Archive for the ‘technology’ Category

Here We Go !

Monday, August 24th, 2015

ghost

UPDATE: Here is a good description of what I think is coming.

The US stock market is being buoyed upward by technology shares that are pure luxury items, a bit like the China Ghost Cities.

America’s technology darlings aren’t exactly making good on Silicon Valley’s legacy. Microsoft, Cisco, IBM and a few other businesses of the old guard have a reasonable claim to being the companies that run the world, but Twitter and Facebook? Not so much – whatever their crazy valuations.

You see, as much as global financial concerns are going to hit tech companies harder than other sorts of enterprise, so too will their own lack of ambition. The ugly truth is that Silicon Valley has largely given up trying to fix big problems and has retreated into photo-sharing apps and productivity tools. That may sound harsh, but just look at some of the absurd and pointless startups that are getting vast checks written and tell me that founders don’t need a kick up the ass and a reminder that no one has solved batteries yet.

I have been pessimistic for several years. That may be just my own psychological makeup but I am not the only one.

California is getting a bit agitated about what is happening in China.

Gyrations in the stock market have taken California’s fragile finances for a ride before — when the dot-com bubble burst, when the Wall Street crash sank the national economy less than a decade ago.

So when the market continued its dive Monday, state officials began glancing around for their seat belts.

More than most states, California depends heavily on taxes from the wealthy, pulling about half of its income tax revenue from just 1% of residents in recent years.

California is a top down society because it depends on income tax. Texas doesn’t and its state government is funded by sales tax, which everyone pays, even illegals.

The Obama Administration has been playing a Ponzi Scheme for years.

A Ponzi scheme is a fraudulent investment operation where the operator, an individual or organization, pays returns to its investors from new capital paid to the operators by new investors, rather than from profit earned by the operator.

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The Energy Crisis in Africa.

Sunday, May 3rd, 2015

india-solar-power-2012-640x426

This is a powerful piece on the cost of environmental extremism to the world’s poor.

The soaring [food] prices were actually exacerbated (as the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN confirmed) by the diversion of much of the world’s farmland into making motor fuel, in the form of ethanol and biodiesel, for the rich to salve their green consciences. Climate policies were probably a greater contributor to the Arab Spring than climate change itself.

The use of ethanol in motor fuels is an irrational response to “green propaganda. The energy density of biofuel, as ethanol additives are called, is low resulting in the use of more and more ethanol and less and less arable land for food.

Without abundant fuel and power, prosperity is impossible: workers cannot amplify their productivity, doctors cannot preserve vaccines, students cannot learn after dark, goods cannot get to market. Nearly 700 million Africans rely mainly on wood or dung to cook and heat with, and 600 million have no access to electric light. Britain with 60 million people has nearly as much electricity-generating capacity as the whole of sub-Saharan Africa, minus South Africa, with 800 million.

South Africa is quickly destroying its electricity potential with idiotic racist policies.

Just to get sub-Saharan electricity consumption up to the levels of South Africa or Bulgaria would mean adding about 1,000 gigawatts of capacity, the installation of which would cost at least £1 trillion. Yet the greens want Africans to hold back on the cheapest form of power: fossil fuels. In 2013 Ed Davey, the energy secretary, announced that British taxpayers will no longer fund coal-fired power stations in developing countries, and that he would put pressure on development banks to ensure that their funding policies rule out coal. (I declare a commercial interest in coal in Northumberland.)
In the same year the US passed a bill prohibiting the Overseas Private Investment Corporation — a federal agency responsible for underwriting American companies that invest in developing countries — from investing in energy projects that involve fossil fuels.

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Myopia

Friday, April 24th, 2015

myopia

A couple of interesting articles about the increasing incidence of myopia in children.

Myopia isn’t an infectious disease, but it has reached nearly epidemic proportions in parts of Asia. In Taiwan, for example, the percentage of 7-year-old children suffering from nearsightedness increased from 5.8 percent in 1983 to 21 percent in 2000. An incredible 81 percent of Taiwanese 15-year-olds are myopic.

The first thought is that this is an Asian genetic thing. It isn’t.

