Search This Blog

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.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Autonomous Life and Death Decisions...

So the Future of Life (FOL) organization thinks AI-based weapons are bad and that they should not be developed.  According to the linked document above these weapons could include things like "armed quadcopters that can search for and eliminate people meeting certain pre-defined criteria."

The concern, apparently, is a "global AI arms race."

Interestingly, though, cruise missiles are explicitly excluded.  Cruise missiles, at least in the opinion of the FOL folks, don't involve "AI" even though they make their own targeting decisions (or at least not the right kind of "AI").

So Elon Musk, a signer of the FOL document linked above, thinks that one day "non-self-driving" cars will be outlawed...?"  Musk says: "I don't think we have to worry about autonomous cars, because that's sort of like a narrow form of AI ... It's not something that I think is very difficult, actually, to do autonomous driving, to a degree that's much safer than a person, is much easier than people think."

So I guess there are degrees of AI, narrow to what? "wide?"

What about the "ethics" of self driving cars?

Supposed a small, "unseen" child darts out from behind a parked car leaving no time to stop.  In the on-coming lane is a pregnant mom and another infant.  What does the "self driving car" AI decide to do?

If its "narrow" perhaps it simply runs over the child...

Or maybe it instead decides to kill the mom in the on-coming lane.

If its not so narrow maybe some quick facial recognition could be used to decide if any of the potential victims of the accident are "haters", religious folk, or other undesirables who there are too many of in the country.

How would you know if the AI wasn't making these kinds of decisions?

What if there was some sort of "disparate impact" on certain segments of the population relative to the decisions made by the self driving cars?

I don't really think a "global AI arms race" would be the problem...

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Command Lines of the Future...

Lest anyone thought I was kidding when I wrote this recent post on how command lines are making a comeback, i.e., as you text your bank 'move $100 from checking to savings' to get things done, I now offer CSound.

You can see the details here at Motherboard.

So now, to compose and/or play music live I can write commands (or Lisp functions if you prefer).

Sure glad I took typing in 10th grade...

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Apple: The Bigger They are the Harder They Fall...

I have posted on the slow demise by Apple (see this and this).

Slowly but surely this has progressed.

I have not installed the latest OS X and hope not too.

Here is Forbes saying the same thing.

The bigger they are the harder they fall...

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Where's the Objective Scientific Evidence for the Dangers of Diacetyl and Acetyl Propionyl?

I came across a blog called  In particular this post stands out:

Basically its a discussion about how a UK lab and company called Cloud9 tested an e-liquid called Five Pawns.

The crux of the article is a table that shows the following data:

vapemestoopid says: "Five Pawns told more than one company in the UK that their liquids were DIACETYL and AP FREE. Not to mention how many in the US? Not to mention numerous email replies to consumers found during a simple google search. Dating back to 2013 from US, Australia and Greece."

vapmestoopid supplies the following three images (copied from their blog - link above):

So here we see Five Pawns claiming no Diacetyl or acetone.  Now acetone is not Acetyl Propionyl (AP) - a miss spelling?  Perhaps, but by how - its all greek to me...

And here we see Five Pawns claiming no Diacetyl - no mention of AP.

And here is some hearsay from GrannyGrump.

So as best I can tell Five Pawns claims not to use Diacetyl - nothing about AP anywhere except in the mind of vapemestoopid...

Not surprisingly Five Pawns claims the Cloud9 results are baloney:

Here is the summary of Five Pawn's latest test numbers:

All but "Perpetual Check" have no detectable diacetyl according to their lab.

However, they do test positive in a number of flavors for 2,3 Pentadedione (AP).

What's interesting is the AP results all seem off by about a factor of between three and five.

So the conclusion of vapemestoopid and Cloud9 is apparently that e-liquids with "high" levels are dangerous because of this study, among others.

Indeed the referenced study cites other well known studies that have appeared elsewhere here and on Facebook and various vaping sites.  However this document also says things like:

"Regarding the combination of flavorings with propylene glycol and glycerin in aerosols, specific concerns exist for lung and cardiovascular function: 1) propylene glycol or glycerin alone may elicit pathophysiological and/or pathological changes in lung function; and 2) interactions between the effects of the individual agents may heighten toxicity."

Effectively all flavors and PG and VG might be bad in some way, also nicotine, for you to inhale.

The bottom line here seems to be that, "OMG, vaping certain flavors might be bad!"

So some arbitrary flavors are picked out - diacetyl and a variant of it, AP.

Why these?  They relate to the infamous "pop corn lung" incidents.



Please read these.  The bottom line is no one, not the FDA or the CDC, has any real idea what happened with these incidents.

So I think a couple of things:

1) Running around testing e-liquid and publishing results without documenting the process in specific detail seems stoopid.  For example, the UK lab (according to Cloud9 uses "[the] same independant UK-based lab used by Trading Standards." - whatever that might mean) and the US labs, one would hope, would express how they do their work and how they calibrate and handle their processes, samples and equipment.

In addition one would hope that multiple samples and multiple labs would be used in a double blind study to ensure that both properly calibrated test samples as well as commercial samples are effectively intermixed during testing.

