Sunday, January 31, 2016

Why Is Google Building Fiber?

In a article ArsTechnica discusses Google's expanding fiber footprint. They seem to have targeted 20 major US cities. Having been down this road a bit I wonder what they are doing.

1. Franchises: You must have a Franchise in every location, unless your political "pull" allows you somehow to avoid it. I have been there for 36 years, and I never found a way. Franchises are costly and a delay. Getting 20 Franchises in face of companies like Comcast can be overwhelming.

2. The costs of fiber are extraordinary. Verizon has walked away and they really know what they are doing. It was just not worth it.

3. Wireless can do better are an order of magnitude or less per customer.

4. All of this has been know for a decade or more. What does Google know that everyone else does not?

They cannot build it cheaper, cannot get fewer Franchises, cannot get cheaper pole attachment fees, cannot dig cheaper. So what is it? Just a way to get PR or is Google just wasting shareholders money? I suspect it is the latter but it is just my guess. After all, what do I know, I have only done this for 40 years! They just did a part of one friendly town, they must be smarter, they are Google.....

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Flint, Water Pipes, Selenium and Costs

I heard one reporter ask why they did not replace all the water pipes in Flint. Since the reporter had no idea what she was saying and apparently the Government leader was also clueless we got what we can expect from the media; nonsense.

But some thoughts may be worthwhile.

1. Most old cities have no idea where all these pipes are. Records are not that great nor are they accurate and things move. So trying to find them is tough.

2. The cost to even dig and install new pipes is fantastic. My guess is about $5 million per mile of pipe, maybe even more.

3. However the old pipes can be used, somewhat.

4. In the oil industry they face the same problems. Oil pipeline get what is called a biofilm growth. Like arteries in old folks. What they do is use a device called a "pig" that has razor sharp blades that rotate and cut off all the old biofilm. Let's assume you can do that in the old lead pipes. The tools exist and they work. Much less that the replacement costs. And the pigs collect the biofilm masses and expel them as it move forward.

5.  But you still have lead. So what you do is install a PVC or equivalent pipe sheath inside the lead. This keeps the lead out.

6. The you coat the PVC with nano Selenium to inhibit future biofilm growth. Real cheap.

7. This replaces 95% of the lead pipe and provides a stable bacteriostatic flow path.

8. It may leave some residual lead local pipes in homes but they were there anyway. You will reduce the lead burden by well over 99.9%, well withing EPA limits.

9. When using the pigs you also use modified GPS to fully map the system for future reference.

10. Estimates are about $250,000 per mile of pipe.

Let's see what the Government comes up with!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Amazon and the US Post Office

The USPS is the worst delivery entity in the world. They score lost packages at 1 out of every 10! Why Amazon uses them is absurd. You have one effective entity relying on the most incompetent, result; total incompetence. And we want the Government to handle Health Care. Just look at the EHR nightmare. We have docs typing on screens and never look up at patients; that is meaningful use! You get some pediatrician to head up the group to define what should be done; please. Perhaps we really do need a Washington shakeup. Never been in a Trump hotel though, so no comments there. Well back to the USPS. Ben Franklin would be so unhappy!

Set Top Boxes and the FCC

The FCC today noted:

Ninety-nine percent of pay-TV subscribers are chained to their set-top boxes because cable and satellite operators have locked up the market. Lack of competition has meant few choices and high prices for consumers – on average, $231 in rental fees annually for the average American household. Altogether, U.S. consumers spend $20 billion a year to lease these devices. Since 1994, according to a recent analysis, the cost of cable set-top boxes has risen 185 percent while the cost of computers, televisions and mobile phones has dropped by 90 percent. Congress recognized the importance of a competitive marketplace and directed the Commission to adopt rules that will ensure consumers will be able to use the device they prefer for accessing programming they’ve paid for. Today, FCC Chairman Wheeler is circulating for a vote a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that would tear down anti-competitive barriers and pave the way for software, devices and other innovative solutions to compete with the set-top boxes that a majority of consumers must lease today. The proposal will be voted by the full Commission on February 18, 2016. This proposal is about one thing: consumer choice. Consumers should have options created by competition. The Chairman’s proposal will let innovators create and then let consumers choose.

This could allow homes to get their own cable box at the cost of a wifi router and save $250 per box per year. It may also eliminate a great deal of dust which these boxes seem to accumulate! Just don't hold your breath, it is the Government after all. Just watch Comcast, they will be seen kicking and screaming all the way!

We should remember the Carter Phone decision, better yet the Hush a Phone ruling. See my 1989 Harvard paper.

How Many Innovators

One of the main functions of a University is to demonstrate reality. Giving a student the tools and then presenting a realistic path to achieve something with those tools. Not every Physicist will obtain a Nobel Prize. In fact by the nature of the prize it is limited to 3 per year. Assuming a productive lifetime of a Physicist of at most 40 years, say 20 to 60, one has at most 120 opportunities to be in that tier. Now the odds are quite low. That does not mean one's life is meaningless, but that a balance of expectations is reasonable.

Now entrepreneurs fall somewhat in the same category. Almost all fail, and do so the first, second, or third time. The major rule of an entrepreneur, however, is to "burn the boats", meaning to give up all else except achievement of the goal. That is what often makes entrepreneurs appear ruthless, they are of a single focus. The goal. That is also why so few who set out can succeed. Any of us who have been down that path know what that means. It is seven days a week, fifty two weeks a year. It is total dedication, no distractions.

So how does this work out in Academia? MIT has had many entrepreneurs. But they like almost all others had "burned their boats" to get there. One cannot be an active academic and be an entrepreneurial leader. You can be an advisor, a Board member, but not the change agent, not the leader.

