Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Verizon and Fiber

I am always amazed by some people who seem to miss the point, a simple technical and economic fact. Namely that wireless is getting better and better and fiber is just plain expensive, especially in New York. Verizon is slowly becoming a wireless carrier. I saw that in the late 80s and early 90s when I was the COO of the wireless company. I pushed CDMA and Qualcomm over AT&T soon to be Lucent and soon to be dead. Good choice. I saw wireless as a growing capacity and in the past 10 years we have seen with LTE and 4th generation (4G) some of that dream come true and with the 5th generation (5G) on the way this is a reality along with expanded WiFi.

Now just how much capacity do we need? Good question. But 25 Mbps is real good for most things. 1 Gbps is great if you have massive imaging data and real time needs. Not every home is going real time multi patient multi location functional MRI analyses.

Then along comes the lawyers, with some chip on their shoulders. One in particular has a desire to get that 100 Gbps service for what appears to be free. Publishing in Backchannel she states:

But I have a suggestion. Here’s a plan for New York City, one that has the potential to be a win for everyone concerned: Cut a different deal with Verizon. Make Verizon into the operator of a passive, neutral fiber network that (as in Seoul and Stockholm) is connected to every single home and business. Release Verizon from the shackles of serving customers and acquiring programming. Let other ISPs emerge that will actually have the relationships with customers (who will probably be pretty happy never to negotiate Verizon’s voice mail again). Set a reasonable price for provision of wholesale fiber access that Verizon must charge to any ISP.

 This is like demanding we have Ford provide a million horses and carriages to be certain that everyone can have a ride in old technology any time they want.

Fiber has a niche market. That niche deems it quite valuable whereas most people can and should be served by an amalgam of wireless services. 

It is real tough when you just can't seem to understand the basic technology and you demand the world fit your view. Add on top the demand that you tell people how to allocate their resources. I think someone tried that. It was the old 5 Year Plan. It did not work then and will not now.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Economy and Real Estate

From time to time it is worth a look at how well we may be doing. The above is an interesting chart. It is the total real estate loans issued by month and the annualized growth rate by month. One can see the collapse period but for the last eighteen months we have been doing quite well. This may be one of the best signs of late, of course unless you live in San Francisco!


In the summer of 1974 while at MIT I got a group of local minority students to help on a radar problem at Logan Airport. We were to examine the issue of airport surface traffic control and my group of students were what I had to help me out. They were sharp, dedicated and hard workers. The following summer, 1975, MIT formalized a program called MITES. It is not in its 40th year.

In the late 80s and early 90s I worked again with MITES bringing a half dozen or more students down to New York to work with me at NYNEX (now Verizon). They were great! They went on to Medicine, Investment Banking and Entrepreneurial start ups.

This is an amazing program and I am happy to have played a small role along the way. I still see the former students and from time to time get together. I have seen families grow and careers expand. Of all the programs at MIT this is clearly one of the most productive.

So Happy 40th to MITES!

Internet and Human Rights

I just read a piece which discussed the Internet as being a human right. Rousseau would even be surprised. Human rights do change with time, for example we do have "free" telephone service to those who cannot afford it. But Internet access is a bit more complex. It is available at your local library, if you have one, and at all Starbucks I would guess. Most hotel lobbies have it as well. But you have to possess a device which can access the Internet. Is that part of the right.

In ArsTechnica they state:

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a speech today that "broadband should be available to everyone everywhere." Wheeler: If slow speeds are enough, why do you heavily promote faster service? The FCC was created in 1934 with the mandate to ensure universal access to telephone service at reasonable prices. Today there is a "Universal Service Fund" to subsidize access to Internet and other communications services but no strict requirement that everyone in the US be offered broadband. Availability varies widely throughout the country, with many rural customers lacking fast, reliable Internet service.

I wrote extensively on Universal Service some twenty years ago, as the FCC was considering expanding it to wireless. 