(This kind of testing is what a vaping trade association should do. My suspicion is that many are duped into paying money for bogus processes and results.)

2) The problem, as stated here on this blog as well as in the Five Pawns blog is this: "Further, we feel that efforts to translate industrial exposure limits to vaping exposure limits are flawed. It is clearly not the same.  If this were true, one would expect a population of individuals becoming sick from vaping, but this is not the case (underline mine). There are no known publicly documented cases of anyone having respiratory issues related to vaping AP or diacetyl at the levels currently in e-liquids.  Many websites and blogs discuss this exact issue.  We are confident that studies and future data will show inhalation from vaping e-liquids should not be compared to industrial exposure limits." - basically there has to be a reason vaping and smoking are not killing people due to DA or AP.

Until this issue is scientifically vetted panicking and screaming "Danger Danger" about DA and AP is really scientifically bogus and very misleading for consumers.

Is there a risk? Of course.  There is risk in breathing and in smoking.  Is smoking a greater risk than vaping?  Is it in the best interest of the consumer to continue smoking until, decades from now, all this is resolved?


3) Testing results for DA and PA can and do vary over the life of an e-liquid bottle (again from the Five Pawns blog): "We have funded extensive independent research, including inhalation and heat studies, and have plans to begin in-vitro research as well, looking at the effects of e-liquid vapor on lung tissue.  In our research, we have also discovered that the effects of storage conditions and time on the shelf can also affect the variability of test results (underline mine).  Therefore, we have also initiated long-term stability and degradation testing, which can take up to two years for results."

So testing not only has to be calibrated relative to amounts but it must be applied comparably across testing environments and samples relative to the "age" of the liquid, exactly how the testing is done, and so on.

4) There are many other questionable ingredients like cinnamon which no one seems concerned with yet are demonstrably and objectively "worse" than DA or AP in terms observable of impact on body tissues in humans.  Selecting a small subset of some of these flavors (like DA and AP) but not others is also very misleading for consumers.  Yet I see no hew and cry for their removal from e-liquids.

The bottom line here is really simple:

Cigarettes are known to be significantly more dangerous than virtually all forms of vaping at this time.

DA is already in cigarettes (and vaping for that matter) at comparable levels to the "panic" levels described by vapemestoopid and clould9 yet apparently neither causes OB.

Without an scientific explanation of this fact its really disingenuous to make claims DA or AP are dangerous.

One must also consider the danger of leaving people on cigarettes until the "safety" of vaping is confirmed.

This is like telling children to wait in the burning second floor room until a proper, government approved ladder is available to rescue them.

Panic mongering is not good for anyone...

Monday, June 29, 2015

More Google "Don't Be Evil..."

In May of 2012 I wrote "Google's Waterloo, Patent 6,061,520."

Google's claim was that an API was basically unpatentable.

It looked like Google would be taking Oracle to the cleaners by freely using its Java APIs.

But in a surprise move the US Supreme Court has declined Google's recent appeal on the matter and has thus breathed new life into Oracle's claims (see this WSJ article).

As I wrote before I believe its completely preposterous for Google to claim that an API is not a copyrightable item.

According to the WSJ article: "Google had asked the Supreme Court to hear the case and limit how software makers could use copyright law to assert exclusive rights over computer programs. It argued Oracle shouldn’t be able to claim copyrights on basic software commands."

Really - anyone can just take software written by anyone else just because they invented "basic software commands?"

Sure sounds like a money grab on Google's part to me....

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Future (Past) of UI Design is Auto Correct Madness!

I found this article at Wired.

Basically the idea is that all these apps and HTML5 web page user interfaces are tedious and difficult to use relative to "texting."

Why not, the article postulates, use texting to interface to, for example, interact with your bank?

After all, everyone constantly texts and its a familiar interface.

So why not just select "My Bank" on the text destination menu and say "move $20 from account A to account B?"

After all, according to the article, 97% of people use texting on their phones - more than any other app...

I am reminded of the quote by George Santayana "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."  Or, perhaps more accurately, my corollary "Those who are repeating the past are condemned not to notice."

Apparently the future of smartphones is the command line.

After all, what does texting your bank do but create the notion of a command line interface.

I find this extremely interesting.

Forty years ago while first becoming introduced to "computer science" the command line was all there was.

And it was considered the largest impediment to non-computer-literate users using a computer.

You heard about "arcane command structures" and so one.

No normal person could or would use this...

Thus the notion of a "User Interface" or UI was born.

Why not invent something like a "mouse" or a "touch screen" to make things easier.

And so, for forty years, that's what we do...  Spend probably trillions of dollars on graphics, faster chips, touch screens (don't forget the lost "stylus years"), and on and on.

Until we arrive again at the notion of "command line..."

Of course, if my iPhone is any indication of what Apple can do for texting look no further than this site:

There was a lot of research in the ancient computer past of what a good command line might look like.

As far back as TOPS-20 there was the TENEX command line interpreter (see this).

