Entries Tagged 'Society' ↓
April 29th, 2008 — Idea, Ideas, Society
Problem: Homeopathy lives right on the border of science.Â The edges suggest It could work:Â strange dosage curves,Â unexplained placebos and histamine effects (see #1 and #4),Â mercaptan sensitivity in the 1:50 billion range.Â Working would mean bringing drug production costs to nearly zero. Failing means that millions of people are being comforted by empty promises. We want to know!
Solution: Run a double blind study already!
Homeopathy works with minute quantities of medicine, in the realm of countable molecules. The doctrine is that the dilution is to zero molecules with only a ‘memory’ in the water. It is nearly impossible to control labs to zero molecule dilution and the real effect might be in the few molecules contaminating the blank pills.
Testing becomes difficult due to the cycle of a homeopath testing several possible medications on a patient based on background, random symptoms, and responses to previous medications. Also, successful homeopathic treatment solutions cause subtle cures of systemic aliments, making traditional testing difficult. The only data on success is the subjective evaluation of the patient.
This is SCIENCE! Science works! Run a double blind anyway. Stop arguing and do the experiment!
- 1 dozen homeopathic doctors (“docs”) willing to try.
- 300 or more patients (“sickies”) with various suitable allergies, gastric problems, etc.
- 1 trusted pill dispenser and record keeper that can keep a secret (“peddler”).
Peddler randomly and secretly assigns each sicky to one of three types: righties, wrongies, and blankies. Peddler then assigns an equal number of righties, wrongies, and blankies to each doc. Each doc treats each sicky normally: he or she interviews and pokes the sicky, prescribes a homeopathic pill, follows up with more interviewing, poking, and pills, and eventually either calls the sicky cured or just gives up.Â Science!
Ah, but each time the sicky is prescribed pills, he or she needs to get them from the peddler. Then begins the fun!Â The peddler looks up if the sicky is really a righty, wrongy, or blanky. A righty always gets the pill as prescribed by the doc. A wrongy always gets a random homeopathic pill from whatever spilled on the floor: those pills are small suckers. A blanky always gets a blank sugar pill. So, for example, each time a blanky goes back to the doctor with weird symptoms and an updated prescription for a carefully chosen remedy, he or she really gets a blank sugar pill.
Run for six months if you loaded up with chronic suffering sickies. For acute sickies, you might finish in a couple weeks. By now, lots of sickies will talk about how much better they are! Fill in the surveys on “Did you get better? Did homeopathy work for you? Do you feel better or worse?”. Hand them to the peddler.
You’ve Got Results!
You only get a few numbers out, like how righties compared to blankies. Time to crunch that spreadsheet to see what you got:
Happy Fun Pills: Righties do well; Wrongies and Blankies do poorly.
- Congratulations! Collect your Noble Prize in Medicine. Use winnings to evade Pfizer hit squads.
You’ve Got To Believe!: Some sickies do lots better. About even across docs and types of sickies.
- Eh. Publish an article in Popular Science. Keep trying for tenure.
That Winning Smile: Sickies of some docs do much better than others. About even across types.
- Recruit docs into multi-level marketing selling time shares for the astral plane. Retire rich and wanted.
They Be Shamans: Righties of some docs do really well. Everything else about even.
- Oh, those docs know good things. Go figure it out. Live on research grants forever!
That Black Pill? Not so good: Blankies do average. Wrongies do really bad. Might mix with above results.
- Homeopathy does something! It makes you sick! Win as above, but also sell sickos’ stories to People.
Total Muddle: Everyone does about the same with the usual statistical minutiae.
- Embezzle remaining research funds. Publish paper no one reads. Teach at Yale or Brigham Young.
So, go do it?
Well, it’s hard. Studies in the United States may require providing test subjects with real medical care during or after. Also, there really isn’t much money in it. Look how excited the makers of Tagamet were about rumors of H. Pylori? Think of how excited those generous big pharma will be to your University when you hint you might do the study if you have no money for ‘real’ research.
Great for some small country wanting to make a name for itself.
April 27th, 2008 — Society
Problem: People yell “Help!” when confronted with an emergency. No one comes.
Solution: Yell something with meaning. “Fire!” works.
Seriously, “Help” needs more information. The common use case is “Help!” being shorthand for “Help! My boyfriend is tickling me!”. Yelling “Fire!” has more information. It has a common use case of “Fire! Something is burning and assistance is needed to put it out, rescue people, or call professionals! Come evaluate!”
This is about information. People do care about their fellows; people have jumped out of bed one too many time for “Help! My boyfriend is tickling me!”
December 6th, 2007 — Reviews, SelfEd, Society, Ted, Write-up
Ron Eglash makes a strong case for fractals being the dominant art form of Africa in this Ted Talk.
