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Friday, May 22, 2015

Toptal (Sort of an Interview Request...)

So after fifteen years a major system I wrote is finally shutting down.  If you live in the USA and have an insurance card from a health care provider software I have written has touched your life.  This system has produced enough insurance cards for virtually every human being in the country to have several.

The client, who I shall not name here, got into the business around 2000.

They took delivery of a digital press sold by a client of mine and needed software to run it effectively.  At that time converting a print file in PostScript to something the machine could actually process took a very long time.  So long that it would take a year to rasterize the work that needed to be completed in a single month at year end.

Around that time I had recently created a product called pdfExpress.

pdfExpress was a C++ application that manipulated PDF files as data as opposed to rasterizing them.

At the time I created it a previous version, which was linked to Adobe Acrobat, was all that was available to manipulate files for printing.

One day, while sitting on the couch at home, I realized that the content stream of PDF was actually just well structured data that could be manipulated directly, so long as the rules of PDF were maintained.  Really, PDF is just a programming language, sort of a constrained PostScript.

I had spent about five years writing software to automatically convert programming languages, or more correctly, source code for applications, from one computer language, e.g., Fortran, to other languages, e.g., C.  (The company was called "Lexeme" and founded around 1985.)

It struck me that this was doable for PDF (though not PostScript for complicated reasons).  PDF was designed as short hand for PostScript.

I built the initial version of pdfExpress in about two months using a collection of C++ code I had written as well as a lot of new code.

(pdfExpress is the subject of these two patents:

US 6,547,831 - Method of Generating Documents Having Variable Data Fields

US 7,020,837 - Method for the Efficient Compression of Graphic Content in Composite PDF Files)

We needed pdfExpress to perform manipulations for projects like the insurance card system because Acrobat was too slow and licensing issues prevent it from being used as a server.

We set up a test run that normally took about a minute to do with Acrobat (the precursor was an Acrobat plug-in).

I hit "RETURN" and the DOS prompt came back instantly.

My associated and I gasped!

"Shit, something is wrong," he said.

"Yeah, it must have died," I replied.

We poked around and couldn't see a problem.

We tried it again.

Same thing.

My associate said "see if there's an output file."

We did, and there it was, correct!

We knew we had a winner.

In the end the C++ version outperformed Acrobat plug-ins about 1000:1.

So I've spent a long time at this - some 15 years.

In that time pdfExpress has grown to several hundred thousands of lines of C++, split off into sub-applications (like this) and branched out into other things entirely.  In this same time, at least according to Moore's law, the number of transistors in the processor of the computers I use as increased by a factor of about 16,000.

For the last few years I alone have been supporting the insurance card system which continues to emit tens of millions of cards per year.

Unfortunately, though, the printing devices are now too expensive when compared to things like smart phones, i.e., you've seen the GEICO pig showing the cop his insurance card.

So printing is dying and finally, after fifteen years, taking my client with it.  Oh, they'll still be around for a while making credit cards but Apple Pay, phone apps and the like will eat away at that as well.

So that leaves me with nothing major to do on the programming front.

(Yes, I still have other activities to keep me busy but not doing what I was born to do...)

So I found the company called Toptal.

Its a pool of folks who find people like me things to do rather than me trolling around trying to entertain myself on the software front.

So pdfExpress is sort of my calling card into Toptal (I don't know if they will like me or not but I am writing this to tell them about why I would work for them).

There's still www.lexigraph.com which talks about some of this, but its not really very current.

I am interested in working with Toptal because to me it seems like a really good idea.  I am not great at fitting in in a corporate world and this company will (hopefully) eliminate the need for me to do so.  But I think I can do things that would make a relationship between us a, as they say, "win/win."

I also don't like cold calling nor do I like bidding against folks who live in a different world where the cost of living is 1/1000th of what it is here.

I haven't talked to them (Toptal) as of yet but presuming they pass muster with me I should like to think I pass muster with them.

I figure that pdfExpress was competition with the corporate Adobe Systems.  It (I) beat them in my little niche.  So perhaps I can swing a gig with them.