So where is this going? Well MIT has announced the Sandbox, the very name being a bit insulting. Sandboxes are for kids, and pets, yes dogs seem to like them, and not for adults. But this Sandbox alleges:
MIT Sandbox invites 11,000 students to innovate.Offering funding up to $25,000, mentoring, and tailored educational experiences, the program will open up new pathways for student entrepreneurs and innovators.

What does this mean? Does this mean that every MIT Grad and Undergrad can start a company while doing their day jobs. It seems so. They continue: 

MIT Sandbox Innovation Fund Program (Sandbox), an Institute-wide program that will support student-initiated ideas, launched today. The endeavor opens more pathways for all types of student innovators — whether they have a seed of an idea, a nascent technology, a specific startup in mind, or are planning the next moonshot. Sandbox will connect students with tailored educational experiences, mentoring, and up to $25,000 to help qualified students and teams nurture their creative brainstorms. “The primary aim of Sandbox is to develop people, not necessarily startups or products, but the learning will be in the context of advancing an entrepreneurial venture or innovative idea — one that serves an important market or social need,” says Ian A. Waitz, dean of MIT’s School of Engineering and the originator of the program. “It is designed to help students develop the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to be more effective when they go off in the world and practice MIT’s brand of deep scientific and technological innovation.”
The problem is that to be an entrepreneur means to dedicate oneself to a single focus; the success of the business. This may be a gross distraction from what the Institute is supposed to do as its prime mission; educate and innovate. Entrepreneurs must fight for market position, fight for funding, fight for survival. Those are not the talents one builds as an academic; not that there is not a lot of infighting but that type is less than productive in a start up.

In my experience the Academy is not the place for startups. The skill set is not there. The dreams and ideas may be there, but the details of building a team, leadership of a team, selling an idea, raising funding, dealing with contracts and corporate structure, and the day to day issues of running a business, even a candy store, just do not come across anywhere but in the process of doing it. If you want to be an entrepreneur, then leave academia and start.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

John Harvard Rolls Over in His Grave!

In a report by StatNews they indicate that Harvard Medical is considering the rendering of naming rights to the School for a substantial donation. They note:

That’s the value of Harvard Medical School’s name: A billion dollars, or more? That question is swirling around the school’s historic quad. After Harvard broke with tradition last year and renamed its public health school in return for a billionaire’s record-setting $350 million gift, faculty members have been discussing whether Harvard Medical School should be next, according to Dr. John Rowe, chair of the Board of Fellows that advises the medical school.The suggestion has been met with enthusiasm — and some trepidation — from the Harvard community. Some call it a good way to catapult medical research forward and dig out of annual deficits at the medical school. Others balk at the suggestion of corrupting the world-famous Harvard Med brand by selling it to the highest bidder.

Well there is already a name, namely Harvard, there is a Hopkins, a Weill Cornell, a Duke, and the list goes on. But wait, they further state:

“If they named it the Trump School of Medicine, half of the faculty would resign,” Jones said.

So one guesses that you could name it anything but Trump! Well let's see where that would go....not yet. There is an academic political correctness that is in Boston. What ever happened to anonymous gifts? You still get a tax benefit but no recognition. Imagine Longwood Avenue becoming Trump Lane, the old Peter Bent Brigham, the ice cream guy, becoming Trump and Women's, isn't that a kick in the whatever.

Just following this internal cat fight will be interesting. It would have been interesting if they kept and renamed the old Lying In Hospital as well.... 

Talk of gasoline and a match, academics and politics....

Monday, January 25, 2016

How NOT to Learn a Language!

I just tried out a MOOC from that college west of Boston famed for a Presidential Candidate. It was Italian. Now being raised on Staten Island, Italian was a second language, Spanish a third. You see Italian was very important. The best priests to go to for Confession were the Italian ones down the street, not the old Irish guys at the local parish. But you had to speak Italian. At least enough.

Then I for some reason had to take Italian with a US State Department group. Then I took Italian from a woman from Trieste; try that accent on after Sicilian. Then I was in Italy. Fact, there is no one Italian and on Staten Island it is like Sicily. So do not try it in Florence.

Now how does this relate to the Italian MOOC. Well, it was the worst possible course ever to try and teach any language. It was literally all over the place. It was high Italian, Milan most likely, and in my picking up five other languages the key is simple:

1. Get the 100 most important words; here, there, numbers, please, thank you, my name is, where is the bathroom, how much is it, etc. You can survive a little,

2. Learn the present tense of about 30 key verbs including to have and to be.

3. Learn 20-50 new words each day. Get index cards and walk around memorizing them.

4. Read the newspaper each day.

5. Watch 2 hours of television each day in the language. Watching the Sopranos in Greek or Sex in the City in German really adds to your insight. On the other hand French TV is all intellectual stuff, like Sartre on steroids.

6. Speak to cab drivers. You can even do this in New York.

7. Try it out on waiters. This may work sometimes.

8. Shop, shop, shop. Read the signs. Find a restroom. It was amazing in Greece, Anthropos, Gynekon, yes anthropology and Gynecologist. Limbic valence on the spot.

9. Never waste time on a MOOC!

The course was almost cartoon like. The exams forced you to answer in a specific way. No one speaks that way. You learn to use phrases to express ideas, requests etc. My favorite experience is that French uses subjunctive, je voudrais, English uses I want. You never say I want in French, unless you do not want it. Language is culture, culture is expression, that is what a language is. Not what this MOOC does.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Cable Box

Almost all homes have these antiques. They are the cable box. Apple introduces a new phone at least annually, software is updated monthly, lap tops are replaced about ever 2 years. The cable box has not changed in almost two decades! It is older than my furnace, my water heater and even my roof on my house. I have had 4 cars in the period in which the cable box has sat there collecting dust and thousands of dollars for the cable company. They will never appear on Antique Road Show since they will never be replaced.

ArsTechnica has an interesting piece on the attempt to change this. You see legally even now you should be able to buy your own box, just over $100. Instead you pay $250 per year in fees! Why, well just try to buy your own and install it!