He explores villages showing a fractal nature far beyond the accidental. Art and religion drive village architectures that repeat into small objects at the heart of the village. His discussions with tribal leaders show the deep meanings of these choices, and a continuance of these themes into African life.
Fractals are explained, and the theme is shown in the Mancala games, fence construction, tapestry, and aspects of religion. Binary patterning, as part of mysticism, produce a good random number generator. Finally, some efforts are shown as incorporating this heritage into an educational system.
This is a fascinating 15 minute video. Also, he provides software for exploring fractals.
September 18th, 2007 — Society, TrueGift
Summary:Â I called up schools and dropped of a car full of supplies in about six hours.Â It worked.
Original TrueGift Goals:
TrueGift Donations chased unusal ideals when conceived about a decade ago:
- Be Efficient With Overhead!Â No paid employees; no offices; no advertising.Â Â Also, no giving money to other charities.Â We wanted an existence proof of low overhead charities.
- Be Efficient With Money!Â We learned to purchase school supplies for far below list price.Â We deliver instead of mail where possible.
- Be Efficient With Effort!Â Value volunteer’s time.Â Make our contribution better than writing an equivalent check.
Over the last few years, we seem to have increased our overhead, purchased more expensive and custom supplies, and spent a lot of our time managing this process.Â I decided to try an experiment in gong back to our roots.
Phase I:Â Picking the Schools (45 minutes)
I had lunch plans that would take me past East Palo Alto on Monday.Â The Friday before, I looked went to GreatSchools and selected the East Palo Alto elementary schools.Â These had low ratings (1 or 2 on a scale of 10) and insanely high percentages of students on school lunch programs.Â I made a short signup sheet that asked only for teachers’ names and grade levels and how many crayons, colored pencils, scissors, gluesticks, and notebooks they wanted.Â I called each school to explain I would be by on Monday with supplies, emailed the sign-up sheets, and printed out maps of where to go.
Phase II:Â Getting Supplies to the First Classroom (60 minutes)
I loaded up the car with supplies, just tossing in boxes of supplies from my garage.Â I tossed in some pencils, markers, and rulers for the two teachers that had signed up on the website.Â It wasn’t too efficient, and I had grabbed a couple boxes of filler paper instead of notebooks by accident.Â I hoped in the car, stopped for coffee, and drove to the first two schools.Â They had munged up the sign-up sheets, forgetting to print them and not having teachers fill-them out.Â I explained that I’d be back in the afternoon.Â The next school had four classrooms signed up; two on the website and two from the sign-up sheet.
Phase III:Â Dropping Off Supplies (150 minutes)
At the Edison Brentwood Academy I dropped off:
Maria Ruiz:Â 20 boxes of colored pencils, 20 boxes of markers, 10 dozen pencils, 20 rulers.
Katia Haesslein:Â 30 glue sticks, 25 boxes of colored pencils
Nancy Lee:Â 50 glue sticks, 25 boxes of colored pencils, 70 notesbooks, and 25 pairs of scissors.
Carla Polk:Â 20 boxes of crayons, 40 glue sticks, 20 boxes of colored pencils, 20 notebooks
This worked pretty well and the supplies seem to have been in pretty short supply.Â I dumped a large plastic bin of gluesticks onto my front seat and used the bin to assemble and deliver each teacher’s supplies.Â In Ms. Lee’s class, she took the opportunity for each child to line up, introduce themselves, and accept a pair of pencils and box of colored pencils.Â It’s hard for third graders to speak to strangers.
I ran off to lunch, and got back to Palo Alto about 2 p.m.
At the Costano School I dropped off 9 classrooms worth of supplies to the K-3 classrooms.Â The prinicipal had done the initial fill-out for all the teachers, and each teacher confirmed what they really wanted.Â For example, one kindergarten class needed more notebooks and no scissors.Â There were six classrooms for fourth grade and above that I skipped.Â They probably wanted a list with more filler paper, rulers, and pens.Â Besides, I ran out of notebooks and had promised to drop by the first school.Â It was fun dropping off supplies, and the teachers were having expending more effort to control the kids in the later afternoon.
Costano received:Â 207 boxes of crayons, 258 gluesticks, 89 boxes of colored pencils, 270 notebooks, and 226 pairs of scissors.
Cesear Chavez School still had no sign-up sheet, and it turned out they were grades 4 to 7 anyway.Â I’ll bring appropriate supplies them next time.
