Posts Tagged ‘science’

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



Global Cooling continues.

Sunday, February 16th, 2014

It is becoming more apparent that the earth is cooling in spite of continued leftist propaganda.

The first half of this year’s Northern Hemisphere (NH) winter season was especially brutal. December 2013 and January 2014 were the third-coldest Decembers and Januaries in the past 30 years averaged over the contiguous 48 United States, with temperatures plummeting to ?10°C in Atlanta and ?26°C in Chicago. Residents of North East India struggled with unusually severe snow and ?10°C temperatures without home heating. Snow and extreme cold also impacted the Kashmir Valley in India, where many elderly and very young people died of hypothermia. At the time of this writing, most of India is two to five degrees C colder than usual, a serious problem when 95% of all Indian homes lack central heating.

This has not deterred the alarmist camp which still believes the planet is warming due to human actions.

According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), this shouldn’t be happening. The IPCC asserted in their Fourth Assessment Report (2007) that, as an impact of the carbon dioxide (CO2)-induced global warming that activists say is still going on:

There is likely to be a decline in the frequency of cold air outbreaks (i.e., periods of extreme cold lasting from several days to over a week) in NH winter in most areas.

The US administration is no better.

Yet, in his January 8 online video, Dr. John Holdren — President Obama’s Science and Technology advisor — explained that as a consequence of recent global warming that he maintains is occurring, the Arctic is warming roughly twice as fast as the mid-latitudes. This means that the temperature difference between the Arctic and the contiguous U.S is shrinking, thereby weakening the circumpolar vortex, a swirling mass of cold air that hovers over the Arctic. The result is that the boundaries of the vortex become wavier, allowing increased excursions of cold Arctic air into more southerly regions.

Of particularl concern are the warnings from solar scientists that over the next three decades, we are headed toward significant global cooling as the sun weakens into a grand minimum. The last time the sun was as weak as solar experts predict will occur starting after 2030, the Earth was in a particularly cold phase of the Little Ice Age that lasted from about 1350-1850, a period when there was great misery around the world.

Dr. Habibullo Abdussamatov of Russia’s Pulkovo Observatory in St. Petersburg warns:

After the maximum of solar Cycle 24, from approximately 2014, we can expect the start of the next bicentennial cycle of deep cooling with a Little Ice Age in 2055 plus or minus 11 years.

Dr Richard Lindzen, a well known climate scientist who doesn’t buy the warming hysteria Has teed off on the climate lobby.

MIT Climate Scientist Dr. Richard Lindzen told Climate Depot on September 27, 2013:

I think that the latest IPCC report has truly sunk to level of hilarious incoherence. They are proclaiming increased confidence in their models as the discrepancies between their models and observations increase.

Their excuse for the absence of warming over the past 17 years is that the heat is hiding in the deep ocean. However, this is simply an admission that the models fail to simulate the exchanges of heat between the surface layers and the deeper oceans. However, it is this heat transport that plays a major role in natural internal variability of climate, and the IPCC assertions that observed warming can be attributed to man depend crucially on their assertion that these models accurately simulate natural internal variability. Thus, they now, somewhat obscurely, admit that their crucial assumption was totally unjustified.

The “Ocean Deep” theory has recently been proposed as an explanation.

Finally, in attributing warming to man, they fail to point out that the warming has been small, and totally consistent with there being nothing to be alarmed about. It is quite amazing to see the contortions the IPCC has to go through in order to keep the international climate agenda going.

Global cooling, as occurred during the The Little Ice Age, a period from 1300 to 1870, is far more dangerous.


The data in that graph ends at 2000. Since that year, the number of sunspots has sharply declined and is now approaching the Maunder Minimum.


The second graphic illustrates this.

The climate change debate should move away from unsubstantiated warming fears and focus instead on determining if the extreme cold of recent years is a precursor to significant global cooling. If it is, then reliable and inexpensive energy sources such as coal-fired electricity generation will become crucially important for our survival. The last thing we should be doing is closing down these stations in the questionable belief that we are helping to prevent global warming, a phenomenon that has already stopped all on its own.

Medicine and Evolution.