As ArsTechnica states:

What if, instead of renting a set-top box from your cable company, you could get all your TV channels and online video services delivered to a single device that you only pay for once?
The Federal Communications Commission could make it happen, consumer advocacy groups say. "An open set-top box market is a key component of freeing consumers from unnecessary monthly rental fees, and it would enable them to more easily access online video content right alongside their subscription TV programming," the groups said in a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler yesterday. The letter was written by Common Cause, Demand Progress, Free Press, Fight for the Future, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, New America’s Open Technology Institute, and Public Knowledge....The CableCard standard created nearly 20 years ago was supposed to make the set-top box industry competitive. And it has succeeded to an extent, letting cable subscribers use TiVo boxes and other devices. But the FCC long ago admitted that CableCard had only limited success. About 99 percent of customers still rent set-top boxes directly from their providers and pay an average of $231.82 a year in rental fees, US senators found in a survey of TV providers last year.

What is the chance of this happening. Zero! Why? The Cable Lobby. They want to keep those mastodons in place.  At some point the FCC ought to consider the customer! For over 40 years we have been able to select our own telephones, what few are left in the home. The cable box is another issue.

Oh and the cable modem is another one of these issues.

It is not that the Cable companies cannot do this. They have massive Deep Packet Inspections operations to check out every customer. They can make the NSA look like tyros. But they are allowed by the FCC to tie-in their boxes and delimit customer choice! Whether it is ESPN or cable boxes, some how the FCC ought to do something. But alas it is Washington after all!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Blue Flowers

I have been focusing on CRISPRs for several years now, ever since I heard about them from Lander at Broad. I also hybridize flowers, using details genetic analysis, but not CRISPRs. You see, CRISPRs are like handling nuclear materials. If they get into a cell they can cause havoc. I limit my selections of chemicals to methanol for pigment separation.

In the WSJ is an article about some person moving to that edge. The article states:

After his parents go to bed, ....usually retires to the third bedroom of the family apartment, where he has built a laboratory. There, amid the whir of climate-controlling fans and equipment harvested from eBay, he is working on what he hopes will one day become a lucrative career. ...., 25 years old, is a plant hacker. “I want to make flowers no one has ever seen,” he says, wearing shorts and a T-shirt on a recent day at his home in ...... “What would happen if you combined features of a pine tree with an eggplant?” He also wants to turn a rose blue. 

Now I have also sought the blue flower, and have written extensively on it. It is not simple. You need the DNA structure of the plant, namely the Cas9 target, it must be the gene that controls blue, and you better know what you mean by blue. And that is just the beginning.

The article concludes with:

......, of ..., is also the founder of a company that raised $484,000 on the crowdfunding website Kickstarter for its glowing plant in 2013, but hasn’t delivered yet. He said delivery of glowing plant seeds to backers will start this year. Next in production is a new kind of moss that smells like patchouli that could be a replacement for air fresheners one day. After that, he too will make a go at the blue rose, he says.

Plants are tricky. They have many more genes than humans and many more base pairs. You see plants have been around a lot longer than we mammals. Humans have been manipulating plants for tens of thousands of years and we have corn and a variety of other results. What we do not really know is how plants are colored. I have taken a swipe at it for the past ten years. I am still trying to understand the process. Yet it takes an understanding of plants and genetics as well as a well controlled lab. One must be careful, especially with CRISPR technology, especially in a poorly controlled environment.

So if you worry about Iran and nukes you should be terrified by CRISPRs and labs in the "homes" of what may be less than educated 25 year olds.

Free College?

The NY Times has a piece on Free College. Now this is not really a new idea. Back in the 50s or so, when I went through this mill, if you were in New York City you did have several options. One was to go to CCNY, City College. It was free, but it was highly competitive. The best of the best went there. Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Poly, Bronx HS of Science, and a few Catholic Schools, but a very few. Back then Catholic High Schools educated cops and firemen, not scientists or engineers. A second option was Regents Scholarships and even better Regents Science and Math Scholarships. The latter were full tuition if you majored in Science, Math, Engineering and they were give out to only a few hundred students in the State, based on academic performance and a competitive test. That was my ticket to college.

Now the game is to give free tuition to those who cannot afford college, independent of any academic performance. If you are from the correct group you would get a free ride. If you were academically highly proficient then that would not apply.

Several observation can be made:

1. Performance seems to have disappeared from student support.

2. Tuition has exploded so fast that the modest amount supplied in say 1960, it was $1,000 I believe, would not buy books.

3. Room and board could add significant burdens.

4. What does the nation want for its investment? That perhaps is the key question. It should NOT be just to give everyone a college degree that has no value. How many communications, fine arts, political science majors do we really need? Probably very few. So if we d this then perhaps we focus on productivity and accomplishment.

This is a difficult issue. As of now the better institutions have found was to accomplish this. But they do so selectively and generally have some success. Making this another tax grab for everyone is not the solution.

There are many highly qualified students that fall through the cracks. That should be the target we focus on.

PSATs Still Not Out

Almost six weeks of delay at this  point! The WaPo reports:

The College Board’s new online system to deliver test scores has, to be charitable, not gone as well as planned, with delays and other complications with PSAT/NMSQT results angering counselors and students and raising questions about how well it will work when the new SAT is soon unveiled.
The PSAT/NMSQT is the Preliminary SAT, the test that mostly sophomores and juniors take as a practice for the SAT and that provides scores used to qualify students for the National Merit Scholarship program. In October, more than 4 million students took the PSAT. Scores were expected by the end of the year, but the College Board released them only a week ago, about a month late. Sandra Riley, vice president for communications at the College Board, said  the delay was caused by a new online system created to accommodate scoring reports for the newly designed SAT debuting in March.