Green Oaks, which had munged the sign-up sheet on Friday, did a great job of asking each teacher.Â As the last stop of the day, the teachers were already leaving or gone.Â I ended up dropping an enormous pile in the office with each box having one teacher’s supplies and a name on sheet of paper.Â The K and 1st grade teachers got what they wanted except notebooks.Â Â As the grade levels went up, I started running out of everything.Â Just as well:Â I was using the empty cardboard boxes of supplies to packÂ for each new teacher.Â One fourth grade teacher came up and asked for filler paper, so I gave her one of the cases I had accidently loaded in the trunk.Â Â Â This may have been more efficient than dropping off directly to the classrooms, but it was less fun.
They ended up with a huge pile of motley boxes full of supplies:Â 173 boxes of crayons, 358 gluesticks, 153 boxes of colored pencils, no notebooks, 226 pairs of scissors (again!), and 36 packages of filler paper.
Then I went home, with a couple scattered gluesticks in the front seat and one large box of scissors left.
Phase IV:Â Accounting for it (60 minutes):
Ah, the least fun part of the exercise.Â This write-up, a spreadsheet, and, I expect some data massaging on the we site.
5 1/2 hours of time
3 schools, 31 classrooms
Supplies with guesses at prices
400 boxes of 24 crayons ($56), 736 gluesticks ($67), 332 boxes of 10 colored pencils ($179), 360 70 page notebooks ($54), 497 pairs of scissors ($238), 45 rulers ($12), 10 dozen pencils ($6), 45 packages of 10 colored markers ($24), 36 packages of 150 sheets filler paper ($19).
So, I gave away about $650 in supplies and it took about 5 1/2 hours.Â The only real overhead costs was about a dollar of my busines cards and mileage.Â A good experiment, and I will run it again.
September 13th, 2007 — Communication, Idea, Ideas, Society
Problem: The ear stops hearing some foreign language sounds unless trained young.
Solution: Train young people on all the foreign language sounds in a carefully constructed song.
One set of challenges in learning a language are the difficult sounds. A Russian speaker learning English agonizes over the ‘th’ and ‘w’ sounds. Learning German, everyone agonizes over the ‘ch’ in ‘Ich’. Learning most Asian languages triggers issues over recognizing tonal differences.
How about a song, reminiscent of “Frere Jacques” that carefully uses all these? Instead of telling the exact story, it could be one long multilingual story. For example imaging a story along these lines:
Harold was the happy boy,
He gave two sandwiches to a witch,
The witch said, “Thank you very much”,
And Harold’s world began to switch,
Harold flog nach Deutschland, (Harold flew to Germany)
And then to Russia, then to Israel, etc.
This allows the song to be song in round, to start in different countries, and allow for variations. The whole song would be pretty hard to sing, because of all the new words.Â Â When the child decides to learn a language as an adult, his or her ear will still be able to distinguish the specific sounds of the new language.
Does anyone have a list of all the difficult sounds in human languages?
January 4th, 2007 — Idea, Ideas, Politics, Society
Problem: Some inventions still slip into obscurity
Solution: Publish all provisional and abandoned patents after 10 years.
The patent system is a marvelous institution. It provides a contract between the inventor and the state that says “If you give me a state-enforced monopoly for a couple decades, I will give my invention to humanity from then on. Also, I’ll write up the idea in sufficient detail that others can replicate and improve upon it.” This replaces the secrets of manufacture of the ancient world where advanced nautical instruments, which has lost many inventions.
The patent system is used in almost every country in the world. This creates a “land-grab” of inventions that companies seek to exploit. The “land-grab” has been on-going for over a century. A long term effect is that many previously amazing ideas are in the public domain. Zippers, microwave ovens, LEDs, computer components, encryption schemes, and other advances march into the free public domain at a predictable rate. Everything that was manufactured twenty five years ago can be made without infringing on patents.
About Provisional and Abandoned Patents:
Inventions, the creations of humans, are still lost and forgotten when a patent fails to issue. Provisional patents are partially described patents used to save the date of invention, and are destroyed unless a full patent is written within a year. Abandoned patents are patents where a patent is requested (filed), but never issued. Abandoned patents fail to issue when the company does not wish to pay the issue fees or has gone bankrupt; where the company loses interest; where the patent examiner raises sustainable rejections; and where the company has decided to keep the technology as a trade secret. The last case is rare: companies can evaluate if a trade secret is the best protection.
Unless the pending patent is made public, which is common for international patents, the information and invention are lost to the public interest forever. We should publish these provisional and abandoned patents to improve the public welfare. The publication does constitute a small tax on the inventors: one could not file a provisional patent and later decide to make the item a Trade Secret. This tax goes near zero if the provisional and abandoned patents are only made public after a decade. Even a delay of 17 years, the term of most patents, would enhance the public.
This is too long term a fix for most politicians to consider.
December 30th, 2006 — Coding, Idea, Ideas, Invention, Products, Society, Web
Tome of Naga Summoning
Problem: Learning languages is slow and boring. