's more often because it's more economical to build it so special tools are required. There's no other good reason changing a timing belt should be an all day job, on a pinto, maybe an hour or two, tops. Helps a lot that the ECM is such a perfect little 'droid, mostly, optimizing fuel and spark in a way that isn't possible with the old tech. But I don't see any reason why serviceability should compromise the new tech.

Acacia H. said...

Here's a question, Tacitus. What do you envision would have happened to the health care industry if Obamacare had been defeated and none of the suggestions had ever been enacted? Consider for a moment: this was the Republican plan, which they abandoned because Obama embraced it. Republicans are now stating their intent on scrapping the whole thing and not putting anything in its place, because they have nothing better to replace it with.

So then. What would have happened to medical care and the insurance industry in the United States if it had continued down the path it was on?

Rob H.

Tacitus said...

If the Republicans campaign on repeal of Obamacare and offer nothing in its place I can't support them.

I think some of the useful proposals that are anathema to the Dems, such as malpractice reform, would have a chance at passage under R control.

But recall, I am not a real conservative on this issue. I want a single payer plan where it is possible to say no, and where saying yes is actually done on the basis of evidence based studies, not political fads and newly minted rights.


David Brin said...

Tacitus, those are lovely allegories. And have you noticed that it is all allegories, aphorisms, assertions and anecdotes. That's it, anymore. That is what conservatism has become.

How about facts. The US has the most inefficient and wasteful and costly medical care system in the world... and not by a little, but by approaching an ORDER OF MAGNITUDE.

It is also, by far, the least socialistic, and most dependent on open market forces, of all major industrial nations, with the very least government intervention.

It is also the least effective at delivering quality health care to its people, of all advance industrial nations.

Sure, I leave out a lot of factors. But which three facts... and those are facts, not assertions, allegories or anecdotes... which three could possibly matter as much as those three.

EVERY other major, advanced industrial nation does a better job than us, by ALL metrics of success. So why does the right take it as an article of utter faith that we can have NOTHING, whatsoever, to learn from those who are doing EVERYTHING better than we do?

No... we do one thing better... we create fancier assertions, allegories, anecdotes...

David Brin said...

Now to do a patented Brin-Contrary-Swerve!

In fact, we do one thing vastly better than the world... medical R&D. And it is possible that our market propelled system may be a factor there. Though in fact, the US federal government funding is far more important.

The point is, I am not raving for us to adopt Euro style socialized medicine! What I ask is an end of culture war, so that we can discuss things like sane adults.

When Obama and the democrats came to the table with an exact clone of the REPUBLICAN PLATFORM PROPOSAL FOR HEALTH CARE REFORM... one that their current nominee had passed when he was governor... how should the GOP have responded?

1. Opps, well, we've changed our minds and don't like that plan anymore... partly because you dems like it now... but still, that's a worthy gesture meeting us halfway, so let's negotiate.

2. Socialism! Commies! Eeeeeeeeeevil!

Which is the response Barry Goldwater would have given?

Which is the response of a "side" that has gone completely stark, jibbering insane?

sociotard said...

I just got back from a meeting with a semiconductor part factory. They had a problem I thought that Dr. Brin would find amusing.

They were ordering a bunch of Tablets for the techs to use to carry around and interface with the machines. The problem? They can't find any devices anywhere for any price that come without cameras.

They don't want cameras, because of the risk of leaking IP. They finally put in a software kludge that disables the camera when the tablet is on site.

Their frustrations with the ubiquity of cameras just reminded me a little of Dr. Brin. Honestly, I think that they should have embraced the cameras, because those kludges won't hold well, and the cameras could be used to bring even better augmented reality stuff to the factory. Ah well, what do I know.

David Brin said...

Look, there is one fundamental about health care. It is not a fungible product and people do not buy it in market-style ways. Period. When your beloved is dying, you do not weigh costs and pick a doctor who is 90th percentile but 70% percentile in price.

COmparing it to lemonade is specious.

Any form of health care must have some kind of rationing, or folks will pay all they own for a 1% chance of hope.

