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Monday, December 28, 2015

Are Theranos and Holmes Really That "Out There?"

In the 1970's some quack from a company called RSI called me in my office at One Chase Manhattan Plaza.  I was involved in using Unix (from Bell Labs) for data and word processing work and we needed a database.

This "quack" had some "relational database" program for sale he'd written himself that ran under PDP-11 Unix that was based on a a document he had seen from IBM Research in San Jose about something called "System R."

Meanwhile I was taking a class in San Jose from two guys (Bob Epstein and Mark Hoffman) who worked for a company called Britton Lee that sold a relational database database machine.  I liked Hoffman and had some discussions about working with him and Epstein but I wasn't interested in living in California.

(In the 1970's IBM dominated the database world and there were only non-relational network "mainframe" databases.  They cost tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars and were intense, complex OS-360-based tools.  The database market was huge and totally non-relational.  No one, and I mean no one, believed that "relational" database operations could ever be as fast as network database operations.  It was considered heresy to even suggest it.)

The "quack" turned out to be Larry Elison.  

Hoffman and Epstein quit Britton Lee and started Sybase which contributed source code to Microsoft's (presumably for their SQL) and reached a billion in sales on its own.

Was this crew any different than Theranos and Holmes?

I think not... 

IBM was one of the biggest companies on the planet in the 1970's, network databases were all that there would ever be, OS 360 was the best operating system there ever would be (probably using CICS).

Would relational databases ever take over?

No way!!!!!

How would UNIX ever replace IBM?

We used to joke about it at Usenix conferences in Toronto Canada. 

"Ha ha, someday mainframes would run Unix" I remember joking with a guy named Mark Kreiger from a company called UniPress around 1978 or '79.  I eventually had a job working on fixing code Gosling had left behind at CMU.

But apparently some venture capitalists did believe.

And these companies where a great success.

How many failed along the way?  Probably too many to count.

How many billions of 2015 dollars were lost?


But in those days no one cried and blubbered like they do now.

The market decided who was a winner and who was not.

Instead the socialist WSJ tells us how bad Theranos is...

But, in fact, if their ideas are really good, they will win...

If not, someone will buy up the used junk, equipment and technology and use it for something else.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Gotta love modern Educayshun...

The "Risk" of the Cure...

(Republished because Google says "" is somehow using this blog (which only Google can write to) to potentially take over my computer...  Apparently some old linked image is a "problem")
I came across the statistic at MedPageToday that in 2006 binge drinking cost the USA $224 billion (yes billion with a 'B') USD. Surprisingly, at the same site (you may have to register to see these articles but I can assure you its well worth it) I came upon this statistic for skin cancer (melanoma) in the USA: $3.5 billion USD.

Now in terms of death rates, let's say (and I am rounding and fiddling a bit here) that about 8,500 people died of melanoma in 2006.  Melanoma statistics are tracked by the CDC.  The exact cause of melanoma is not known but UV exposure and moles are thought to be risk factors.  There is a steady increase in the diagnosis of melanoma of about some 150 cases or so each year (from 2000 to 2006).

On the alcohol side death rates for "binge drinking" per se are harder to pinpoint.  Its thought that about 40% of teenagers engage in some form of binge drinking and that about one quarter of all teenage alcohol deaths involve drinking of some kind.  It seems from this site and others that the death rate of teenagers using alcohol is similar to (maybe 12 per 100,000 for teenage drivers).  The exact effect of binge drinking versus simply "drinking" is hard to pinpoint.

So, to look at this another way, binge drinking impacts our society in a way very similar to melanoma in terms of the death rate.

But the cost of binge drinking to society as whole is much larger.

Both articles associate the cost of "lost work and productivity" with the lions portion of these costs.

Though interestingly almost $22 billion dollars are spent annually on the "justice system" costs of teenage drinking.  Almost seven (x 7) times the entire cost of melanoma.

Now melanoma in terms of public awareness gets a boost from all the sunscreen commercials.