A United Nations report in 2011 said disconnecting people from the Internet is a human rights violation. Vint Cerf, who co-created the networking technology that made the Internet possible, wrote that Internet access is not a human right, arguing that "technology is an enabler of rights, not a right itself... at one time if you didn’t have a horse it was hard to make a living. But the important right in that case was the right to make a living, not the right to a horse. Today, if I were granted a right to have a horse, I’m not sure where I would put it."

Universal Service was focused on a survival issue, the poor and elderly needing access to emergency care. Internet access is dramatically different. It is Facebook and Twitter, the benefit to humanity being marginal at best.

Thus one should ask why we should pay for this service, what is the societal benefit? My position of some twenty years ago seems to remain the same.

China and the US

There are two contrasting media outlets which discuss their country's interests. China Daily is for China and RT for Russia. RT seems always to find the most extreme example of US actions and always finds a way to condemn the US. China Daily on the other hand is a window to China and is somewhat even handed.

A recent piece by China Daily is worthy of reading. It describes actions by the US with China during WW II. The article states:

Top-secret military documents from World War II have revealed the depth and strength of the alliance between China and the United States against Imperial Japan, as well as joint efforts to rescue downed US pilots. The cache of intelligence documents, detailing a number of daring missions, is on display at Jianchuan Museum in Anren, Sichuan province. More than 1,100 documents and other artifacts were donated by the family of Major Richard Hill (1908-92), a US military intelligence officer who coordinated the rescue of 46 US pilots shot down over occupied China. Fan Jianchuan, who owns the museum, said he is passionate about bringing the largely forgotten story of US-China collaboration to life for a new generation, and that the path to future peace and friendship lies in these wartime ties. 

The fact was that the US and China did cooperate greatly during WW II and this was an added dimension that we all too often forget. 

On the other hand we should always re-read Mahan as well as Bywater to best understand the Pacific as a region of potential military conflict. China is unlike Japan, it is economically self sufficient and has access to resources that it deems necessary. However control of the seas is as critical to China as it was to Japan.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Squirrel Summer

Just hanging out! Summer is here and so the guys are resting!

Broadband and Politics

In a recent article in Backchannel an attorney whose opinions in my opinion lack any insight into fundamental technical and operational factors opines on broadband in NH. Some ten years ago I spent a few years trying to do broadband in over 20 towns in New Hampshire. I have a home in New Hampshire and I got to know every street in these towns. All one has to do is examine some cases we presented on our web site. We did years of work examining every street and every market. More than likely we got to know the state better than most Presidential candidates. From Nashua to Colebrook.

Now the author states:

Why? Because New Hampshire, our nation’s 42nd most populous state, has lousy connectivity. The FCC defines high-speed Internet access to be 25 Mbps down/3 Mbps up these days, and more than a third of the rural population in New Hampshire (most of which votes Republican, by the way) can’t buy that kind of connection at any price. Fewer than one out of every six urban New Hampshire residents can buy that connection even if they want it: the wire just doesn’t exist in their town.

Why the poor connectivity. All you have to do is look at the paper I wrote after the attempt to build out fiber. I stated: 

This paper presents one of the most significant costs of implementing a broadband service but at the same time one of the least analyzed component in that process, franchising. Simply stated, for a town as small as a few thousand households, the time it takes to obtain a franchise under the best of circumstances is often well in excess of one year and the amount of labor includes often two or more people dedicated to that effort plus other costs such as legal, engineering and other costs. If the incumbent decides to fight, the process may take longer. The municipalities always want to increase their returns so the process becomes an escalation of demands and delays. For towns of say 2,000 households, as the author demonstrates by specific ca se studies, costs of $400,000 to $500,000 are not unrealistic. This means readily an additional cost of $250 per HH or at 25% penetration, $1,000 per HH. In contrast the capital required to deliver broadband in such a community is $1,500 per HH. Thus the franchise costs are approaching the capital costs per HH in many communities. This clearly becomes a dramatic if hidden element but also becomes a real but avoidable barrier to entry for any and all new broadband entrants. This paper details these costs and others and makes suggestions to remedy them.