Friday, February 7th, 2014

A Final Word: I went by that site today to see what additional comments might have been posted after I left. Here is what remained:

I was referring to your claiming that people were being dishonest in their claims not to be YECs. It’s not that you disagreed with the values expressed by their self-identification, it’s that you didn’t accept that they were who they claimed they were. This makes productive conversation much more challenging.

Does that make sense?

I didn’t claim that people were secret YEC members. I commented that I was astounded at the vehemence of people who described themselves as “non-creationist Christians,” at attacking a person who supports and thinks evolution will be important in medicine in the next 50 years. Read some of the comments in italics below to see if I am overstating this.

I am very concerned, after this, at the role of Fundamentalist Christians in the GOP. They are far less tolerant of other opinion and resemble the global warming alarmists in the unwillingness to allow dissent.

Update #4: I am saving some of the material from the thread to remember what Ricochet is like.

The pseudo sympathy: Mike, frankly, you never had them straight in the first place. The entire thread, you thought you were fending off attacks from a group of Young Earth Creationists, but there was only one YEC among them. The rest of them were believers in one form of evolution of another, and just upset with your attitude.

Attitude !

Do you bear any of the blame for making this thread so unpleasant? I’m perfectly willing to have a discussion with you, and I’m semi-sympathetic to your viewpoint. I’m definitely not a YEC. But I can’t understand why you are being so flippant.
Flippancy is the problem !

No, you’re not. You might try reading the thread. I’ve been listing all the insults over on my own blog as a study of how this happens.

“Mike, I am personally not a young-earth creationist, but I think you are confusing two concepts here. ”

I’m always the one confused. Explained by the Ivy League.

This: “Or would he create a universe that showed millions of millennia of age, even though it was only seconds old?”

Led to this: “It’s nice that you all believe this. Good luck. Let’s hope your doctor doesn’t.”

Now that was my mortal sin to the crowd here. From that the following resulted:

“You are very flippant in dismal of my case for faith. Once again I have no problem believing that someone who believes that God put together the world in 6 days .”can also understand the significance of mitochondria. ”

I doubt that. Instead: “I have a far greater trust of a doctor who believes in God and lives it in his own life rather than one who is merely technically competent and sees the universe, and my life, as a happenstance of evolutionary doctrine.”

Now, the folks who are denying this is about creationism and is about my “attitude” seem to ignore those parts.

“Well that’s a glowing example of inability to actually argue the point. When you encounter indications that people disagree with your conflating micro and macro evolution, imply that anybody who doesn’t believe in the warm puddle or whatever the popular origin of life theory is this week is incompetent. ”

Now there’s a thoughtful statement.

” If I’m just an expression of evolutionary pressures, he might want to trim it up. (Has the advantage of being supported by all the various eugenics of recent history, including the ongoing slaughter of those unborn suspected of having genetic illnesses.)”

So now abortion has been dragged into it.

“You slander many very good doctors with your dismissive remarks.”

And I’m the problem.

“But what followed was a long-winded series of examples that do not make a case that any student of what evolution teaches must believe any of the paleo-biology tall tales about the long long ago history of this and that.”

More friendly repartee.

“In my opinion, the whole argument is silly. Humans simply don’t have the intellectual capacity to comprehend the creation. It’s like a dog trying to understand how a television works;”

More brilliance. My tolerance for this is less than yours or you didn’t read it.

“Mike has argued that we should (or, at least, he would) place professional barriers before those who disagree with his creation myths ”

Another mis-statement of what I wrote. I only mentioned my own letter writing which was not a barrier the last time I checked admission requirements.

“You are the one who said that you would keep Creationists out of med school.”

More mis-statement.

“Believing that the paleo- fields have very badly miscalculated the age of the earth has nothing at all to do with the ability of a doctor to conduct medicine. ”

I guess you agree. I don’t.

I then gave up. This colony of creationists, even those who deny they are “YEC,” wore me out.

UPDATE #3: The attacks continue and it has been several days !

I am also a Christian who doesn’t hold to a YEC point of view. (I would also add, although I hate to flaunt credentials, that I am a more recently trained physician than you, Ivy-League-trained, and hold a faculty position at a medical center that’s a bit fancier than yours.)

So there ! I have decided that I am a Libertarian and not a conservative, if that is what this is about.

UPDATE #2 The pushback has finally succeeded in making me a villain.