The europeans use panels to weigh quality of life tradeoffs multiplies by years gained. Extremely heroic measures to extend a 90 year-old catatonic for another week are logically ruled out. Emotion-propelled americans despise that.

Till obamacare, we had a different rationing system, apparently acceptable to americans... let the insurance companies dump whomever they like, especially those ill equipped to get good lawyers.

Now? Obamacare is crazy because it has no rationing system at all! It cannot work!

Surprised to hear me say that?

Well, whose fault is it? The conservatives should be the ones pointing all this out at a negotiating table, dickering and negotiating and arguing and trading till we IMPROVE the law till it works.

I blame the $$#! assholes who refuse to do their job as negotiating partners and tweakers and improvers... of their OWN DAMN PLAN.

David Brin said...

Cameras are a problem? Go to the bible.

Doth they eye offend thee... pluck it out!

Nyctotherion said...

@David: re: Cameras

In the instance mentioned, the cameras were on tablet computers, which are decidedly NOT user-servicable.

The Kindle Fire has no camera, but it is on the low-end as comes to processing power. Because of the Fire, I can't believe there aren't other low-end tablets without cameras, but then I haven't had a laptop without a camera in a while.

Acacia H. said...

They didn't consider the Nook Tablet? Pity. That has better processing power than the Kindle Fire and I believe it's without a camera.

There is a simpler solution. It also costs a lot less. Duct tape. Put a bit of duct tape over the camera lens, and it can't be used.

Rob H.

Tacitus said...

We don't really disagree on the health care issue. At least not on most points.

Lemonade is not a specious analogy. Sure, health care is not a beverage but when you are talking about the way in which the business is run there are still many mom and pop operations not much more sophisticated than a lemonade stand. Good? Bad? But fact.

As I recall things there was very little interest in negotiating Obamacare in the run up to passage. Hell, POTUS even ignored his own initial drafts. Remember the Bauchus plan? It had a lot of common sense in it. Even with the visible revolt that was the Scott Brown election Obama stuck to his guns.

I can't endorse a Republican alternative until I see a plausible one. But Obamacare was and remains a gigantic sop to the very forces that are driving health care costs.

But like all such tempests it will eventually sort itself out.


ell said...

Ah, Rob, you stole my answer! Duct tape!

On the other hand, duct tape can be removed, and adhesive residue can be removed with a little more trouble. Same sort of defeat for black paint: paint remover.

Different answer: A tiny bit of acid on a Q-tip to permanently blur the lens.

Ian Gould said...

"How about facts. The US has the most inefficient and wasteful and costly medical care system in the world... and not by a little, but by approaching an ORDER OF MAGNITUDE."

It's more liek a factor of 2.

Total US health spending (government and private combined) works out to around $7,000 per capita.

Health spending in other countries works out to around US$3-4,000 per capita.

The really stunning statistic is that the US government spends - via Medicare; Medicaid and Tri-Care - as much or more per capita as does the governments of other developed countries.

But government health care in the US only covers around 1/3 of the population while in australia for example, government healthcare covers about 2/3 of the population.

There are some confounding factors regarding the relative outcomes: Americans back in the 60's and 70's were a lot more affluent relative to peopel in other developed countries so they tended to drink more; smoke more and eat more. Those factors show up decades later in terms of lung cancer, heart disease and so on. while overall obesity rates in countries like the UK and Australia are similar ot those in the US, obesity in the elderly is much more common in the US.

But even allowing for that, there's no evidence that the extra $900 billion or so the US spends on health care actually yields any benefits.

US life expectancy is lower than for the other "Most Developed Countries"; infant mortality is higher; deats from preventable causes are higher; the number of hospital beds; of doctors and of nurses aren't signficantly higher in the US.

That extra $900 bilion is why it seems obvious that signficant reform of the US ssytem should be possible, yielding both lower costs and improved coverage and outcomes.

Of course, that extra $900 billion is also why entrenched business interests will fight reform every step of the way.

Actually looking at the latest figures, the gap between US performance and best practise is more liek a factor of 3. The US spends almost $7500 per capitam Japan spends $2,750.

The figures also show that health care spending accounts for a larger part of US government spending than in other developed countries;


Ian Gould said...