One of my children is an absolute sunscreen Nazi with respect to her children.  Little Suzy and Jr. are not allowed so much as out of the house without a healthy dose of the stuff (UV 50 of course).


Because the medical establishment beats the "sun causes skin cancer" drum very hard and loud in my child's ear.

Now things like lightning kill some 750 people a year (about 10% of the melanoma or teenage car crash numbers).  In general, for 2009 death rates looked like this according to this site:

Cause of Death in US            Number

All causes                           2,436,652

Cardiovascular diseases        779,367
Malignant neoplasms            568,668
Drug induced                          37,485
Suicide                                    36,547
Motor vehicle accidents         36,284
Septicemia (infections)          35,587
by Firearms                            31,224
Accidental poisoning             30,504
Alcohol induced                     23,199
Homicide                                16,591
HIV                                          9,424
Viral Hepatitis                          7,652
Cannabis (Marijuana)                     0

So melanoma and "binge drinking" are somewhere above lightning strikes and below Viral Hepatitis.

But think about the "lost work" and "justice system" costs of this table and how they would scale up for various other causes of death.

Think that if teenage drunk driving costs $22 billion USD a year in "justice system" costs what does 31,224 firearms deaths cost?  Or 36,284 motor vehicle deaths?

The New York City police budget is $3.9 billion USD annually - about the same cost as melanoma in the entire US - there were about 500 or so murders in NYC in 2008.

Annual Homeland Security budget: about $56 billion USD.

Imagine the "lost work" aspects of all of this...

Now obviously everyone dies and older people are far more likely to die in a given year than a teenager.  So the top several causes of death are always going to be something related to older folks.

The top two causes of death are much larger by a factor of five or more than all the rest of the causes combined.

Is it even possible to tell what's going on here?

Well, for one thing, cardiovascular disease and cancer (malignant neoplasms), kill older people far, far more often than younger people.

Things like car accidents, which are proven to decrease as the maximum speed limit decreases, kill across the spectrum but are often associated with young, inexperienced drivers.

Some things, like preventable medical errors, which kill an estimated 195,000 per year are not even listed above. (Some estimates take this as high as a million deaths per year.)

Binge drinking and melanoma are not even blips on the overall death rate radar...

In 1900 Tuberculosis and Influenza where the number two and number three causes of death behind  cardiovascular disease.  Yet these diseases affected everyone and in all age groups.  Today tuberculosis is barely a blip on the death rate chart (see this) and influenza has dropped off to a rate near car accidents.  Cancer in 1900 was about four times today's cancer rate.

In 2000, cancer is number two.

I think the answer is no on a couple of levels...

For one, today people are sold emotional "bills of goods" in terms of their healthcare.  A good example of this is "sunscreen."

Most of these "death rates" at the top are old people.  So if you cured all cardiovascular disease tomorrow then they would die of cancer, or some other problem.  But in any case they would still die.

The question would be what would be the "cost" of this death?

Then there is the question of "cost" to society...

It seems that "lost productivity" only matters when your in the work force - it means nothing if you are retired.

"Cost of death" is all over the place in terms of how its measured in various literature and by various agencies.

To me is seems like the "lightning strike" rule (which I just made up) would be a good one:

If fewer deaths occur due to some cause than lightning strikes its probably not something for society to get all wound up about - period.  (Obviously if its increasing at some exponential rate, say SARS which only had a few deaths but if it increased exponentially would be a problem.)

If, like melanoma, the death rate is increasing at less than the lightning strike rate, particularly if its relatively steady and significantly less, then maybe its not such a big emergency...  I am quite certain that 150 deaths per year ether way is well under the error rate of reporting for all kinds of "rates."

Then there is the "convenience death rule" (which I also just made up).  If something like a 65 mph (higher) versus 55 mph death rate (lower) is something people gladly accept for the convenience of getting somewhere quicker than I think that needs to come out of the "death rate" picture.  (Personally I have never met anyone who would rather drive at 55 mph than 65 mph in order to reduce their chance of a death.)