(Yes, I know the things I cited don’t make him right about YEC, necessarily. My point is that he’s been successful despite Mike K insisting that people like him should be prevented from being doctors.) ·

This followed a long list of accomplishments by a supposed acquaintance who had had a successful career as, as best I can tell, a pediatrician. This all began with my comment that, aside from not being willing to recommend a student who did not believe in evolution for medical school, I was neutral. I think I am no longer neutral. The “Young Earth Creationist” community seems to have a determination to oppose any evolutionary thinking by anyone. They also seem to have an very convoluted way of explaining why obvious facts are not as they appear.

UPDATE: The pushback from creationists surprised me a bit. I guess it shouldn’t have. I expected “We will just have to agree to disagree” sort of thing. Instead I got an interesting series of attacks on me.

Is it impossible for the Creator to have built all the evidences of age into His new creation? The reality of natural selection isn’t necessarily required to have a long and indefinite period of activity to apply today.


Well that’s a glowing example of inability to actually argue the point. When you encounter indications that people disagree with your conflating micro and macro evolution, imply that anybody who doesn’t believe in the warm puddle or whatever the popular origin of life theory is this week is incompetent.


There are plenty of good Christian doctors and biologists who are well-versed in cell biology and in how mutations happen and in natural selection processes that affect microbes and higher organisms.

This all reminds me of the epicycles, which were used to explain why Ptolmeic astronomy could not explain certain phenomena like the movement of planets. It took Kepler’s discovery of the elliptical orbits to resolve the matter finally.

The creationists seem determined to ignore the implications of molecular biology about evolution and maintain “Young Earth Creation” in the face of the evidence of ancient biology.

But what followed was a long-winded series of examples that do not make a case that any student of what evolution teaches must believe any of the paleo-biology tall tales about the long long ago history of this and that.

Even Copernicus wanted to learn why the planets did not follow the rules of Ptolmeic astronomy. Today, that is considered rude. I may have to reevaluate my opinion of creationists. I have considered them harmless ill educated religious fundamentalists. They are far more aggressive than I had believed in attacking any disagreement.

I accidentally got into a debate about evolution at another site today. I didn’t want to get into this as I know there are many people, many of whom share my political affiliation, who are adamant about creationism, as the left often refers to it. Still, I have posted my opinions here in the past. I think molecular medicine is going to become even more important in the future and I do not understand how a physician can understand molecular medicine without molecular biology. There are many examples of evolution that must be understood to appreciate certain areas of medicine.

I think a physician can practice as a GP and not believe in evolution. I know a few. They are not likely to understand the future of medicine but they are my age and will not be practicing for long, if they are not yet retired.


Global Warming and Cooling.

Sunday, October 20th, 2013

I have been frustrated by the antics of the AGW alarmists. Scientific American, for example, has lost whatever reputation it once had for objective science. In an another example, the actions of Michael Mann should make for an interesting discovery in his suit against Mark Steyn.

Today, I find a nice discussion of global warming and cooling over the past epoch. The Greenland ice cores are, or should be, the gold standard of temperature measurement. For example.

Records of past temperature, precipitation, atmospheric trace gases, and other aspects of climate and environment derived from ice cores drilled on glaciers and ice caps around the world. Parameter keywords describe what was measured in this data set. Additional summary information can be found in the abstracts of papers listed in the data set citations.

Now, to the data.


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.


Why Obamacare is collapsing.

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013

Government is not very good at constructing software or IT systems. The FBI spent a decade with a troubled software project, then abandoned it.

Some FBI officials began raising doubts about the bureau’s attempts to create a computerized case management system as early as 2003, two years before the $170 million project was abandoned altogether, according to a confidential report to the House Appropriations Committee.

By 2004, the report found, the FBI had identified 400 problems with early versions of the troubled software — but never told the contractor. The bureau also went ahead with a $17 million testing program last December, even though it was clear by then that the software would have to be scrapped, according to the review.

The 32-page report — prepared by the House committee’s Surveys and Investigations staff and obtained by The Washington Post — indicates that the FBI passed up numerous chances to cut its losses with the doomed Virtual Case File (VCF), instead forging ahead with a system that ultimately cost taxpayers more than $100 million in wasted expenditures.

This is the history of complex government projects like this. They will not hire private companies and let them design these projects. Banks use ATM software that is far more complex and which works reliably.

Now Obamacare is the latest failure. I have been predicting this for a year. The electronic medical record software is another boondoggle. It increases workload and is not secure. Now the exchange IT systems are not ready and will not be for a decade, if ever.

“It’s the joyous, simultaneous, nonlinear equation from hell,” said Kip Piper, a former top official at HHS and OMB who is now a consultant in close contact with IT vendors. Piper said it’s no surprise that the administration has given up on certain functions given the technological complexity needed and the short time-frame.

But the long-term nature of the bad news could be good news for those who hope that the new marketplaces will launch in some form on time.

The struggles with technology and administrative complexity have not come as a recent surprise to administration officials; they’ve been negotiating them for months already. By eliminating non-essential tasks, they may be violating the letter of the health reform law, with its rigorous timetables and multiple requirements, but they may be more likely to get the core functions right.

Or wrong as the case may be.

The FBI experience is revealing:

The system was part of Trilogy, a $581 million FBI program that includes a new computer network and thousands of new high-speed personal computers for agents and analysts. VCF would have been the final major step in the upgrade, providing a modern database for storing case information and allowing agents to share and search files electronically.

Numerous outside experts and panels have criticized the FBI’s paper-based records system as outmoded and inefficient, and the commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks concluded that the shortcomings may have contributed to the failure to detect the al Qaeda plot. The Justice Department’s inspector general warned in February that the FBI’s continuing technology problems had “national security implications” and that agents were “significantly hampered” in their efforts to prevent terrorism and combat other serious crimes.

The new report, which is not scheduled for public release, reveals that “some officials involved in VCF’s development began to see problems” in early 2003, about a year after the FBI and its contractor, Science Applications International Corp., began focusing on creating the case management software.

That report is from 2005. My daughter is an FBI agent. They finally abandoned the whole thing last year and have begun from scratch.

Obamacare will not be functional by 2020. They will lie about it and fake it but the thing will be a complete mess.

Magan McArdle has more on the changes. All that is happening is that all cost control is stripped out. All that is left is the spending.

Schizophrenia and civil rights.

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

In June 1962, I had just finished a year of active duty in the Air Force (actually 9 months) and was looking for a job until I went back to medical school in September. I had been pulled out when the reserves were called up by Kennedy in the wake of the Berlin Wall, built by the Russians in August.

I found an ad in the LA Times for medical students to work at the VA hospital in west Los Angeles. I was a medical student although I had had only one month of medical school. I had, however, been a corpsman in the Air Force so had a little more clinical experience than many first year medical students.

I applied and was accepted. I learned the job was to do annual physical exams on 200 chronic schizophrenics since the psychiatry residents, in the grip of the psychoanalytic phase of psychiatry, did not want to do so. I started about the 15th of June and soon met my boss, a professor of psychiatry at UCLA named George L Harrington.

He was a striking individual, a big man who walked with a pronounced limp from a previous femur fracture. The effect of this combination was powerful on the chronic schizophrenics of Building 206 at the Sawtelle VA Hospital.

Harrington was one of the two or three most impressive men I ever met in medicine. He had trained as an analyst and his father was one of the first lay analysts, a former Baptist minister. Harrington had met Sigmund Freud and actually sat on his knee as a child. He grew up near the Menninger Clinic in Kansas and went to Kansas Medical School. He told me that one of his first summers in medical school, he got a job at the state mental hospital and tried his psychoanalytic theories out on chronic psychotic patients. They didn’t work. When summer was over and the state psychiatrists returned from vacation, they treated one depressed female patient with shock therapy. Harrington had spent the summer trying analysis on her with no success. With one ECT session she was much improved. That was enough to convince him that analysis did not work, no matter that the psychoanalytic school of psychiatry had taken over the specialty and the departments of all the medical schools.

Harrington was sure this was all wrong and was convinced that schizophrenia was an organic disease. He told me that it might even be a deficiency of an unknown vitamin. It wasn’t so many years since beri-beri and pellagra had been discovered to be vitamin deficiencies. I have previously referred to this experience, and I am convinced that he was on the right track when most psychiatrists were wrong.

Unfortunately, the psychiatry profession held on to psychoanalytic thinking far too long. A friend of mine from medical school is an analyst and has made a good living from it in Malibu. That is a good choice of location since analysis works best on rich mildly neurotic patients. Psychotics tend to be poor and difficult to work with. Now, with huge advances in neurobiology there is more hope but the public is still reluctant to trust psychiatrists with any authority. I am afraid that the profession is still suspect from the years of the Freudian blind alley.

A fellow named Clayton Cramer, who has a schizophrenic brother named Ron, has written an excellent book about the legal history of the deinstitutionalization movement that emptied the mental hospitals since 1960. On his blog, he posts that the shooter in Connecticut may have been taking Fanapt, an antipsychotic drug that is prescribed for schizophrenia. A rather hysterical post on what looks like an anti-treatment site alleges that SSRIs, a class of drug that is unrelated to anti-psychotics, are responsible for mass shooting incidents. It is this sort of misinformation that muddies the waters around the issue of violence and mental illness. The drug, iloperidone is an “atypical anti-psychotic” which means it is a serotonin receptor antagonist. It was nothing to do with SSRIs, which are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. The effects are very different as are the mechanism.

The battle for intelligent treatment of schizophrenics goes on.

A summary of treatment options does not mention the most serious problem. That is that schizophrenics commonly stop taking the drug, either because they feel fine and believe they no longer need it, or because they have no insight into their condition and refuse the drugs unless coerced. This is the reason why commitment, even outpatient commitment which involves supervision of the drug taking, is desirable.

The Connecticut Massacre

Saturday, December 15th, 2012

There is information still coming to light about this awful case. Early reports, such as the name of the shooter and the alleged murder of the father, were predictably wrong. It turns out that the shooter, named Adam Lanza, a 20 year old with a history of odd behavior and some evidence of mental illness, such as autism, was living with his mother who was his first victim. There are a number of suggestive reports, that she decided to “stay home to care for” her 20 year old son.

The treatment of severe mental illness in this country has been altered for the worse by a movement that began in the 1960s when mental illness began to be described as a “civil rights ” issue. Several books and movies described abuse of power in commitment of the mentally ill. The first such movie was “The Snake Pit” in which a young woman is committed for what sounds like schizophrenia. The treatment of the time (1948) can be seen as barbaric but there was nothing else available. She did recover, although we know that without adequate treatment, recovery from schizophrenia is unlikely.

The movie that really devastated the mental hospital system was called “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and starred Jack Nicholson.

As I type this, a black professor of psychiatry is talking on the TV and discussing gun control !! His mention of mental illness is brief and noncommittal.

The movie was powerful in showing the Nicholson character as a guy who just is “different” and harmless.

The film was the second to win all five major Academy Awards (Best Picture, Actor in Lead Role, Actress in Lead Role, Director, and Screenplay) following It Happened One Night in 1934, an accomplishment not repeated until 1991 by The Silence of the Lambs.

In 1963 Oregon, Randle Patrick “Mac” McMurphy (Jack Nicholson), a recidivist anti-authoritarian criminal serving a short sentence on a prison farm for statutory rape of a 15-year-old girl, is transferred to a mental institution for evaluation. Although he does not show any overt signs of mental illness, he hopes to avoid hard labor and serve the rest of his sentence in a more relaxed hospital environment.
McMurphy’s ward is run by steely, unyielding Nurse Mildred Ratched (Louise Fletcher), who employs subtle humiliation, unpleasant medical treatments and a mind-numbing daily routine to suppress the patients. McMurphy finds that they are more fearful of Ratched than they are focused on becoming functional in the outside world. McMurphy establishes himself immediately as the leader; his fellow patients include Billy Bibbit (Brad Dourif), a nervous, stuttering young man; Charlie Cheswick (Sydney Lassick), a man disposed to childish fits of temper; Martini (Danny DeVito), who is delusional; Dale Harding (William Redfield), a high-strung, well-educated paranoid; Max Taber (Christopher Lloyd), who is belligerent and profane; Jim Sefelt (William Duell); and “Chief” Bromden (Will Sampson), a silent American Indian believed to be deaf and mute.

Here is the picture of mental illness as a matter of civil rights. It was shown in 1975 when the deinstitutionalizing was already well along and it convinced the public, few of whom know anything of psychology, that mental hospitals should be closed. State governors, like Ronald Reagan in California, were only too happy to oblige. This is why I was not a Reagan fan before he was elected in 1980.

The new drugs, like Thorazine made all this possible. Patients on Thorazine made almost miraculous recoveries. at least until the side effects appeared.

The introduction of chlorpromazine into clinical use has been described as the single greatest advance in psychiatric care, dramatically improving the prognosis of patients in psychiatric hospitals worldwide[citation needed]; the availability of antipsychotic drugs curtailed indiscriminate use of electroconvulsive therapy and psychosurgery, and was one of the driving forces behind the deinstitutionalization movement.

Actually ECT or “shock therapy” was, and remains, effective for severe depression. When used on psychotics like schizophrenics, it often provided a period of a “lucid interval” that lasted for hours when the psychosis seemed to relent. The symptoms recurred but the hope of longer intervals resulted in repeated sessions. It was often depicted with convulsions and other horrendous effects but, in reality, anesthesia and muscle relaxants were used to avoid such scenes. Even insulin coma, which has a risk of damage from low blood glucose, was effective for periods when nothing else worked.

The alternative offered was outpatient centers, in California authorized by The Short-Doyle Act of 1957. There was never enough money and governors saw the closing of state hospitals as a budget issue, not a medical issue.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s counties contended that the state was not providing adequate funds for community mental health programs. In addition, several counties were receiving less funds on a population basis than other counties. This disparity was addressed, with varying levels of success, in both the 1970s and the 1980s with the allocation of “equity funds” to certain counties. Realignment enacted in 1991 has made new revenues available to local governments for mental health programs, but, according to local mental health administrators, funding has lagged behind demand.

And As a result of declining hospital population, three hospitals (Modesto, DeWitt, and Mendocino) were closed. Legislative intent was to have the budget savings from the closures go to local programs. The “money was to follow the patient.” This did not happen in 1972 and 1973 as a result of the Governor’s veto.

The patients released from state hospitals ended up living in the streets as “the homeless problem” exploded. Others filled the jails. In 2000 I was told by directors of homeless shelters in Los Angeles that 60% of the homeless were psychotic, 60% were drug addicts and half of each group was both. About 10% of the homeless are neither and are quickly moved to shelters and “SRO” hotels, especially if there are children.

What percent of shizophrenics are violent or capable of it ? A national study suggests that the number may be higher than we are usually told.

The 6-month prevalence of any violence was 19.1%, with 3.6% of participants reporting serious violent behavior. Distinct, but overlapping, sets of risk factors were associated with minor and serious violence. “Positive” psychotic symptoms, such as persecutory ideation, increased the risk of minor and serious violence, while “negative” psychotic symptoms, such as social withdrawal, lowered the risk of serious violence. Minor violence was associated with co-occurring substance abuse and interpersonal and social factors. Serious violence was associated with psychotic and depressive symptoms, childhood conduct problems, and victimization.

Since schizophrenia is life-long, usually beginning in teenage years in males and a bit later in females, the total period of exposure to the risk of violent behavior is high. Treatment with modern drugs reduces this considerably but most schizophrenics who are not under good supervision do not take their drugs.

The mother of the shooter was the registered owner of three guns, two of them pistols and one a “bushmaster” rifle. These are military lookalikes that are mostly in 5.56 NATO round calibres. They are also very expensive rifles. The rifle found in the shooter’s care was described as .223 calibre and the Bushmaster site does not include any of this calibre. UPDATE: I did not recognize the .223 as the same calibre as the 5.56 NATO round. It is the same. The .223 is in inches and 5.56 is millimeters. A momentary lapse.

He did not use the rifle anyway but what was the mother doing buying this for her autistic son? Pistols might have been for her own protection but the rifle doesn’t make sense except as evidence of enabling behavior by the mother.

I will add to this post as more information comes out. This looks to me like an incident of mass violence by a schizophrenic 20 year-old male with possible assistance by his mother in allowing him access to guns.

The mother is now being described as a “survivalist” and used to target shooting. That does not explain why she had guns around her psychotic son. “Autism” does not develop during teenage years. It is a phenomenon that is recognized in infancy. The term may have been used by the older brother as it is a less “disreputable” term for schizophrenia. If this represents a form of denial by the family, it may be significant.

Bioengineering is coming fast.

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

An interesting article from bbc explains how concrete treated with a species of bacillus can “heal concrete” cracks by making more limestone.