"In fact, we do one thing vastly better than the world... medical R&D. And it is possible that our market propelled system may be a factor there. Though in fact, the US federal government funding is far more important." - DB

You spend more on R&D whether you do it better is another question.

(It's also notewrothy that Euroepan pharamaceutical companies base a lot of teri R&D in the US, that's partially to access the world-leading academic base in the US but it's also partially to take advantage of more favorable taxation policies).

Many of the most important advances in pharmaology and immunology of the last decade or two have come from otuside the US: the HPV vaccine; Gleevec; statins for hypertension etc.

Much of the US research is focused on stuff like tweaking the formula (or delivery mechanism) of existing drugs to extend the effective patent period.

In the rest of the developed world there's less of that because new drugs have to pass cost-benefit analysis befroe government programs will pay for them.

The HPV vaccine passes with flying colors, a reformulated faster-acting Viagra designed to be applied as a cream rather than as a pill probably doesn't.

(In most countries, the consumer is then free to buy the Viagra cream at the full unsubsidized market price.)

Ian Gould said...

"They were ordering a bunch of Tablets for the techs to use to carry around and interface with the machines. The problem? They can't find any devices anywhere for any price that come without cameras."

Presumably they mean tablets from established western suppliers with whom they already have a business realtionship.

There are numerous Chinese tablets that don't have cameras.

Tell them to check out the Onda VI40.

As to the proposed solution of duct tape: whiteout would work even better.

Ian Gould said...

"The europeans use panels to weigh quality of life tradeoffs multiplies by years gained. Extremely heroic measures to extend a 90 year-old catatonic for another week are logically ruled out. Emotion-propelled americans despise that.

Till obamacare, we had a different rationing system, apparently acceptable to americans... let the insurance companies dump whomever they like, especially those ill equipped to get good lawyers."

While true, this is misleading.

The Europeans, Australians et al spend MORE on end of life care than do Americans.

We just spend it more rationally.

Yes, some treatments that have been shown to ineffective or minimally effective aren't subsidized by th government (which doesn't stop people accessing them at the unsubsidised price or through private insurance) but the treatments shown to be cost-effective are applied far more widely because the number of uninsured people is vastly lower.

My mother is almost 90 and had a moderately severe stroke about two years ago. Her treatment since then as a public patient in Australia's system of "socialized medicine" has been exemplary.

Ian Gould said...

Finally, from the transparency front, Beijing suffered amssive flooding about a week ago.

Distrust of government reporting there is so intense that local residents are compiling their own death figures.

(The flooding was caused by the heaviest rain in 70-odd years but there's a widespread suspicion that poor planning and shoddy construction also contributed.)


Tony Fisk said...

Once a remote and slowly fading quirk of the arctic regions, it would seem that warmer temperatures mean stronger thunderstorms mean more damage to ozone layer... over temperate areas.

...and yes, CFCs are part of the problem as well.


Acacia H. said...

There is a simple solution to "you can remove the duct tape" bit. They have security tape that leaves bits of itself behind when you peel it off. At the end of the day, security checks the tape to ensure no one unpeeled their tablet to use the camera.

You also put a piece of paper over the camera to preserve the lens. Why? Because that way you still have a functioning camera should management decide to make use of the camera function at a later time.

Even using the security tape, I'm willing to bet it would take less time and money than a computer program that could be overridden.

Rob H., who is waiting for Mitt Romney's #3 Gaffe at the Olympic Games... because these things always come in threes. So. How big do you think it'll be? =^-^=

Acacia H. said...

I've a small question. We have weather balloons that can reach the ozone layer, correct? We also are able to through a multitude of processes manufacture ozone. So why don't we take pressurized canisters with ozone and put them on weather balloons that are designed to reach the ozone layer and not go past it... and slowly release the pressurized ozone into the layer?

If this is done over inhabited regions, it could repair damage that is apparently being done by these intense thunderstorms. We could even initially try this out in an uninhabited region to see what the effects are: Antarctica.

Rob H.

David Brin said...


Tony Fisk said...

We have another contender for what caused the Great Silence... and it's happening now!

Imagine an entire sentient species gridlocked on this spectacle!?