(Actually a relative of mine interviewed there but went elsewhere.  So I know a bit about them.)

I've outlived printing but not programming...

Seriously, though, I like the idea these guys are presenting.  I've created plenty of "disruptive" technologies over the years - pdfExpress being one.  At the same time I have always mentored people along the way.  I've converted playground installers into master programmers.

So guys, give me a chance!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

"Drugs" With Dangerous "Adverse Side Effects" Support Anti-Vaping

Here's some Point/Counterpoint on the benefits of e-cigarettes.  MedPageToday is a pro "big pharma" site with lots of stuff related to commercial products and "traditional" medications.

Counterpoint: Does the Risk of E-Cigarettes Exceed Potential Benefits? No

Point: Does the Risk of E-Cigarettes Exceed Potential Benefits? Yes

"... These studies have established that e-cigarettes are associated with increased nausea, vomiting, headache, choking, and upper airway irritation ..."

The usual bad things to be found out about vaping.

As if this is actually "bad" compared to "big pharma" products like Welchol advertised on the site.

And here's the "full disclosure" for Welchol.  Excerpt below:

"Cardiovascular adverse events: During the diabetes clinical trials, the incidence of
patients with treatment-emergent serious adverse events involving the cardiovascular
system was 2.2% (22/1015) in the WELCHOL group and 1% (10/1010) in the
placebo group. These overall rates included disparate events (e.g., myocardial
infarction, aortic stenosis, and bradycardia); therefore, the significance of this
imbalance is unknown."

How interesting.

Two point two percent (2.2%) had "...serious adverse events involving the cardiovascular system..."

Double the rate of the placebo group.

Twice as many serious adverse cardiovascular events.

Well, you decide which is "safer."

Friday, May 1, 2015

Facebook: Supporting "Tobacco Harm" By Banning Paid Political Speech

So along with this graphic I submitted the following text to Facebook as a "boosted post" - this means you pay money to have it shown to more Facebook subscribers.  The text was as follows:

"Vaping Political Action

Last night ---- played host to a meeting of many of Western PA's vape shops at --- in Cheswick, PA.

The purpose of our meeting was to discuss Vaping Advocacy.


Vaping Advocacy is basically the activity of "fighting for our right to vape" through political means.

As many of you know the state of Pennsylvania is proposing a 40% tax increase on "vaping" in this years Pennsylvania budget (June 2015).

We don't want this tax to pass. Not this year. Not next year. Not ever.

And neither should you.

Why? Because vaping works for people who no longer smoke: it helps them to continue not to smoke.

(Many of our customers, many heavy smokers, have not smoked a cigarette in years.)

We, as shop owners, want our legislators to know that taxing vaping will make it harder for people to continue not smoking.

A lot of useful information was exchanged: how the Pennsylvania legislative process works, what can be done to contact our legislators, what shop owners should know about talking with their legislators.

This was a meeting for vaping businesses, but the same ideas apply to you, the "vaping" consumer.

In order for vaping to survive both individual vapers - whether they buy from a shop or on-line - as well as shop owners must become more politically active.

We will be posting more in this in the weeks to come.

If you want to learn more please contact our shops or post here.
"


Note we are not "advertising" any products of any kind.  The shop, not me personally, sponsored the ad so its promoted under the shop name.  The ad is not about vaping equipment, tobacco, or anything else.  Its about voting, tobacco harm reduction and contacting legislators for the purpose of political change.

As expected the response was the usual:


My ad is apparently "advertising tobacco, cigarettes, or related accessories."

Now this is hard to imagine and, of course, clearly wrong.

Note under "I Vote" it says "Support Politicians Who Support Tobacco Harm Reduction."

So, by banning the ad Facebook apparently believes in what?  Increasing Tobacco Harm?

After all if you ban ads promoting Tobacco Harm Reduction you must, by basic logic, support the opposite.

There are many forms of Tobacco Harm Reduction including NRT (sold without prescription in stores with child-attracting fruit flavors no less).

Apparently Facebook is allowed to limit political speech.  As you can see from Wikipedia there is no such legal right to limit this form of speech.  Clearly this is not hate speech, incitement, false information, or anything else that falls under Constitutionally recognized exceptions to the First Amendment.

How can this be justified by Facebook?

Facebook has pages like this: https://www.facebook.com/norml?fref=ts

Clearly a point of view you may or may not share, but legitimate none-the-less, even if don't support the legalization of pot.

By the reasoning of Facebook Martin Luther King would be denied the right to create a political ad about racial discrimination.  (Perhaps because with a 1950's Facebook racial equality was not yet legal.)

How interesting is this...?

I am calling Facebook out on this.

Its wrong.

Its illegal.

We have a right to use Facebook to organize and discuss political meetings.

From Facebook's own Guidelines on Advertising Policy:
  • Ads promoting blogs or groups that exist to help connect people whose interests are related to these products are allowed as long as the service does not lead to the sale of any tobacco or tobacco-related products. Ads for anti-smoking campaigns, e-books, counseling services for smoking addiction and rehabilitation programs or facilities for smokers are allowed.
  • Acceptable: "Meet with people around the world who have a taste for cigars"
  • Unacceptable: "Buy cigarettes and e-cigarettes here today!"

We (the collective "we") use Facebook every day speaking about vaping.  If I want to pay to promote the notion that vapers vote I see no reason Facebook can or should stop it.

Nor do they have the legal right.

EDIT 1: Though people claim that Facebook can limit whatever they want in terms of posts I have to disagree.  If the post follows their rules I see no reason for it to be blocked.  Since posting this others in vape advocacy have pointed out that their posts (on advocacy) are being blocked as well - though they can get past it by complaining.

Facebook and similar use contractors in foreign (to the US) countries to "censor" (see this link:  http://www.rawstory.com/.../low-wage-facebook-contractor.../ ) there are others if you google.

There is also much legal activity around what a "carrier" can censor.  (See 1989 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sable_Communications_of_California_v._FCC). Once you get to a certain point, which I think Facebook has with like 1.23 Billion (with a "B") active daily users they are not allowed to have such casual treatment of speech.  Effectively FB becomes like a telephone line where everyone using it has to have reasonable access regardless of what the talk about.  Imagine, for example, if you were talking dirty to your significant other and an operator came on line and said your call had to be disconnected because of obscene content.

Talking about voting for vaping is not obscene content.

EDIT 2: More recent info on "censorship" - http://www.wired.com/2014/10/content-moderation/

Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Vexing Conflation of Vaping with Sex

So let's get this straight...

E-cigarettes and vaping are bad.

There's no substitute for abstinence where sex smoking is involved.

After all, all forms of sex smoking are bad and can lead to trouble for young people.

Well, kids are kids, and kids are going to have sex, no smoke, no "vape" regardless.

Er, maybe we ought to push e-cigarettes birth control so kids can "do it" safely.

You know, they are young, they are going to vape have sex, so why not just offer them "protection."

Well, birth control vaping, even without nicotine the pill, is not 100% safe effective...

Good thing I can buy less than 100% safe cigarettes birth control at the drug store.

But for God's sake sex, no smoking, no vaping might be dangerous...

(There's currently between a 40% to 70% out-of-wedlock birth rate in the US.

Somebody, some day, might die from vaping.)

How's that abstinence working out?




Sunday, April 19, 2015

CDC: Throwing Smoking Veterans "Under the Bus"


Among all the hype of the recent headlines shouting "Teen E-Cig Use Triples" there is a lot of interesting back story.

Among the tidbits of e-cig data put out by the CDC we find the chart to the left.

The full study result is here - the study was done in Montana in 2013.

Among adults the primary reason for "ever use" of an e-cig was curiosity.

Now as anyone with a teenager knows, kids, particularly teenagers, are curious.  So the fact that more than 60% of adults reported curiosity as the reason to "ever use" an e-cig leads one to believe that kids will be even more curious.  Particularly given all the horrible things they hear about traditional cigarettes and smoking.

Note the next two reasons to use an e-cig: "To quit/reduce cigarette use" and "E-cigarettes are less harmful".   You can consider the next three reasons (instead) if you believe that "Not disturb others with smoke" is health related, e.g., a parent with children.

In researching this I came upon another interesting chart from here.  Under the section "Military Service Members and Veterans" we find this statement: "In the United States, cigarette smoking prevalence is higher among people currently serving in the military than among the civilian population. Cigarette smoking prevalence is even higher among military personnel who have been deployed."  The chart to below left is next to it.

So what does this say?

Well you might think that if you are poor and enter the service to advance yourself that, because you are poor, you are more likely to smoke.

But I don't think that's true because according to the above statement if you get "deployed" you are even more likely to smoke.

Note that other sources such as this and this confirm smoking as a problem for service men and women as well as veterans.

So maybe it has something to do with STRESS?

"Deployment" for those who don't know - means going off to somewhere in the world where, more than likely, something unsafe to your mind or person (gun fire, disease, long tour away from family, etc.) might be going on.  Whether to war or just building Ebola treatment centers no doubt deployment is some cause for stress.

When I was started high school in 1971 there were two things you did when you graduated: go to 'Nam (Vietnam for those too young to remember) or get a deferment and go to college.

In those days there wasn't anything like a medical diagnoses of "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder" (PTSH) - you just dealt with the results.  Hence people smoked (see this).

So let's just imagine you are a smoking veteran from Montana.

You have heard decades of CDC/FDA/Surgeon General rhetoric about how bad smoking is.  If you have kids, you probably suffer additional guilt (and stress) from the fact that you think you are poisoning them with your smoking: of course adding to your PTSD.

You probably feel guilt in general about smoking because, after all, that's what the CDC/FDA/Surgeon General want's you to feel so you'll quit smoking.

But given what's medically known about the dangers of e-cigs and vaping (as in very little danger particularly relative to cigarettes) wouldn't you be curious about whether they would help you (just like the Montana study indicates)?

The same stress relief from nicotine without the tar that causes cancers or the smoke that screws up your cardiovascular system.

Wouldn't you try one?

If you had kids you'd really be interested in not smoking so the next few survey responses also make sense.

Now as many vapers know e-cigs are often a gateway to stopping smoking (see this Newsweek article from 2014).

It's well known today the e-cigs are a better thing to do than smoke.

Yet no one at the CDC apparently cares about this relative to the nations service men and women and veterans.

I would think that getting service folks off of cigarettes would cause people to jump for joy.

After all its a well-known smoking population.

Instead we hear about how it might be a problem for others, like kids.

But wait, weren't those kids SMOKING before e-cigarettes?

And if they weren't isn't it likely, like adults, they are just curious?

So come on Dr. Frieden, what about helping our veterans out here?

They are putting their lives on the line for our freedom, as in going to war.  Are you really planning on taking something like an e-cig/vaping away from them for their health?


Saturday, April 18, 2015

Vaping: Not Enough Science? or Smoking: Too Much "Old Technology"

I've attached a graphic taken from the Washington Post on e-cigarettes.

It shows some remarkable things.

For one, there is a significant drop in high school students smoking; particularly from 2013 to 2014 (you can find the details in this CDC report).

If you couple this with my post about the drop in cigarette tax revenue revenue it would seem that use of cigarettes by young people is definitely dropping by a substantial amount.

However, the uninformed look at only the increases in e-cigarette use.  The result is a weird but not unexpected panic (some example comments from this NYT article - underline's mine):

"Do people who use Ecigs really and truly want to quit smoking? I mean, if nicorette gum, the patch or cold turkey didn't do the trick, Ecigs won't either."

"What does the New York Times and this reporter plan to do to ensure that interview subjects for articles are not hoaxing them?"

"The tobacco industry is criminal. It should be outlawed and all the profits accumulated should be confiscated to pay for healthcare since it has caused so much illness."

And from the NYT article: "[ the CDC ] warned that e-cigarettes were undoing years of progress among the country’s most vulnerable citizens by making the act of puffing on a tobacco product normal again, and by introducing nicotine, an addictive substance, to a broad population of teenagers." and "CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “Adolescence is a critical time for brain development. Nicotine exposure at a young age may cause lasting harm to brain development, promote addiction, and lead to sustained tobacco use.”"