In 2008 orthoptics professor Kathryn Rose found that only 3.3 percent of 6- and 7-year-olds of Chinese descent living in Sydney, Australia, suffered myopia, compared with 29.1 percent of those living in Singapore. The usual suspects, reading and time in front of an electronic screen, couldn’t account for the discrepancy. The Australian cohort read a few more books and spent slightly more time in front of the computer, but the Singaporean children watched a little more television. On the whole, the differences were small and probably canceled each other out. The most glaring difference between the groups was that the Australian kids spent 13.75 hours per week outdoors compared with a rather sad 3.05 hours for the children in Singapore.

This week the Wall Street Journal had more. There are some attempts to deal with the natural light effect.

Children in this small southern Chinese city sit and recite their vocabulary words in an experimental cube of a classroom built with translucent walls and ceilings. Sunlight lights up the room from all directions.

The goal of this unusual learning space: to test whether natural, bright light can help prevent nearsightedness, a problem for growing numbers of children, especially in Asia.

The schools have tried to get Chinese parents to send the kids outdoors more but it doesn’t seem to work.

And it isn’t limited to Asians.

In the U.S., the rate of nearsightedness in people 12 to 54 years old increased by nearly two-thirds between studies nearly three decades apart ending in 2004, to an estimated 41.6%, according to a National Eye Institute study.

But Asians with their focus on education are the most effected.

A full 80% of 4,798 Beijing teenagers tested as nearsighted in a study published in the journal PLOS One in March. Similar numbers plague teens in Singapore and Taiwan. In one 2012 survey in Seoul, nearly all of the 24,000 teenage males surveyed were nearsighted.

So, what to do ?

Though glasses can correct vision in most myopic children, many aren’t getting them. Sometimes this is because parents don’t know their children need glasses or don’t understand how important they are for education. Other times, cultural beliefs lead parents to discourage their children from wearing them, according to Nathan Congdon, professor at Queen’s University Belfast and senior adviser to Orbis International, a nonprofit focused on preventing blindness. Many parents believe glasses weaken the eyes—they don’t.

Getting kids to spend even small amounts of time outdoors makes a difference.

Why myopia rates have soared isn’t entirely clear, but one factor that keeps cropping up in research is how much time children spend outdoors. The longer they’re outside, the less likely they are to become nearsighted, according to more than a dozen studies in various countries world-wide.

One preliminary study of 2,000 children under review for publication showed a 23% reduction in myopia in the group of Chinese children who spent an additional 40 minutes more outside each day, according to Ian Morgan, one of the researchers involved in the study and a retired professor at Australian National University in Canberra. (He still conducts research with Sun Yat-sen University in the Chinese city of Guangzhou.)

That is a very significant effect of small changes in behavior. Now the researchers are trying something new.

Dr. Morgan, Dr. Congdon and a team from Sun Yat-sen are now testing, as reported recently in the science magazine Nature, a so-called bright-light classroom made of translucent plastic walls in Yangjiang to see if the children can focus and sit comfortably in the classroom. So far it appears the answer is yes.

In 2007, Donald Mutti and his colleagues at the Ohio State University College of Optometry in Columbus reported the results of a study that tracked more than 500 eight- and nine-year-olds in California who started out with healthy vision6. The team examined how the children spent their days, and “sort of as an afterthought at the time, we asked about sports and outdoorsy stuff”, says Mutti.

It was a good thing they did. After five years, one in five of the children had developed myopia, and the only environmental factor that was strongly associated with risk was time spent outdoors6. “We thought it was an odd finding,” recalls Mutti, “but it just kept coming up as we did the analyses.” A year later, Rose and her colleagues arrived at much the same conclusion in Australia7. After studying more than 4,000 children at Sydney primary and secondary schools for three years, they found that children who spent less time outside were at greater risk of developing myopia.

What is the mechanism ? Maybe it is this.

The leading hypothesis is that light stimulates the release of dopamine in the retina, and this neurotransmitter in turn blocks the elongation of the eye during development. The best evidence for the ‘light–dopamine’ hypothesis comes — again — from chicks. In 2010, Ashby and Schaeffel showed that injecting a dopamine-inhibiting drug called spiperone into chicks’ eyes could abolish the protective effect of bright light11.

Retinal dopamine is normally produced on a diurnal cycle — ramping up during the day — and it tells the eye to switch from rod-based, nighttime vision to cone-based, daytime vision. Researchers now suspect that under dim (typically indoor) lighting, the cycle is disrupted, with consequences for eye growth. “If our system does not get a strong enough diurnal rhythm, things go out of control,” says Ashby, who is now at the University of Canberra. “The system starts to get a bit noisy and noisy means that it just grows in its own irregular fashion.”