Yep, 4 million kids took the test.  No results yet for almost all of them. The (See here) reports:

The PSAT is primarily a practice run for the SAT exam to determine where to study more but it also functions as the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test NMSQT. Only those with an NMSQT score in the 99th percentile have the chance to receive scholarship money. Still even those students that receive recognition, Letters of Commendation or are named semi-finalists have an extra prestige in their race for college admissions into the school of their choice. Instead of admitting they are wrong the College Board is blaming guidance counselors and students for not being able to access PSAT scores. The College Board is insisting that all the scores are available to access but schools and students are not using the "new protocols for accessing" the scores correctly. Some schools, however, are insisting the scores are not there. Many are agreeing the scores are there but the instructions the College Board gave are "confusing." There have been other problems with the College Board's system; there have been two outages. The College Board's website crashed last week and this on Tuesday, Jan. 12 into Wednesday, Jan. 13 according to the Washington Post's report. There are also very long waits if counselors, students, or parents want to contact the College Board by phone.

Yes College Board, blame your customers, those folks who pay you for you poorly done job! These folks must all have come from some Government job! It appears that the same crew that may have done the ACA web site may be involved here, just a guess. This is a clear sign of the gross incompetence of the Educational administrative community. These folks are being paid very big dollars to control the lives of our future societal contributors.

Solution? Abandon any and all use of the College Board NOW. I have said this for 55 plus years. As a writer for the NY Times notes:

“Turning the Tide” follows other reexaminations of the admissions process. A growing number of colleges have made the SAT or ACT optional. And late last year, more than 80 colleges, including all eight in the Ivy League, announced the formation of the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success, which is developing a website and application process intended in part to diversify student bodies.

Abandon them now. Imagine the grief these poor young folks are going through. Perhaps a class action suit will work?  Gross negligence and irreparable harm, try those words on for size College Board! Have you no shame, College Board, have you no shame!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The EHR Disaster: Meaningful Use

The EHR has been a disaster. We said this seven years ago. It did not take much insight to see that having physicians become typists and disregarding their patients was a dumb idea. It took, in my opinion, one of those Harvard Professors to promulgate a system that has cost billions and needlessly encumbered health care.

As MedPageToday reports:

For the first time, the leader of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has said publicly that the agency "has the opportunity" to sunset the meaningful use program in 2016. Andy Slavitt, acting administrator of CMS, made his remarks Tuesday at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco. Slavitt's full remarks were then posted on the CMS blog, and summarized in a series of tweets. "As any physician will tell you, physician burden and frustration levels are real," Slavitt said. "Programs designed to improve often distract. Done poorly, measures are divorced from how physicians practice and add to the cynicism that people who build these programs just don't get it. "The Meaningful Use program as it has existed, will now be effectively over and replaced with something better."

Hospitals such as New York Presbyterian have two dissonant systems, one on the Columbia side and one on the Cornell side.  They do not talk to one another.

Moreover the systems are input and measurement directed and do nothing to help the physician. They are not connected. If there is an order for Lab work, it must be faxed! Yes team, fax machines proliferate health care!

The next issue will be quality. Try and define it, try and measure it. It is in the eye of the beholder.

Washington and the ACA have raised the costs of health care with absurd programs such as meaningful use. Some one must put an end to all of this.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Obesity and PCa

In a paper in Nature the authors provide a compelling analysis for the impact of fat cells via obesity and the development of aggressive PCa.

They state:

Obesity favours the occurrence of locally disseminated prostate cancer in the periprostatic adipose tissue (PPAT) surrounding the prostate gland. Here we show that adipocytes from PPAT support the directed migration of prostate cancer cells and that this event is strongly promoted by obesity. This process is dependent on the secretion of the chemokine CCL7 by adipocytes, which diffuses from PPAT to the peripheral zone of the prostate, stimulating the migration of CCR3 expressing tumour cells. In obesity, higher secretion of CCL7 by adipocytes facilitates extraprostatic extension. The observed increase in migration associated with obesity is totally abrogated when the CCR3/CCL7 axis is inhibited. In human prostate cancer tumours, expression of the CCR3 receptor is associated with the occurrence of aggressive disease with extended local dissemination and a higher risk of biochemical recurrence, highlighting the potential benefit of CCR3 antagonists in the treatment of prostate cancer.

This is not at all unanticipated.  The work does give a basis for the genomic characteristics of the process as well as describing a therapeutic target. Clinically this has often been observed. In addition obese patients also often have progression on a more aggressive manner. Clearly the fat cell mechanism as discussed is a viable and credible path. The aggressive oxidation effects may also play a role especially via methylation.

This is a strong and prescient paper and well worth following.

A Cat Fight to Watch

CRISPR technology is moving forward with great speed, so too now are the lawyers. As GenomeWeb states:

The US Patent and Trademark Office yesterday declared an interference proceeding to settle certain claims related to the CRISPR patent battle between parties led by the Broad Institute and the University of California, respectively. In the interference proceedings, the USPTO will collect, consider, and compare historical documentary evidence to establish invention dates. Because the applications were filed before the US moved to a "first to file" patent system in 2013, the patent rights will be granted under the old "first to invent" system. In a document declaring the interference, the USPTO named the University of California as the senior party, effectively placing the burden on the Broad Institute to establish that it invented the technology first, even though the USPTO granted it the first CRISPR-related patent in April 2014.

 We have been following this since the beginning. I was amazed at how the PTO turned around the first patent in less than 6 months. Now comes the reality of the PTO, it is a Government entity after all.

There will be a East vs West battle afoot. This should be watched because it will play out across many landscapes. In a sense it will be the Valley vs 128, and the winner will provide definition and direction for a generation. The Valley has ready take a PR shot with their Oscar like award to the California team, Hollywood like awards. The MIT/Broad team seem to be just cranking out start ups. I suspect result will better galas but who knows when the lawyers enter the fray?