 Namely, the towns themselves, in my experience and my opinion, were one of the greatest road blocks. Add to that was the influence the cable companies had in trying to stop any fiber build.

Overall the piece fails in my opinion to understand the complexity of New Hampshire politics. The towns may want fiber but the way they go about it is the most significant obstacle. It would really help to understand the record and not make statements which serve a political agenda.

Unfortunately I have the distinct disadvantage of experience. Politics does not.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Government Data

In the dark old days of on-line searching, such as with Dialog, one had a few databases which were searched by a complex string of commands. The result was a paper title or abstract at best. Then you selected the desired paper and waited until a copy arrived to only find that it did not contain what you really sought.

A holdover from that era is the NTIS, a depository for all Government non-classified studies. Hidden deep within some cave somewhere are all these records. In this depository one must carefully craft a search strategy using the proper phrases and symbols. For example I entered "radar" and got but 2 replies! Do that in google and you get 370 million! So which is better? Not hard to see.

Along comes a few senators and they see that perhaps they can save a buck. Novel thought. In an NHPR piece they state:

New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte is joining with three fellow Republicans to introduce legislation to eliminate what they view as an outdated and duplicative government agency. The bill, dubbed the "Just Google It Act," would eliminate the National Technical Information Services. Ayotte and her co-sponsors say the agency prints and sells copies of government documents that can be found for free online through a simple search. The other sponsors are Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia. Ayotte previously introduced similar legislation with Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri. Ayotte says there's no justification for funding an agency whose mission is no longer necessary. The Department of Commerce estimates the agency will have an operating cost of $170 million this year.

Now $170 million may not be much, 5 cents per citizen, but it is a start.

Monday, June 22, 2015

USPTF and its Consequences

Over the past few years as a direct result of the ACA we have seen positions taken by the USPTF on prostate and breast cancer. Women revolted and the USPTF was overturned. Men have just died.

Now in a recent article there are the quantitative results, assuming anyone can believe the Government records, remember the PSA data problem. In the Journal of Urology the author's state:

There was a 28% decline in incident diagnoses of prostate cancer in the year following the USPSTF draft recommendation against PSA screening. This study helps quantify the potential benefits (reduced harms of overdiagnosis and overtreatment of low risk disease and disease found in elderly men) and potential harms (missed opportunities to diagnose important cancers in men who may benefit from treatment) of this guideline.

The cause seems to be the following of the USPTF guidelines. Namely fewer diagnoses have been made because fewer tests have been performed but if we waith another few years we will see greater mortality.

Just to recall several facts:

1. The US and European studies in NEJM a while back were in our opinion flawed. The US study just looked at a PSA of 4 and did not account for velocity, percent free, age, size, and family history. The European study not only was faulty for those reasons but it samples once every 2-3 years, much too long a period for aggressive PCa.

2. PSA is useful if and in our analysis and opion only if its is done and recorded over time, accounts for the size of the prostate, measures velocity, and accounts for percent free PSA. Unfortunately despite all the pressure on EHRs the temporal statistics on patients is ignored.

Thus we see the results starting to appear. In Science Daily the writes notes:

The study identified a drop of 28.1 percent in diagnoses of intermediate-risk disease and 23.1 percent in high-risk prostate cancer one year after the draft guideline. The decline did not vary across age or comorbidity features. 'These findings suggest that reduced screening may result in missed opportunities to spare these men from progressive disease and cancer death,' said Barocas. While the observation period was too limited to determine the impact on the diagnosis of metastatic prostate cancer, which is associated with a high treatment burden, decrease in quality of life and increased mortality, the authors did observe a small upward trend in diagnoses of non-localized disease. 'The results raise concern that if this trend continues more men may be diagnosed at a point when their disease is advanced. Younger, healthier men with intermediate or high-risk disease would normally be candidates for aggressive local therapy and they may not be receiving a timely diagnosis under this policy,' said Barocas. The authors suggest that future research should focus on screening regimens that minimize harms and maximize potential benefits of screening, while also considering patient preferences.