Experimental concrete that patches up cracks by itself is to undergo outdoor testing.

The concrete contains limestone-producing bacteria, which are activated by corrosive rainwater working its way into the structure.

The new material could potentially increase the service life of the concrete – with considerable cost savings as a result.

The work is taking place at Delft Technical University, the Netherlands.

It is the brainchild of microbiologist Henk Jonkers and concrete technologist Eric Schlangen.

If all goes well, Dr Jonkers says they could start the process of commercialising the system in 2-3 years.

From the article, it sounds like these are not engineered bacteria but engineering may increase yield.

“Micro-cracks” are an expected part of the hardening process and do not directly cause strength loss. Fractures with a width of about 0.2mm are allowed under norms used by the concrete industry.

But over time, water – along with aggressive chemicals in it – gets into these cracks and corrodes the concrete.

“For durability reasons – in order to improve the service life of the construction – it is important to get these micro-cracks healed,” Dr Jonkers told BBC News.

Bacterial spores and the nutrients they will need to feed on are added as granules into the concrete mix. But water is the missing ingredient required for the microbes to grow. Concrete is the world’s most popular building material, but cracking is a problem

So the spores remain dormant until rainwater works its way into the cracks and activates them. The harmless bacteria – belonging to the Bacillus genus – then feed on the nutrients to produce limestone.

The bacterial food incorporated into the healing agent is calcium lactate – a component of milk. The microbes used in the granules are able to tolerate the highly alkaline environment of the concrete.

The cost will be high per unit but in the overall scheme of things, reduction in maintenance and longer functional life will dwarf cost issues.

Far out there.

Saturday, October 20th, 2012

Once again, Craig Venter is looking for new challenges. The latest may be Martian DNA.

I have thought for some time that life on Mars is going to consist of microorganisms and be buried several feet below the surface of the planet soil. I have even blogged about it before.

Now, there is a possibility of a nucleotide sequencer that could go to Mars on the next probe in 2018.

In what could become a race for the first extraterrestrial genome, researcher J. Craig Venter said Tuesday that his Maryland academic institute and his company, Synthetic Genomics, would develop a machine capable of sequencing and beaming back DNA data from the planet.

Separately, Jonathan Rothberg, founder of Ion Torrent, a DNA sequencing company, is collaborating on an effort to equip his company’s “Personal Genome Machine” for a similar task.

“We want to make sure an Ion Torrent goes to Mars,” Rothberg told Technology Review.

Although neither team yet has a berth on a Mars rocket, their plans reflect the belief that the simplest way to prove there is life on Mars is to send a DNA sequencing machine.

“There will be DNA life forms there,” Venter predicted Tuesday in New York, where he was speaking at the Wired Health Conference.

Venter said researchers working with him have already begun tests at a Mars-like site in the Mojave Desert. Their goal, he said, is to demonstrate a machine capable of autonomously isolating microbes from soil, sequencing their DNA, and then transmitting the information to a remote computer, as would be required on an unmanned Mars mission. Heather Kowalski, a spokeswoman for Venter, confirmed the existence of the project but said the prototype system was “not yet 100 percent robotic.”

Doing this on Mars would avoid the problem of contamination by earth organisms. New life forms that don’t use DNA might be a problem but most people who have thought about this believe that DNA is the genetic material of all life forms. Of course, protein, which may have been the original genetic material on earth could also be the Martian equivalent.

We are starting to see commercial spacecraft develop and one was used to reach the international space station recently. A Mars mission is another order of complexity but by 2018, it may be an option.

UPDATE: A new report describes obtaining natural gas (methane) from coal using bacteria or archea.

Many coal beds contain large amounts of methane that can be harvested by drilling wells. In recent decades, researchers have demonstrated that a large fraction of the natural gas found in the coal beds is produced by naturally occurring microörganisms that feed on coal, and they have found ways to stimulate the microbes to produce more methane. Luca Technologies, based in Golden, Colorado, is using this approach to increase production from coal beds with existing methane wells. Another company, Next Fuel, based in Sheridan, Wyoming, recently showed that it could use similar technology to produce methane from coal beds that didn’t already have methane in them, raising the possibility that vast amounts of coal that’s currently too expensive to mine could be converted into natural gas.

What will we find on Mars that might be an analogous system ?