Another possible treatment is the use of atropine drops in the eye.

Atropine, a drug used for decades to dilate the pupils, appears to slow the progression of myopia once it has started, according to several randomized, controlled trials. But used daily at the typical concentration of 1%, there are side effects, most notably sensitivity to light, as well as difficulty focusing on up-close images.

In recent years, studies in Singapore and Taiwan found that a lower dose of atropine reduces myopia progression by 50% to 60% in children without those side effects, says Donald Tan, professor of ophthalmology at the Singapore National Eye Centre. He has spearheaded many of the studies. Large-scale trials on low-dose atropine are expected to start soon in Japan and in Europe, he says.

More than a century ago, Henry Edward Juler, a renowned British eye surgeon, offered similar advice. In 1904, he wrote in A Handbook of Ophthalmic Science and Practice that when “the myopia had become stationary, change of air — a sea voyage if possible — should be prescribed”.

The end of the X 47B program.

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015

x 47b

I have previously posted on this program. Now it seems to be coming to an end. I suspect budget priorities are the reason.

There are no plans to extend the testing for its Unmanned Carrier Air Vehicle demonstrator (UCAS-D) program after this month’s planned autonomous aerial refueling (AAR) tests, Naval Air Systems Command officials said on Tuesday.

Following the end of the testing contract the service plans to donate the two Northrop Grumman X-47B unmanned aerial vehicles — Salty Dog 501 and Salty 502 — to a museum or resign them to the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) at Davis Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. — the Pentagon’s so-called aircraft “boneyard,” said Capt. B.V. Duarte, program manager of NAVAIR’s PMA-268 that oversees UCAS-D and the Navy’s planned Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) programs.

The airframes have many more hours of service life so the reasons may be Obama’s budget priorities.

Last month, Senate Armed Services Committee chair Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) issued a strongly worded letter to Secretary of Defense Ash Carter on the UCLASS program and encouraged Carter to keep flying the UCAS-D airframes.

“Our nation has made a sizeable investment in this demonstration program to date, and both air vehicles have consumed only a small fraction of their approved flying hours,” wrote McCain.
Following the test program “there will be no unmanned air vehicles operating from carrier decks for several years. I think this would be a lost learning opportunity in what promises to be a critical area for sustaining the long-term operational and strategic relevance of the aircraft carrier.”

It will probably take a new president to get this program back on track. Or a serious attack on the US.

Entropy takes over.

Friday, February 27th, 2015

Another excellent post from The Belmont Club, Which I read every day.

The barbarians of ISIS destroy ancient artifacts, in an outrage like those committed by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The Taliban’s rejection this month of international appeals to halt the destruction of much of Afghanistan’s pre-Islamic heritage — their leader Mullah Mohammed Omar termed them idols — indicates that those most determined to impose their vision of a perfect Islamic state are firmly in control.

That article was from the period before the US invasion. Many artifacts were repaired but that will stop and the destruction will resume after we leave.

The Mosul destruction is to be expected everywhere the Takfiri tide rises enough to control an entity.

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An Update on Medical Reform

Monday, July 21st, 2014

Cash medical practice or, in the phrase favored by leftists critics, “Concierge Medicine,” seems to be growing.

Becker is shifting to a new style of practice, sometimes called concierge or retainer medicine. With the help of a company that has been helping physicians make such shifts for over 13 years, he will cease caring for a total of 2,500 patients and instead cut back to about 600. These patients will pay an annual fee of $1,650. In exchange, they will receive a two-hour annual visit with a complete physical exam, same-day appointments, 24-hour physician phone access, and personalized, web-based resources to promote wellness.

The article suggest that all these doctors choosing to drop insurance and Medicare are primary care. Many are but I know orthopedists and even general surgeons who are dropping all insurance.

The concierge model of practice is growing, and it is estimated that more than 4,000 U.S. physicians have adopted some variation of it. Most are general internists, with family practitioners second. It is attractive to physicians because they are relieved of much of the pressure to move patients through quickly, and they can devote more time to prevention and wellness.

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Mozilla steps in it.

Saturday, April 5th, 2014

Firefox has been a browser that I use going back to the time it replaced Netscape.