It will be essential to continue to monitor this result but at the same time use what tools we have clinically to deal with those at higher risk, for example those with strong family histories. The USPTF in my opinion may very well have caused the demise of thousands in the long run.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Rationing Board

Six years or so ago I wrote about my objections to the ACA as then structured and subsequently jammed into law. Now, slowly but forcefully, its reality is coming to the fore. One of the messes has been PCORI, spending almost a billion a year on projects of at best questionable merit. Then the quality parade of linking the elusive quality metrics to payments. Now the Independent Payment Advisory Board. Fortunately Congress is moving to stop this. They should do the same for PCORI, ICD-10, and the mass of other excess payments. Instead the IPDB will be the de facto rationing entity denying procedures that in its opinion are not necessary.

Let me give as an example the PSA test. For most, but not all men it is not a problem. But for those for whom aggressive PCa is the case it is a sine qua non. But IPAB will deny it to all. Remember that the Government has little demonstrated competence anywhere, other than the Military.

In a recent piece in Bloomberg one of the current Administration's mouthpieces states: but forcefully

In the face of this pressure, it's crucial to move more forcefully away from fee-for-service payments and toward payments that reflect the value of care. Doing so will require a series of nimble adjustments based on evidence showing which incentives and other strategies work well. It would be foolish to bet the ranch on any one untested approach. The Independent Payment Advisory Board was created by the Affordable Care Act expressly to help with this. In particular, the IPAB is designed to provide a backstop if health costs grow beyond Congress's control. Presumably, Congress will be more likely to act if members know that failing to do so means the IPAB will step in. Those favoring repeal of the IPAB either oppose a shift away from fee-for-service payment, or believe that Congress is about to become much more adept at complicated payment reform than it has ever been in the past.

 The reality is that the IPAB can and will control treatment. Physicians will be further loaded with a new set of restrictions and more than likely lives will be lost. This was the proverbial "death panel", a name which may very well have significance.

There are many elements of the ACA worth keeping and others requiring excision. This is one which should be dead on arrival, not the patients.

Magna Carta

Today marks the 800th anniversary of the signing of (the) Magna Carta. The Guardian reports on the current royal person in attendance.  They state:

The site is now a National Trust park, but Runnymede was originally chosen as the agreed venue because the boggy ground prevented either the king or his barons from bringing their armies for battle. This time, the sovereign arrived without military backup but to a new fanfare, specially composed by John Rutter and sung by Temple church choir, whose London base served in 1215 as the London HQ for the beleaguered king.Her Majesty was invited to unveil a plaque by the master of the rolls, Lord Dyson, who has in the past described Magna Carta as “a curious hotch potch”.

 The document is in a sense an establishment of the English Class system. The Barron's wanted their "rights", as best they were understood at the time, and also they all despised King John, a man easily so despised. This was in no way a document for the people and the very concept of a "right" had a few centuries to mature.

Notwithstanding, it is always good to celebrate a day when one person rule gets a comeuppance.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Law of War

The DoD has just issued the Law of War Manual. It is almost 1300 pages and one doubts that many will read and understand it yet many will be judged by its words. It is worth examining to understand the complexity under which the US enters any combat situation. It is also interesting to note that it is a War Manual for the Department of Defense.

Buildings and Creativity

The above is a view of Bell Labs in Holmdel. I spent the summer of 1965 there between my MIT work. I recall driving my little yellow VW into the complex the first time in 1964 when at NY Tel to coordinate with BTL on the introduction of the No1 ESS. My office in NY was a desk on some non-descript floor at 140 West Street. In NYC there was no air conditioning and you had to commute like all other New Yorkers, by bus, subway, ferry etc. Now Holmdel was the "future" Now of course it is trying to avoid the bull dozers and new homes. The tale is that buildings do not mean anything. Some of my most creative times were spent in Building 20 at MIT, the wooden rat infested Rad Lab structures, now replaced by the Gehry monstrosity of the Stata building. What lent the most to creativity, wood and asbestos or glass and leaky windows?

Now the New Yorker has a piece on the Google building boom.The writer notes:

The idea of living not just near one’s employer but in a world of its creation will sound horrifying to many workers: company towns were supposed to have vanished as an industrial-age perversion. But there are socially responsible reasons for holding employees in lavish corporate dorms. For one thing, it keeps them from messing with the local real estate. As I reported in the magazine last year, the greater Bay Area is in the throes of an acute housing crisis, exacerbated, if not caused, by forces attending tech’s wild ascent. The value of employee housing, if built from the ground up, is one of the few points on which large tech companies and housing activists see eye to eye. For the companies, too, there’s a promise of fruitful cohesion (the group that lives together grows together) and productivity (no trains to catch). It’s less clear how tech giants are served by campuses that tune out the outside world. When organized monasticism took root with the Buddhists, in the fourth century B.C., it was the result not of religious insularity but of secular wealth. To shelter nomadic monks was thought to be admirable, so those with faith and money sought to institutionalize the practice. Twenty-five hundred years later, perhaps not too much has changed. To the extent that Google has done its business on the premises of enlightenment (“Universally accessible and useful”) and virtue (“Don’t be evil”), its research for the future shares a questing optimism—and a reverent isolationism—with the studious faiths of the past.

 It is a truly monastic and insular approach. In old Building 20 we walked to many places just to get out of the cold and out of the heat. In Holmdel one went no further than your aisle. You never went to the adjacent aisle, no less the lower or upper floor. You were compartmentalized. My job was the cross point matrix driver for the No 1 ESS switch. Somewhere in the maze of a building was the software. No where was there a vision!

Buildings are a powerful mechanism for communications, or the destruction of such. The building should allow flow, not distract from itself, and facilitate what needs facilitating. My most creative spot was at the old MIT Instrumentation Lab looking out over the back window to the coffin factory, seeing the mahogany coming in and the finished products going out. It was a mix of Camus and Kafka, a vision of life that few have. Behind the coffin factory was the glue factory, with the remains of horses going in and little bottles of glue coming out to be sent to little children to draw their school picture cut outs.

Today in those same spots are multi story buildings all filled with biotech. small DNA segments running through machines. No more coffins. In fact few if any remember the coffin factory. Each day I sat there writing Stochastic Systems and State Estimation, no air conditioning, sweat dropping down my arm as I wrote pencil on yellow pads. No PC, no assistants, just the steady flow of wood to coffins and dead horse to glue bottles.

So perhaps Google may be making a colossal mistake. For McGarty's Law is "Anytime a company builds a massive new corporate headquarters, they soon go bankrupt!" Let's just wait. The again we may have to see what I meant by "soon", it took 20 years for Holmdel.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Off the Shelf CRISPRs

Ran across this for my CRISPR work! Really inexpensive and shelf stable!

Employment Numbers May 2015

The following are some summaries of the employment data from last week.
First is the set of data on reported and actual using the projections on the 2006 data. We still see a substantial gap, namely using the 2006 participation rate we are near 8% unemployment.
Employment is growing but it is not increasing at a rate commensurate with population growth.
The participation rate just will not climb back to where it was. This will mean a long term deficit, both in employment and in revenue. Also the unemployed will reap benefits independent of contributions.
This shows the incremental numbers. The gap is positive which is of some good news.
The gap is a measure of a lagging economy. It is not clear why this remains so stagnant.

Global Warming and Daylilies

Each year for the past 25 we have monitored the date of first bloom measure as the day of the bloom from January 1 of that year. We present the results up to 2015 below.