What I don't like is the fact that makers of "sunscreen" are exploiting the "melanoma bandwagon" for profit.  Shielding young children from the sun reduces their natural vitamin D production which may have other, negative effects on their health.  Since we don't know the down side personally I'd risk one of the 150 melanoma deaths per year on my child against the benefits of not slavering them full of chemicals every time they went outside for ten or fifteen years.

There is always "risk."

The problem is we don't ever hear about the opposite "risk" of taking the supposed cure.

I have yet to see any sort of meaningful science on the cost of death after removing a primary cause, i.e., if no one dies of tuberculosis anymore what does it cause to die of something else.

I also see nothing on "risk" of the supposed cure (though if you watch TV and see drug ads you realize that "liver failure" becomes a significant option for treating, say, eczema or incontinence).

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

As long as I am bitching...

It's no secret that Tim Cook is destroying Apple...

Here's the latest El Capitan OS X numbers:

When Steve Jobs was involved things look substantially better.

This has been a steady, certain decline.

iOS 9 is constantly annoying me these days with "notifications."

Apple is obsessed with "consumerism" to make their numbers.

Sadly its meant that Windows has been "catching up..."

Some of the latest versions are halfway decent now.  And the new Micro$oft tablet's looking pretty good...

I predicted this here on my very blog...

Not too much longer and the world will run out of iPhone customers - everybody who want's one will have one.

Theranos, E-Cigs and the WSJ...

For many years I have read the Wall Street Journal.  As far back as the days I lived in Levittown, NY and rode the commuter train (late 1970's) to work.  You had to make sure that you didn't touch your good clothes after reading the paper because the ink came off on your hands (probably some deadly combination of lead and carbon...).

The Journal was good for news: no videos, no cartoons, no nonsense - something that you worked hard to read and understand...  Kind of like the old Forbes magazine - a hefty tome in the 1970's it took days of ardent effort to slog through the detailed, precise reporting.  And well worth the effort, too...

But all this appears to be changing.

Lately the WSJ is full of videos and silly reporting.

One that comes to mind is the recent FDA/Theranos "disaster" where the WSJ has reported on a variety of "misdeeds" by Theranos in its quest to change the face of medical testing forever.

Here's the FDA list of problems.

A while back the WSJ reported various "problems" at Theranos and that the FDA was there for a "surprise inspection."  The implications, of course, were that there were festering problems...

You can see Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos, a woman who, gasp, left college, to found this company, defend rational behavior.

WSJ Video

If you watch you whole video you'll get a good idea of what's going on.

Today the WSJ published a post on "deficiencies" listed by the FDA (see this).

Theranos isn't even a public company.

So why does the WSJ care so much?

Its really hard to tell - why is this news?

Not enough "feel good" videos to post?

This is a simple product in the sense that its just a pin-prick of blood.  Then they run tests and tell you the results.

Not too complex.

Theranos runs the tests elsewhere - not attached to you - so all you are doing is putting a drop of blood into a slim, small, shallow "needle."  My dog steps on my foot and draws hundreds of times more blood - maybe he's a medical device...?

Of course, the real magic is that they don't need vials full of blood - no doubt leading to the demise of many well established industry leaders - which is why there's so much "trouble..."

And for the FDA, well a small container is a "medical device" apparently.  It needs testing and tracking and all the rest.

Theranos isn't the only strange WSJ target...

They don't like e-cigarettes too much either (they simply ignore them).

Another game changer, millions of people no longer using "combustion tobacco" and the WSJ just yawns.

No doubt e-cigs represent too much of a change for the established "big tobacco" folks.

I find this all very sad.

The FDA, the WSJ, all out to kill off the betterment of mankind...

Do you really think the kind of container you put the blood in, as long as its clean of course, really matters?

After all, people shoot heroin for years and don't necessarily suffer from "unclean" equipment.

Clearly the FDA should be worried about cars, they kill a lot of people and they transport medical patients - perhaps in a dangerous way.  Ace bandages, bandaids, who know what sort of lethal problems could arise...

Food is another problem - vitamins, mineral, supplements.  Fortunately there are laws that are supposed to all us to use those... (well, sort of, as long as no one wants to step in and lie they way to changing the truth.