Keep Making Those Buggy Whips

There is some lawyer who I had critiqued a while back for her lack of technical acumen. Lawyers often have that problem, even some who have technical backgrounds. After all they are lawyers.

As she states in Backchannel:

Fiber is the best — the only  — alternative, and it could win subscribers in areas where cable exists. But we’re not building these networks. Verizon sold its FiOS lines in California, Texas, and Florida, and AT&T’s GigaPower fiber plans are (with small exceptions, where the company feels the pressure of genuine competition) mostly “fiber to the press release.” AT&T is most likely to continue playing defense by further squeezing the capacity of its existing copper lines, which means that only densely packed apartment buildings that are very close to AT&T’s central offices will see the advantage of the company’s work on its copper connections, as signals can’t travel very far over copper. (By contrast, signals can go for dozens of miles over fiber without being boosted.) And despite all the hype, Google Fiber is predicted to reach no more than 10 million homes over the next few years — although Google’s recently announced plans to consider Chicago and Los Angeles may change that part of the picture.Some of the problem with building fiber networks is that the needs of these profit-grabbing companies diverge from the public good, which requires long-term investments where the gains accrue to the economy in general.

Now to the facts. 

1. No, fiber is not the only alternative. In fact it is the last.

2. 4G allows 10 bps/Hz and with hundreds of KHz available that is lots of Gbps deliverable by wireless.

3. Data rates for video are dropping like bricks so the demand for bandwidth per user is dropping.

4. 5G adds adaptive antennas and increases the bps/Hz another factor of ten.

5. Wireless is relative cheap and the infrastructure is already there.

6. Mobile is taking over. You cannot drag a fiber around with you! I have tried.

The list goes on. She totally misses the point. The problem with fiber is not greedy companies, it is that is NOT the technical solution. But then again she has apparently never examined this issue.

What I find with her followers, read the comments, is a religious fervor of the socialist, devoid of facts and replete with belief. I remember well, my grandmother headed the Socialist Party in New York.

How long will we have to hear these specious arguments? Why is Verizon delaying an aggressive move in wireless? Well, the answer, it is still the phone company!

And oh by the way, CATV companies do not use copper pairs.

The College Board: Or How To Mess with Millions of Minds

I took the PSATs some almost 60 years ago. Going to a Christian Brothers High School, a classic education for boys who were destined to be cogs in the wheel of civilization, not necessarily leaders, we took this test with zero preparation. We just came in one day and were told to take this test. Needless to say I paid little attention since it was a way to avoid Cicero in Latin 3 and I had not prepared my translation. Thus my score was dismal.

Then I found out what it meant. I was told by this body of the elite, the College Board, that my life was now determined, indeed I should prepare for Con Ed or possibly the NY Sanitation Department. Perhaps a Bus Driver.

Well I decided to study for the SAT, something the College Board said was not useful. Now the following Fall, early December, I took the SATs. Results, I recall it was almost 800 in Math and over 700 in English, somewhat over 1500 if I recall. More than double the PSAT equivalent. And I found two errors on the exam which I promptly wrote the College Board about and I also finished in half the time. Amazing what a little prep will do. And yes, NOT listening to that collection of educational "experts" at the College Board. Even since I have given NO credit to any College Board score.

Now comes the latest set of characters to destroy the minds of young Americans, the Common Core money makers. This time it is the PSAT, that old exam I remember, given in October with scores issued in December, but now with the present management. They did not come out until just a couple of days ago. In the age of computers one would have thought otherwise, but alas, these highly paid "educators" managed to show students just what not to do if they want to succeed in a highly competitive world.

As the Washington Post notes:

The College Board has just released PSAT scores — months after the tests were actually taken in high schools. About one-quarter of the students who took the test have accessed their scores online, though some have experienced trouble getting them, and many counselors who were supposed to get them have also had trouble doing so. Problems with score delivery has also plagued the SAT this past fall, frustrating students and counselors...vice president for communications at the College Board, said a new online scoring system created to accommodate scoring reports for the newly designed SAT, which is launching this coming spring, is to blame. She said that initial testing did not reveal “large-scale issues” but a series of “small issues” that are being fixed as they present themselves.

One cannot "blame" the "system", one must blame the management.  The WaPo concludes:

Yes, College Board is in the business of selling SATs and ACT in the business of selling ACTs, and you may hate to fill their coffers. But, as most universities require standardized tests for admissions, your focus is just in doing well and then getting back to normal life. Or, if these tests simply aren’t your thing or you simply refuse to partake, mosey over to FairTest to check out hundreds of score-optional colleges and universities.

 Namely the time to end the SATs is NOW. It will only get worse. You have what in my opinion is a collection of overly paid political job holders establishing norms for American students and the result is that we have managed in my opinion to destroy the lives of our future contributors. The SAT does NOT work in my experience and in my opinion. It can be gamed. It fills the pockets of folks rather than the minds of students.

The Academy should abandon it this year!

To better understand the problem one should read the Huffington Post. Their write states:

David Coleman was at the center of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) development, a position about which he publicly declared post-CCSS that he and others in his Student Achievement Partners (SAP) nonprofit were "unqualified." One year later, in 2012, Coleman became president of the College Board, where he thought he would tinker with the SAT "so that it better meets the needs of students, schools, and colleges at all levels." Coleman's tinkering isn't going so well. In fact, he could well drive the College Board into the ground as his bumbling efforts for an SAT redesign (one that makes the SAT look more like the ACT) results in "updated" messages to test takers and their parents as scores are delayed. Such was the case for students who took the October 14, 2015, SAT and counted upon the College Board to deliver timely scores for early admissions. Their scores-which were supposed to be delivered using the College Board's new score reporting system-were delayed for more than three weeks beyond the common November 1st deadline. And now, students who took the mid-October PSAT are also facing score reporting delays.

 This appears as if it is another version of the current White House staff. Namely people who have nor extensive career experience. The NSC leadership in the White House is someone with an MFA from NYU. Understanding Picasso and DaVinci may not be the best skills for dealing with Putin and Iran! Why the College Board is not staffed with competent carrer folks in my opinion is amazing. But it appears to be devastating for students, and I have two grandchildren in the middle of this mess now!

So to repeat, abandon the College Board, now!

Now I Have Seen Everything!

In a recent Nature (Prostate Cancer) paper the authors state:

Digit ratio (2D:4D) has been suggested as a proxy biomarker for prenatal androgen activity and has been linked to prostate cancer, as the genes that regulate the formation and differentiation of the fingers are also related to the carcinogenesis of prostate cancer. To investigate the possible correlation between right hand, left hand and right hand minus left hand (DR−L) 2D:4D and prostate cancer of Brazilian subjects by comparing 2D:4D ratios of individuals diagnosed with prostate cancer and individuals without the disease. Also, to inquire the relationship between 2D:4D and severity of prostate cancer through Gleason scores....2D:4D seems to be a marker for screening patients for prostate cancer in an admixed population, as males with prostate cancer present lower 2D:4D than healthy subjects. On the other hand, 2D:4D does not appear to be associated with the severity of prostate cancer.

Yes, your ring finger length less your index finger length will be prognostic on PCa.  I have to try this one out with the folks at the bench! Forget the Illumina stuff, clean the tables, just use a ruler. Wait till the USPTF is told of this one, no mre PSA period! Forget the biopsies.

There is even a better one regarding this metric at Mayhew et al who relate this difference to a variety of complex physiological issues.

The Nature results states:

The PCA group presented significantly lower right and left 2D:4D (P=0.001 and P=0.002, respectively) in comparison to healthy controls, but DR−L were not significantly different between groups (P=0.589). In addition, digit ratios were not correlated to Gleason score for either hand or in DR−L.

 I think what they are saying is that if your ring fingers are much longer than your index fingers then you are less likely to be susceptible to PCa. I think. Why, no one knows. It would help to have some causation. But, hey, it is just one more test. Wait till the FDA gets this one.

Can Things Get Worse? It Appears So!

With slaughter in the US and France and now bombs and slaughter in Turkey, not to mention the daily menu in the Middle East, the Guardian notes an RBS report for 2016 that the financial markets will drop by another 20%! This is without a housing bubble.

The Guardian states:

In a note to its clients the bank (ie RBS) said: “Sell everything except high quality bonds. This is about return of capital, not return on capital. In a crowded hall, exit doors are small.” It said the current situation was reminiscent of 2008, when the collapse of the Lehman Brothers investment bank led to the global financial crisis. This time China could be the crisis point.

 They also state:

Morgan Stanley has said oil could fall to $20 a barrel, while Standard Chartered has predicted an even bigger slide, to as low as $10. Standard said: “Given that no fundamental relationship is currently driving the oil market towards any equilibrium, prices are being moved almost entirely by financial flows caused by fluctuations in other asset prices, including the US dollar and equity markets. “We think prices could fall as low as $10 a barrel before most of the money managers in the market conceded that matters had gone too far.”

This may very well have more impact on the US elections than anything else. In the US the Government has exploded Medicare costs to those with a modicum of a pension while promising the young unemployed, and due to our educational system, unemployable, near free health care. 

Tonight we will again hear about the State of the Union. Doubtful we will hear anything factual. It is reminiscent of a Five Year Plan in Russia in the 1930s. And how well did that go for them?

Fear is both contagious and a driver of mass economic instability. Fear comes from lack of reality and leadership. Pretending does not work, political world views which deny reality does not work.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Being Rich Does Not Make You Smart, In Everything

Biotech is a challenging and complicated field. Cancer detection and prognosis is even harder. As we have tried to demonstrate over the past seven plus years many new "markers" for cancer have been proposed. But frankly we are still at a standstill.

Here is the problem as I observe it:

1. What causes cancer? Is it a mutation, an epigenetic change such as methylation, or something else.

2. What about that cancer stem cell thing? We know there are CSC. We also know they can be the conductor in the complex orchestra of metastases. But how do we identify it, collect it, and isolate it?

3. Germline cells do present tendencies towards certain cancers. Frankly there are just a few of these. Most cancers are still unknown. So what cells do we examine?

4. Using blood cells we are collecting a lot of "stuff". We get core DNA, but we may not know what is silenced in cells. We get blood DNA and NOT cell DNA, at least from blood cells. Put that DNA in a cell in say a melanocyte or basal prostate cell, or bone stem cell and we get a totally different formation of histones and expression. So what does that mean?

And the list goes on. Now Bezos and Gates have thrown some money in a pot with Illumina to create a company, called Grail, I guess they are looking for a King Arthur, not the flour guy I suspect.

From a Business Day article they state:

On Sunday, San Diego-based Illumina said it would form a new company, called Grail, with more than $100m in Series A financing. Illumina will be the majority owner. Key investors include technology giants Bill Gates — founder of Microsoft — and Jeff Bezos, founder of, as well as backing from ARCH Venture Partners and Sutter Hill Ventures. Grail’s test will use Illumina’s DNA sequencing technology to scan for bits of cancer genes originating in tumours and circulating in the bloodstream. The hope is to detect many types of newly forming cancers, which could be treated at an earlier stage to increase the chances of survival. Cowen & Co estimates that use of DNA blood tests for cancer screening will exceed $10bn a year by the end of the decade. Several companies are developing liquid biopsies, mostly for use with patients already diagnosed with cancer. Experts say it will take huge clinical trials to provide the kind of evidence necessary to make DNA blood tests part of routine cancer screening. Direct-to-consumer testing company Pathway Genomics last year launched a DNA blood test for healthy people without having conducted such trials. Illumina, a much bigger player, intends to provide that evidence.

Now Illumina makes sequencing machines. A great company with great skills and products for sequencing. That is a far cry for cancer genomics. We all know what the other two guys do. But I have not seen a word from either of them about their understanding of what they are doing. One should always remember Theranos, and beware of wild dreams and black turtle necks. Dream Merchants can be dangerous if not grounded.

The problem here is that we have a massive ambiguity of expectations. The process of cancer detection is still a science, not a technology amenable to engineering skills. It is a scientific arena of unanswered and worse un-posed questions.

Add to this mess is the FDA. They are not known for rapid acceptance and Silicon Valley mentalities do not like being told "NO". This may very well mean that we can see a massive set back as a result of colossal failures. Microsoft is software and sales, Amazon is Retail and software, neither is new. Cancer genomics is still a work in progress and the challenge is to not thinking out side the box but figuring out what a box even is!

Friday, January 8, 2016

More on the Debate

In a Science Daily piece the authors state regarding PSA testing:

The researchers measured whether four areas were communicated with patients. Below are the areas and results.
• 17 percent of patients were told that some experts disagree about whether men should have PSA tests;
• 23 percent were told that some types of prostate cancer are slow-growing and need no treatment;
• 25 percent were told that the PSA test isn't always accurate in diagnosing prostate cancer; and
• 31 percent of patients were told that treating any type of prostate cancer can lead to serious side effects such as urinary incontinence and erectile dysfunction.

Now let us examine the 4 points above.

1. Yes "experts" disagree. Frankly it is the very definition of an "expert". I see this all the time. One need look no further than Expert Witnesses. They range from real experts who do the work they are opinion on as a day job to the full time "expert" who just make a living by opining without ever doing.

2. Yes some is slow growing and others fast. The problem is that we cannot identify which is which. And fast is fast! So do you want to take the chance?

3. PSA is not at all accurate. It is suggestive at best. But it provides a relatively inexpensive way to watch. It is not the one PSA test, it is a pattern. And as we have shown even the pattern, say PSA velocity, may not be the sine qua non.

4. Side effects, what about death?

So the debate continues. In my experience getting advice from your GP or Internist is of little value. Not because of any lack of competence but due to the complexity of the issue.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Debate Continues

There is an endless debate on PCa and the use of PSA. A month ago we wrote a paper on the confusion about PSA testing. We entitled it "Trust but Verify", trying to symbolize the complexity of PSA testing.

In the NY Times some upcountry physicians opine:

Nevertheless, screening is a choice. Medicare should not penalize doctors for ordering PSA tests, but it should make sure it is not giving the test away free. Requiring men to bear the small cost of the test is not a punishment, it’s a motivation for them to consider the screening decision more carefully. Not only does the test have important implications for adverse health outcomes in the near future, but it also has near-term implications for some serious out-of-pocket costs from potential follow-up care. Support the process by rewarding doctors for taking the time to discuss the trade-offs patients face. Medicare already requires, and reimburses for, shared decision making for lung cancer screening; it should do the same for prostate cancer screening.

PCa is a major killer or men in the US. Also is can be a significantly indolent disease, it just goes no where in almost all inflicted. Yet we do not know which men will be indolent and which will die a horrible death with collapsing spinal cords and the like. So the best course is to assume the worst and hope for the best. Not many other cancers are this way, although some DCIS may be of the same ilk, yet women would never allow that conversation. Men on the other hand just seem to let them be told whatever some "expert" deems appropriate.

So what should be done? The above suggestion is place a financial burden on the test. That is not at all unreasonable. But men should get a balanced discussion of the risks. Namely, we really do not have a great grasp on this disease. It is complicated and it defies many of the Bayesian rules we are told to follow.

But "Trust but Verify" may be the best path.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

2016 May Be a Total Mess

As we have watched the last seven plus years we again come back to the >7% drop tonight in China. Let's see:

1. China is now down 15% this week alone.

2. The US Markets may likely collapse another 400 points Thursday

3. Iran and Saudi may start swapping God knows what.

4. North Korea is exploding test bombs targeted for California.

5. California is now being flooded after a well you know.

6. Guns will be restricted by fiat, or something like that.

7. Heroin is becoming the drug of choice

8. We have rampant terror rings in Asia, Africa, Europe, and yes a few here.

9. Health care costs are going through the roof, while payments under Medicare a dropping below the basement.

10. The FED will now raise interest rates significantly.

11. The percent of the population considered employable is the lowest since the early 60s, namely there are millions doing nothing and getting a free ride on the backs of the working old folks.

Yep, things are just really great!

Welcome to an election year.....

Monday, January 4, 2016

What Has Happened to Antitrust?

The Washington Post reports:

ESPN is Disney's biggest single business and its most profitable cable channel, and the Big Mouse once regarded it as a virtually unstoppable media force. The traditional cable bundle, in which channels are offered only in bulk, made it an especially sweet deal: The largest chunk of the cable bill goes to ESPN — about $7 a month — whether a subscriber watches it or not.To maintain that stronghold, and to ward off rivals like Fox Sports 1 and NBC Sports, ESPN has spent aggressively on massive multi-year contracts for the sports broadcasting rights. In 2011, ESPN agreed to pay more than $15 billion for 10 years of rights to air NFL games — nearly four times what Disney would pay for Lucasfilm, owner of the "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones" mega-franchises, a year later.

Actually it is more like in excess of $10 per month and it then funds football teams etc. It then is these high paid athletes that end up abusing women and the like. Thus we have a bundle, or in Antitrust terms, a tying arrangement, an act that could be controlled by the Antitrust laws (also See 1996). But it seems we never get there!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

It's Greek to Me

As usual the NY Times has a personal tale about one's dissatisfaction with humanity. This time it is some Classic Greek instructor bemoaning his students lack of ability in declension and conjugation, nouns and verbs.

The author states:

Reading Greek (or Latin) depends, first and foremost, on recognition of case endings. A student must develop an instinct for seeing the word “anthrōpou” as “of a man,” “anthrōpois” as “for men,” and similarly with eight other forms of the same word. To look for meaning rather than case, to see only “man” in either word, is what readers of English are programmed to do. My task, as a teacher, is to defeat this impulse. The experience of reading without reference to word order, once students “get it,” can be exhilarating, like being freed from a kind of gravity. But for reasons I don’t understand, some take far longer than others to “get it,” and a few never will. Lack of intelligence isn’t the problem; it’s more about adaptability, acceptance of change. How long should such students go on in the language, hoping for an epiphany? Should I encourage them to continue? And if I do, is it only to assuage my own sense of failure?

Now anyone who has had an early classics education will understand the problem. They do not even understand English grammar! It is not taught anymore so how is a student to understand anything else. To conjugate the verb "to be" or "to have", the two essential verbs in any Western tongue. The student is clueless. Then the difference between adverbs and adjectives, and the abuse of prepositions.

Now when I was in secondary school I studies Latin, French, and even a year of classic Greek. Each had their own rules, and classic Greek was near impossible. So some forty years later I am at a Bar in Athens, and to show my colleague my expertise I proceeded to ask the waitress using my Greek, yes Homeric Greek! I thought I would try. Her response was, "I am from Queens, I work for my uncle here and frankly I have no idea what you said." It was perfect Queens accent. So I replied in my perfect Staten Island accent that I understood, and we got free drinks, first round. Then I became curious, how quickly could I learn current Greek? The basic verbs were the same, really, and as anyone educated to the minimal amount will know, almost every word has a Greek root. In three months I could negotiate my way in Greek in Athens. I knew declensions, and conjugations, and 1,000 words! I was fluent, and off I went.

Yet I could not translate Sophocles, Homer, or any of the classics. I could read the newspaper and understand the Greek on reruns of the Sopranos on American TV. One must remember that the Greeks ran Sicily for centuries, so they are all a bit Greek!

The question then is what does the good instructor want? Current day Greek has all the elements of classic Greek, one can learn declensions and conjugations. One can read Kazantzakis, and that alone is a reason for learning Greek. Maybe Sophocles can come later? After all the Scholastics managed Aristotle in Latin tanslation.

Back to the purpose of a language. Learning French can mean understanding the French. The language is filled with subjunctives. Learning Russian brings the same. Arabic is depleted of a solid future tense. Languages tell how a people think. English can be assembled in some understandable form with the worst combinations of grammar. Listen to any Television commentator or news reader. Not only do they use the wrong grammar but all too often the wrong words! And for spelling, my dyslexia is an excuse, what is their?

Classic Greek is complex, a language that contains the subtlety of Greek thought, and the beginnings of our civilization. To begin to understand it one needs English, then perhaps Latin, and another language, and then try Greek. One reads Sophocles and understands that only with the tools of a cicilizations we are losing by the day. That I believe is the problem. Don't be critical of the students, the mere fact that they tried is credit alone!

Friday, January 1, 2016

The Post Office?

Now I have been to Turkey. Of all the strange places I travelled, and meals I have consumed, Turkey was the only place in this wide world I ever got food poisoning, and I mean real food poisoning. And so did everyone else in my team. But the good news was that Turkey has Drug Stores where no prescription is required and in addition by choosing well you can buy a pharmaceutical from Germany. Thus the risk of further food poisoning and their effects was hopefully reduced at that time. Just to be clear my food consumption also included street vendors in jungle hamlets in Thailand, never a problem there.

So when I saw the NY Times piece on our wonderful US Post Office I was a bit taken aback. The author states:

My first year in the United States was full of surprises. I remember trying to figure out if the 24-ounce glass of ice water the waitress placed in front of me was a pitcher, to be shared by the whole table. But where was the spout? I had expected some of what I encountered — I had seen enough movies, and came to this country expecting big cars and big houses and wide open spaces. I got used to gigantic glasses. But I didn’t expect the post office. The first time I needed to mail something, I trekked over to my campus’s post office, looking for the line to get my envelope weighed. The staff was used to befuddled international students like me, I suppose, and one clerk took my envelope without fuss, said “first class letter,” and took my change. ...Yes, I was told, in the United States, mail gets picked up from your house, six days a week, free of charge....Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate the link between infrastructure, innovation — and even ruthless competition. Much of our modern economy thrives here because you can order things online and expect them to be delivered. There are major private delivery services, too, but the United States Postal Service is often better equipped to make it to certain destinations. In fact, Internet sellers, and even private carriers, often use the U.S.P.S. as their delivery mechanism to addresses outside densely populated cities.

Now I would take fault with the above. At least my USPS. They leave packages in the rain, snow, under bushes, or not at all. Then  talk of friendly, the KGB was more friendly than any USPS agent. As to their competition....well 1 out of 10 Amazon packages are lost, delayed, sent to Guam....Imaging a USPS for Health Care, kidneys removed rather than small basal cell carcinomas, both kidneys! Ooops! That is the USPS and that could be the ACA in action....remember we had to pass it to see what it did!

UPS is profitable, and it would not be if it did not perform. USPS is never profitable. Try and complain. I can track any UPS package, try that with the USPS web site. Packages go from Nashville, to Kearney, to Rochester, to Palm Beach and then to some alien spacecraft!

So perhaps my perception is based upon a comparison between a for profit and a Government entity, and over decades of observation. Amazon has switched to the USPS here in the Greater New York City area. Since then two day delivery has moved to a week, one of ten packages are kidnapped by those aliens, those that do make it are placed in jeopardy since the package sits there in rain or snow, and their computer tracking system is based on "Where's Waldo?". 

So perhaps the USPS is better than that in Turkey. So is street food in Thailand!