The same data from the above right chart is matched here in the NYT article at the left - except there is a little more detail.

Interestingly only Hookahs and E-cigarettes increased while cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, tobacco pipes and cigars not only decreased but have been decreasing for the last few years.

If you read the CDC article it looks like, on the Middle Schoolers chart (above right), that each 1% is about 140,000 students.   So does that mean all these hundreds of thousands of middle school kids are are now hooked on nicotine?


Well according to Bill Godshall of Smoke Free Pennsylvania the CDC falsely classifies all e-cigs and hookah as “tobacco products” (as many e-cig and shisha products contain no nicotine) to exaggerate use of nicotine containing e-cigs and hookah, to falsely claim tobacco use increased

So it seems extremely likely that fewer people are actually consuming nicotine.  In fact, its possible that the total number of nicotine users is declining as well.

So let's think about Tom Frieden's comments...

Today virtually all consumption of nicotine by adolescence is done via tobacco.  Now, as many vapers know, nicotine in vaping and nicotine when mixed with whole tobacco alkaloids behave somewhat differently.  Similarly there are many studies that point to the fact that nicotine alone, i.e., without the tobacco alkaloids, is not addictive (see this older post).

So his comments are truly disingenuous because clearly he is comparing apples (nicotine) and oranges (tobacco).

And, by the way, since all the ANTZ including Mr. Frieden know that its too early (there's not enough science, etc. etc.) to tell if vaping is a healthier alternative to smoking then, by this same reasoning, it must also be too early to assume that pure nicotine without tobacco is as bad as tobacco burning (obviously there's not enough science...!!!!)

Not enough science for vaping to be healthier than smoking?

Then how can there be enough science to know that nicotine without tobacco is as bad as tobacco?

So now let's turn to how someone under 18 gets access to vaping...

According to the NYT article:  "... a junior at a private school in Pennsylvania, said he used to ask seniors who were 18 to buy him e-cigarettes at convenience stores, but now he has equipment and buys his liquids on the Internet.

“You can just go online and click yes,” he said. He has used e-cigarettes to quit smoking..."

So apparently this kid has a credit card of some sort.

I wonder where he got it from...?

Its awfully difficult to get if you're not 18.

So perhaps, just perhaps, someone else is complicit in this "junior" accessing ecigs online while underage.

Another under age kids said: "Some teenagers described vaping as an entirely different culture from cigarette smoking, and scoffed at the idea that it could be a way into cigarettes."

What all this sounds like is that Mr. Frieden wants to stay in the past with his "burning tobacco" while todays youth wants to move on.

After all today's kids are much more technologically adept than "old people" and so why should they continue to use great great grandpa's nicotine delivery system when modern technology has provided a much more efficient and safer one?

Sunday, April 12, 2015

ANTZ: Evil is the disease, not smoking or vaping!

Many people talk about an addiction to nicotine as a disease.  In fact there is a larger, more insidious "disease" involved with respect to the efforts to stop vaping: evil.

Now I understand that's a pretty strong statement.

But let's break down what's happening bit by bit...

First off, ANTZ (and by ANTZ I include government officials, the various heart and lung associations, etc.) view the world from a perspective of "justice" and "happiness."

Everyone, i.e., not them, would be "happy" if they didn't smoke.  There would be social justice ensuring that everyone was not subjected to the unpleasant will or actions of others.

But is that really possible?

There is plenty of evidence that, in fact, everyone tests positive for cotinine (a metabolite of nicotine described elsewhere on this blog).  Cotinine, along with nicotinic acid (vitamin B3), is involved in how the brain processes serotonin.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to imagine that not everyone has the right balance of serotonin in their bodies.  After all there is plenty of medical evidence that people of different cultures and genetics process nutrients in their food differently.  So why not vitamin B3?

And what does cigarette smoke do in the human body?

Why it converts, among other things, to vitamin B3 and cotinine, which control serotonin.

However the ANTZ idea of "social justice" requires that everyone process nutrients in their bodies the same way hence no one should need to smoke or chew.

Now not only is this silly and ridiculous, but its also very wrong...