Soon, I guess, there will be yet another subscription to cancel.

I can always watch news videos on YouTube - I don't need an expensive WSJ subscription for that.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Volkswagon - Teaching to the Test...

I find it quite ironic that VW (Volkswagon) is caught prepping vehicles (with software no less) so that they pass tests on the test stand but fail in real life to the delivered the promised "clean air" performance while here in the USA "teaching to the test" is what millions of grade school kids are taught every day.

So teaching to the test would appear to have consequences.

So, no doubt, the little gnomes at VW working on the software (of course I'd like to see the actual, concrete evidence of this) figured, ah well, its just a test.  We were taught that doing what's needed to pass the test is what we should focus on, so let's focus on it...

Next point - at least so far there is no actual evidence that software was deliberately written to cheat.   We see a lot of statements like this (from here): "For years, millions of Volkswagen’s deisel cars contained software that turned their pollution controls on only when the cars were being tested by regulators."

So how do the cars know the "regulators" are testing them?

Deliberately writing software for cheat would have to require that there were a very specific set of real world circumstance that occurred only during a test - otherwise the performance would be uneven and customers would complain.

It would be nice to see emails or other confirming documents.

If we think all this through we would have to draw some conclusions:

Either the tests the EPA uses are so unrelated to actual driving that they are useless (hence the evil gnomes took advantage of that fact that the conditions were SO OBVIOUS they could build software to test for them)

Or its just happens that when VW cars are doing what they do they are more pollution conscientious when doing what the EPA tests for, i.e., the EPA tests are just stupid and measure nothing useful.

It will be fun to watch all this play out...

Saturday, August 1, 2015

An Ars Technica "Audiophile" Testing FAIL

Note the audio files on the Synology
(For more than fifteen years I worked with a commercial system I developed that delivered massive amounts (terabytes) of NAS data in real time in a commercial printing scenario.  During that time there was not, as far as I know and we handled all the support, a single data error related to the streaming of data from the NAS.)

I stumbled upon and started to read an Ars Technica article called "The Audiophile's Dilemma" - I thought at first it was about whether you could hear the difference in audio cables, e.g., a speaker or microphone cable.  (Some people claim to be able to hear, for example, that a gold-plated connector sounds "better" than one that is not gold plated.)

Always an interesting read.

But this article was different...

The idea was whether or not you could hear the difference using an expensive ($340 USD) networking cable.

But not by sending audio over it!

Instead, the cable was being used as a network cable hooked to a standard ethernet switch.  Not passing audio over the cable but simply file data (SMB-style block transfers between an NAS and a computer one supposes).

So, according to the article "The test setup had the Synology DS215j connected by a standard Ethernet cable to the switch and the laptop connected to the same switch by the cable under test" and a "Dell M2800 laptop to serve as a listening station."

The Synology is a box (see this) containing storage, in the case of this test two "Digital WD Red 1TB WD10EFRX" drives.

So effectively we have a laptop with attached storage via the "cable under test" through a switch to the Synology.

The extracted audio (to be listened two comparatively) was a 30 second clip from a CD.

CD's are typically 44.1kHz sampled so we are talking about a 1.5Mb of audio data (x2 for stereo, though according to the above image we've got about 5.5Mb of audio data...).

In any case one supposes that a Windows audio player is being used to play these files for the comparison test (no mention I could find of which one or how it was set up).

So, let's pause right here for a second and think about this...

We are going to play audio files on a laptop from a connected network storage.  Network storage connected via a 1Gbit switch ("One Netgear ProSAFE 5-port gigabit Ethernet switch, model GS105NA" according to the article).

The drives are rated 150Mb/second and the Synology around 111Mb/sec (see this).

We are supposedly going to compare the "audio quality" of data transferred via different network cables used between the network switch and the laptop.

I guess those involved in this, Lee Hutchinson (the author from Ars and the James Randi of the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF)), imagined they were "playing" the audio files over the switch through "cable under test" in such a was as to potentially "hear" the difference in cables.