There is a downward slope on all, meaning an earlier bloom date, and thus a trend of warming for the past 25 years. However there are micro-environment issues as well as "weather" versus climate issues as well. The trend is there however.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

CRISPR and Risks

In a piece in Nature the author states:

By and large, researchers see these gaps as a minor price to pay for a powerful technique. But Doudna has begun to have more serious concerns about safety. Her worries began at a meeting in 2014, when she saw a postdoc present work in which a virus was engineered to carry the CRISPR components into mice. The mice breathed in the virus, allowing the CRISPR system to engineer mutations and create a model for human lung cancer. Doudna got a chill; a minor mistake in the design of the guide RNA could result in a CRISPR that worked in human lungs as well. “It seemed incredibly scary that you might have students who were working with such a thing,” she says. “It's important for people to appreciate what this technology can do.”

 Indeed this presents a rather risky tool. Cheap, easy to get and with the right smarts one can target a specific person.

1. Cas9 can be programmed as well so the cells reproduce with Cas9..

2. sgRNA can do two things. Obviously cut a specific location but if we have a specific person's DNA we can program it for a specific person and specific cut.

3. We can then induce say a malignancy by just inhaling a virus which writes this in the target. Moreover we can do the same say with pollen by transcribing this into pollen.

Whether we target a person or mass attacks this can be a easily weaponized mechanism. Doudna is right, but she may have just seen some of the horrors! One the one hand this is a magnificent tool, on the other and in the wrong hands one should be wary.

This is especially the case since we have essentially opened our bio labs to anyone coming here. If one thinks cyber terror is a problem, just wait!

Employment Details May 2015

It is worth an analysis of the employment details. We have been doing this for almost seven years. Let us start with Government and related employment.
The above chart shows Government and Core, namely jobs that really do something and are not tax supported. The ratio of Government to Core exploded to a peak of 48% in 2010 and dropped but is increasing again. The Government related sector still grows.
The above shows core Government and Ed and Health, which we combine. Note core Government is steady but Health is exploding, from 17 M in 05' to over 22M in 15! That is almost a 35% increase.
The above shows the Core sectors and their change. Durable Manufacturing has seen a slight increase. Mining has dropped. Construction is doing well again.
The above compares the percents of total in the two years noted. Ed and Health shows the growth as does professional. Manufacturing is down in all sectors.

 We show the changes below.

Friday, June 5, 2015

CRISPR Engineering

There is a current Nature Reviews article discussing CRISPR techniques. Just to review the CRISPR cas9 combo is a protein combined with an RNA piece that results in the precise slicing of a double stranded DNA. We demonstrate below:

The RNA is a chimeric combination of RNA which on the one hand attaches to a guides the Cas 9 protein and an RNA that finds the spot on the DS DNA.
The process is somewhat straightforward, albeit a few issues as to just "how" this tool works.
Finally the authors lay out a few applications which we detail below:
I spent some time a few weeks back talking to my grand kids 6th grade class. My final remark was on CRISPRs. They got the point!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Commencement Speakers

MIT had an interesting list of its Commencement Speakers. I went back to my days and it was the MIT President. Missed 1970 where there was no speaker due to the Kent State Assassinations. That was a troubled time. But generally it was some content free discussion waiting to get diplomas.

Now we have a real collection of people who at times make no sense. The collection seems more reflection of the politics of the time rather than any academic content. It started with Ms Graham from WaPo. Strange for the time. This year it is the White House Techy, an MIT Grad, but clearly a political statement. Of the politicians they were all Democrats and even the Government Officials. Risky if the Republicans take over in 2016. Also boring if you are sitting there waiting to get through the process to please your parents.

One must ask just who was your commencement speaker? Unless you had the list I bet not 1 of a hundred would remember. Better yet what did they say? No clue.

I would strongly suggest eliminating such a process. It is too political and content free. It also takes too much time!Just get to work!