It worked hard to remove ambiguity and confusion from users typing commands.

The problem with texting, of course, is that the domain space is unlimited where as with a command line interpreter the commands you can conceive of and use are bound by the set of commands the computer actually understands.

To me its like the attempts to replace something like "Emacs" as an editor (emacs descended from TECO).  Minimal command interface.  Once you learned it well the commands would spring from your hands without thought.  And much, much more efficient that having to type, stop typing and grab a mouse, then let go of the mouse and type, etc.

I was always amazed in the late 80's after PC's became popular how much less efficient a kid that had grown up on PC's was at editing than a good emacs user.

The bottom line here, unfortunately for the new "command line" texting model, is that for command lines to work efficiently you have to have a domain of knowledge where the next portion of the command can be inferred from context.

For example, many modern OS's today let you type something like:

  copy a

where what is inferred after you type the letter 'a' is a choice of all files starting with 'a' - then, of course, there's some mechanism to pick which file you are interested very quickly.

Texting there really isn't much to infer from.

So if I text Bob "let's meet at a" is 'a' a set of restaurants, hotels, car dealers, etc.???

Now maybe we could try and guess but most likely in that case we would end up in the land of Apple auto-correct madness.

Now I don't know what the best UI idea is, but apparently I've already seen it because we are starting at the beginning again.

(I doubt we'll have everyone carrying around punch cards for the smart phones...)

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Ten Years of Contrails...

Almost ten years ago I wrote one of my first blog entries (see

The point of the article was that apparently no one had considered or measured the effects of jet contrails on surface temperatures (think global warming science).

Now I did not discover this, it merely reported the results originally discussed on the BBC program Horizon.  Researchers had figured contrails matter but were unable to prove this until 9/11 here in the USA when all commercial jets were grounded for several days.

So, merely ten years later, climate researchers are now looking into this issue (see this article Science Codex).  From Science Codex:

The researchers report that the "diurnal temperature range was statistically significantly reduced at outbreak stations versus non-outbreak stations." In the South, this amounted to about a 6 degree Fahrenheit reduction in daily temperature range, while in the Midwest, there was about a 5 degree Fahrenheit reduction. Temperatures the days before and after the outbreaks did not show this effect, indicating that the lower temperatures were due to the contrail outbreaks.

"Weather forecasting of daytime highs and lows do not include contrails," said Carleton. "If they were included in areas of contrail outbreaks, they would improve the temperature forecasts."

The underlined part (my underline) is quite interesting.

I my experience daily weather forecasting is, at best, abysmally unreliable.  One has to believe that 6 degrees is quite a bit to miss out on (see this and this as well).

I wonder what impact this has had on the various temperature stations used, at least in the US?

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

More on "Decided Science" ...

Interesting article here on how many viruses exist in the oceans.

Here's an interesting quote from the article: "Scientists estimate that there are 1,000,000,000,000,000,000, 
000,000,000,000 virus particles in all the world’s seas. They outnumber all cellular life forms by roughly a factor of 10. "

So apparently all we know about "life on earth" is eclipsed by the viruses in the oceans.

We know about 1/10th of the life on earth and nothing about what the rest does (according to the article we knew of 39 types of viruses out of an estimated tens of thousands).

According to the article viruses in the ocean kill bacteria which control how carbon is sequestered in the oceans (or released into the air).


"Flexible" Cimate Modeling?

So I came across this IEEE Spectrum article.  It would seem the California drought can cause the land to "flex" up and down up to 15mm (+/- 5 so 10 - 20mm).

"Climate change" sea level is supposed to be between 2.6mm and 2.9mm (see Wikipedia).

One wonders if the two are in fact related...?

As water moves out of one place, i.e., the ground, and into the atmosphere where it affects the temperature (reflection as clouds, green house gas as water vapor) one has to question how anyone can really "know" what the sea level is really supposed to be...

Imagine a weightless blob of water in the space station.

How would you calculate its exact diameter?

If you have ever seen videos of things like this, e.g., soap bubbles, its obvious that though the object is generally "round" it does not have a consistent or constant surface.  If one adds a gaseous layer and material moving from inside the bubble (or water blob) to the gaseous layer and back while its contorting freely in space it becomes very difficult to imagine how one might accurately know the size of the bubble.

Add a crust and you have an interesting and inaccurately primitive simulation of the earth.

You also have one which does things in terms of climate models which I have never seen described.

The earth has a radius of about 6,371 km or 6,371,000 meters, or 6,371,000,000 mm.

So we are supposedly measuring sea level to an accuracy of about .00000005%.

The probability that humans can reliably measure something like this on a dynamic surface like the earth seems, well, vanishingly small particularly since the IEEE article indicates that the next closest technology for measuring water in the ground has a resolution of hundreds of kilometers.

One also imagines that the weight of the atmosphere itself must have some impact at that level of precision.

Similarly, I wonder if the solar wind "flexes" the surface of the planet as well.

I sure am glad that all of this is decided...

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 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:

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: ) there are others if you google.

There is also much legal activity around what a "carrier" can censor.  (See 1989 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" -