However, this seems to me to be, well, basically, impossible.

For one, the entire 5Mb of audio, given the configuration described, would move from the Synology to the laptop in, say, 50 milliseconds (50ms).  Most likely (and this part was not described in the article) the audio player would open the file (or have it held open) and the OS (Windows I supposed) and/or the audio player would likely buffer the file data (some or all of it).  This means that once you clicked on play the audio player would (worst case) load the entire file into memory and then start playing it.

This is not described by the article though it seems quite unlikely that the audio player is reading data one byte or even one block at a time.

(The NAS probably looks like a local drive to Windows and the audio player so both would assume that it was "local", i.e., a local disk, and simply assume the transfer to memory would be immediate as opposed to playing a file via a WiFi connection where there would be latency.)

Nor should a configuration like this be confused with network "streaming" where audio bytes flow as needed across network connection.

NAS tries to make the storage look and act like a local, fast disk which means that its running SMB-like protocols with block transfers, not streams of audio "bytes."

Further, the actual procedure described of "switching cables" and playing audio does not describe whether the audio was "refreshed" (or flushed) each time, i.e., once loaded in the audio player and the cables were being switched did the audio even get read from the NAS after the first time it was loaded and played (things like OS buffering, NAS architecture, etc. all come into play on this).  The entire clip, for example, (tiny at 5.5Mb) may have just sat on the audio player (or in the OS disk buffers) after the first use.

The file sizes involved are very small relative to OS and NAS buffering sizes.  We also don't know the frame sizes used for networking and its entirely possible the entire file moved across the network in only a few frames at 1Gb/sec.

Audio players typically buffer data when clips start playing to ensure that there is no skipping or jitter - how big are the buffers in this case?

Regardless of these points the move of the data from the NAS to the laptop is basically guaranteed to be error free by the networking protocol.

Without extensive knowledge about what was done and, more importantly, the specific details of the audio play, OS, drivers, etc. etc. there is no way to know what was happening for sure other than to say the supposed "quality" of the cable is not an issue.

Given my experience with these sorts of things what they imagined they were doing and what actually happened are certainly two different things entirely.

Then there is the issue of what people appear to think is happening with "interference" on the cable.

Twisted pair ethernet is the physical connection between two points in a network.  The layers above the connection handle ensuring that data moving over the network occurs without error.

And this is key.

If audio data were moving over a twisted pair then one would imagine that interference would matter (and could be "heard" by a listener).

In this case we are sending blocks (most likely SMB-style blocks of file data) from one point to another.

If twisted pair ethernet were at all noisy at the higher network levels nothing on the planet using twisted pair would work for data.  As for the cable quality - the point of something like twisted pair is to send a differential signal which is likely to be more immune to noise than an unbalanced signal.  Secondly, ethernet by nature is not "clean" - frames interfere by design on the wire.  The purpose of the higher protocol levels is to ensure that the delivered data is clean and error free.

These fools even write about how the expensive twisted pair cables are "directional."  Apparently it matters which end you plug in where (perhaps at the limits of 1 Gb/sec transfer speeds but not for moving a paltry 6Mb of data around).

So these poor bastards seem to be confusing "quality of cable" in a NAS-style data role with "sound quality."

They appear to have no idea what-so-ever about audio, NAS, audio and audio software, buffering, how NAS works, how OS software works, nothing!

They are not testing what they think they are testing.

And this is sad.

Poor old James Randi is sucked into this debacle of stupidity right along with the author.

So the idea was that the author and Ars and, I guess James Randi, believed that they were somehow testing the audio quality of data over a network cable when in fact they were testing nothing of the sort.

When I was a boy I was always interested in science and technology.  I would conduct what I thought were "experiments" and showed amazing things.

However, whenever I showed these experiments to "grown ups" they would always point out how what I thought was going on was in fact merely what I had fooled myself into believing.

Sadly, today this would be appear to be what a lot of science has become.

Tests so ill though out that they are meaningless - yet, as in the case of this article - still presented as meaningful.