While you might not like me smoking to get these nutrients you have no business telling me I don't need them.

So there's a problem - we have people in authority dictating to you, now a former smoker (vaper), what you should be doing with your body.

I am sure many readers have seen "insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result."

This applies here.  I can tell you over and over not to smoke - but if you need to smoke you are going to anyway.

So these people are, by any reasonable definition, simply insane.  You'd think after 50 years of telling people not to do it they'd have figured out there must be more to it.

Personally I think that ANTZ and their friends have turned into what's called a "ponerogenic association."

A ponerogenic association stated goals are often at variance with its true nature. Colorful literature and humanitarian values often mask its true motivations, i.e., we all want to live in a "happy" world so you will do what you are told.

The people at the top of these groups are nuts - literally banging away with the same shit over and over and over and expecting a different result.  And this trickles down to the members of the these groups.

Imagine - you are Glantz or the head of the California Public Health (CPH) - do you really think its possible that no one vapes or smokes around them?

Do they have no families, no friends, no children, no associates at work?

About 18% of the population smokes (or vapes)... that's about 1 in 5 people.

So its highly unlikely that they don't know anyone trying to quit smoking or who vapes.

Instead they must be living in some sort of egotistical "bubble" thinking that their decisions and thought processes are somehow above everyone else.

And what about the people that work for these people?

Surely they must know someone who vapes.  Like the all employees of CPH are non-smokers?  Again, even more unlikely...

So what you have are a group of people basically run by egomaniacs that insist that the entire state or planet or whatever follow along with their model of the universe.

And one supposes their lackies employees just have to go along with them, despite the fact that their mom or sister or brother or kid vapes, just to keep their job...

So we arrive at First Criterion of Ponerogenesis (from the link): “One phenomenon all ponerogenic groups and associations have in common is the fact that their members lose (or have already lost) the capacity to perceive pathological individuals as such, interpreting their behavior in fascinated, heroic, or melodramatic ways” (Lobaczewski, 158). When a group has succumbed to pathological influence its members soon lose the ability to distinguish normal human behavior from pathological. 

So these support people, staff, etc. are working for kooks and they are stuck.

Secondary Ponerogenic Unions: ... The secondary ponerogenic associations are groups founded with an independent and attractive social ideal [ such as stopping smoking ], but which later succumb to moral degeneration. This degeneration leaves an opening for "infection and activation of the pathological factors within, and later to a ponerization of the group as a whole, or often its fraction” (Lobaczewski, 160).

So the bottom line here is simple.

While the ideal of stopping everyone from smoking is a good basis for a group or association.  What's happened over time is that all connection to rational thinking has been lost, i.e., it becomes incomprehensible that some people might actually need what smoking provides them.  Instead "these people" (smokers or vapers) are just out trying to poison children with their nicotine juice or aren't grown up enough to stop or trying to cause society to glamorize smoking again (as if they, the ANTZ, are the sole social arbiter of such things).

To paraphrase from the above link: When the ANTZ leadership are treated as normal, more perceptive individuals will leave the group. When the group has become sufficiently pathological, members will either perceive its new direction in moral terms (e.g., “We must make them continue to smoke cigarettes on the principle that vaping doesn't really solve the "smoking" problem”), or as a form of psychological terror.

Ultimately you end up (and you can read more on the above link) with a "pathocracy."

You end up with what we are seeing today in relationship to vaping: social hysteria.

"Oh my God! They are making smoking glamorous again!"

Implied is this: Vaping is just an extension of smoking.  So we shouldn't sell vapes to children under 18.

However, the converse of this is exactly what?

We all no no child ever gets hold of a pack of cigarettes before they are 18... (right).

But if the child is smoking cigarettes the child apparently should continue to do so until 18 and not vape because vaping is bad too.

So, instead of letting them "eat cake" we let them smoke because its good for them not to vape...?

Really? Why is this?  So they might continue to use tobacco when the turn 18 so governments and big Tobacco can continue to profit?

This is truly insane.

And in fact EVIL.

If anyone cared for the "lives of the children" one imagines they would actually want them to STOP SMOKING...