Netscape stock traded from 1995 until 1999 when it was acquired by AOL in a pooling-of-interests transaction ultimately worth US$10 billion. Shortly before its acquisition by AOL, Netscape released the source code for its browser and created the Mozilla Organization to coordinate future development of its product. The Mozilla Organization rewrote the entire browser’s source code based on the Gecko rendering engine; all future Netscape releases were based on this rewritten code. The Gecko engine would later be used to power the Mozilla Foundation’s Firefox browser.

The Netscape browser was the original interface for the World Wide Web. It all began with Mosaic, which was a project of Marc Anfdreessen when he was a grad student at the U of Illinois.

“In the Web’s first generation, Tim Berners-Lee (of CERN) launched the Uniform Resource Locator (URL), Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP), and HTML standards with prototype Unix-based servers and browsers. A few people noticed that the Web might be better than Gopher.

In the second generation, Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina developed NCSA Mosaic at the University of Illinois. Several million then suddenly noticed that the Web might be better than sex.

In the third generation, Andreessen and Bina left NCSA to found Netscape…”

It was originally founded under the name Mosaic Communications Corporation on April 4, 1994, the brainchild of Jim Clark who had recruited Marc Andreessen as co-founder and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers as investors. Clark recruited other early team members from SGI and NCSA Mosaic, including Rosanne Siino who became Vice President of Communications. Jim Barksdale came on board as CEO in January 1995.

The name change was a result of action by the University.

The University of Illinois was unhappy with the company’s use of the Mosaic name, so Mosaic Communications changed its name to Netscape Communications, and its flagship Web browser was the Netscape Navigator.

Then came Microsoft which saw Netscape as a threat, which it was.

Microsoft released version 1.0 of Internet Explorer as a part of the Windows 95 Plus Pack add-on. According to former Spyglass developer Eric Sink, Internet Explorer was based not on NCSA Mosaic as commonly believed, but on a version of Mosaic developed at Spyglass (which itself was based upon NCSA Mosaic). Microsoft quickly released several successive versions of Internet Explorer, bundling them with Windows, never charging for them, financing their development and marketing with revenues from other areas of the company. This period of time became known as the browser wars

The free browser from Microsoft was able to win “the browser wars” even though it was an inferior product.

Andreessen has become a famous investor and “angel” of Silicone Valley startups. He has also been involved in a bit of politics.

Andreessen endorsed Democratic candidate Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential elections. In 2012, however, Andreessen switched his allegiance to the Republican candidate Mitt Romney

Hmmm…

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More Obamacare news

Saturday, January 18th, 2014

UPDATE: More News.

This is supposed to be reassuring.

Obamacare contains a $25 billion federal risk fund set up to benefit health insurance companies selling coverage on the state and federal health insurance exchanges as well as in the small group (less than 50 workers) market. The fund lasts only three years: 2014, 2015, and 2016.

The government’s risk management program for the insurers has three parts (the “3Rs”):
A revenue neutral Risk Adjustment System designed to level adverse claim costs between health plans.
A Reinsurance Program that caps big claim costs for insurers (individual plans only).
A Risk Corridor Program that limits overall losses for insurers.
Of the $25 billion, $20 billion is earmarked for the Reinsurance Program and $5 billion goes to the U.S. treasury.

First, the Reinsurance Program caps big individual claim costs for insurers––in 2014, 80% of individual costs between $45,000 and $250,000 are paid by the government, for example.

Then comes the Risk Corridor program. Participating health plans will receive payments from the federal government in any of the following circumstances:
The plan’s costs for any benefit year are more than 103% but not more than 108% of the health plan’s targeted amount. The feds will reimburse 50% of all costs in excess of 103% of the medical cost target.
If the plan’s costs are more than 108% of the annual target, the feds will first pay the health plan a flat 2.5% of the target and then reimburse the plan for 80% of their claim costs above the targeted amount––with no upside limit.
Target cost is simply defined in the new law as a health plan’s “total premiums (including any subsidies) reduced by the administrative costs of the plan.” It is whatever the health plan projected its premium needed to be to pay medical costs.

The CMS has a new contractor for Obamacare, not just the web site. The previous contractor, CGI Federal, has been replaced rather suddenly.

“Accenture, one of the world’s largest consulting firms, has extensive experience with computer systems on the state level and built California’s large new health-insurance exchange. But it has not done substantial work on any Health and Human Services Department program.
“The administration’s decision to end the contract with CGI reflects lingering unease over the performance of HealthCare.gov even as officials have touted recent improvements and the rising numbers of Americans who have used the marketplace to sign up for health coverage that took effect Jan. 1.”

CGI Federal is the company connected with Michelle Obama through her classmate, a fellow Princeton alumna.

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Building the airplane during takeoff.

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

Henry-Chao

We are now learning that a large share of the Obamacare structure is still unbuilt. This is not the website but the guts of the system.

The revelation came out of questioning of Mr. Chao by Rep. Cory Gardner (R., Colo.). Gardner was trying to figure out how much of the IT infrastructure around the federal insurance exchange had been completed. “Well, how much do we have to build today, still? What do we need to build? 50 percent? 40 percent? 30 percent?” Chao replied, “I think it’s just an approximation—we’re probably sitting between 60 and 70 percent because we still have to build…”

Gardner replied, incredulously, “Wait, 60 or 70 percent that needs to be built, still?” Chao did not contradict Gardner, adding, “because we still have to build the payment systems to make payments to insurers in January.”

This is the guy who is the chief IT guy for CMS.

If the ability to pay the insurance companies is not yet written, how can anybody sign up ?

Gardner, a fourth time: “But the entire system is 60 to 70 percent away from being complete.” Chao: “There’s the back office systems, the accounting systems, the payment systems…they still need to be done.”

Gardner asked a fifth time: “Of those 60 to 70 percent of systems that are still being built, how are they going to be tested?”

The answer was the same way the rest was tested.

We are halfway down the runway and the engineers are still bolting on the engines.

Of course, the unions will resist any payment for “risk corridors”

Risk Corridors are plans to bail out insurance companies that are put at risk by Obama’s “fix” by stopping the mandate penalties.

If they decide to un-cancel some plans and end up taking a beating financially from the adverse selection that results, Uncle Sam will be there to make everything right. I must have read three dozen blog posts yesterday wondering how O would be able to keep insurers on his side, working together with the White House to implement Healthcare.gov and the rest of the law, now that he’s gone and made them scapegoats for the cancellation mess. Turns out the answer’s simple. He’s going to buy them off.

Part of this is the “reinsurance” plan. The unions want nothing to do with this.

A provision in Obamacare would collect a fee from health insurance companies and third-party administrators (TPAs) of administrative services only (ASO a.k.a. self-insured) group health plans, to fund a reinsurance program to help “stabilize” premiums available through the exchanges. A significant number of unions are self-insured. Unions were pissed they had to pay this fee of between $60 and $80 per insured (now said to start at $63 and reduce in following years), and as recently as last week were demanding President Obama change the law. Obama caved.

The unions are not stupid. They want no taxes on their plans.

The tax, known as the reinsurance fee, requires self-insured organizations, such as unions and some large companies, to pay $63 for each covered member and an additional $63 for each additional family member on a health plan.

Curiouser and curiouser. Some of these guys have read the small print.

Now, it’s gotten even worse. Obama is trapped !

The War on Drugs

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

My sentiments on the whole drug question have been influenced by some experience with the medical aspect of the problem. Drugs are slipping out of any control due to developments in synthetic variations of older substances that stimulate brain chemistry, sometimes in unknown ways. The traditional drugs, if we can use that term, are also slipping out of control with Mexican drug wars replacing the Columbian cartels even more violent than their predecessors.

What about marijuana ? It is widely used by the younger generation and, while I do think there are some harmful consequences, especially in potential schizophrenics, the fact is that the laws are widely ignored and do little good and much harm. First, what about the link to psychosis ?

Epidemiological studies suggest that Cannabis use during adolescence confers an increased risk for developing psychotic symptoms later in life. However, despite their interest, the epidemiological data are not conclusive, due to their heterogeneity; thus modeling the adolescent phase in animals is useful for investigating the impact of Cannabis use on deviations of adolescent brain development that might confer a vulnerability to later psychotic disorders. Although scant, preclinical data seem to support the presence of impaired social behaviors, cognitive and sensorimotor gating deficits as well as psychotic-like signs in adult rodents after adolescent cannabinoid exposure, clearly suggesting that this exposure may trigger a complex behavioral phenotype closely resembling a schizophrenia-like disorder. Similar treatments performed at adulthood were not able to produce such phenotype, thus pointing to a vulnerability of the adolescent brain towards cannabinoid exposure.

This suggests that adult use may be less harmful.

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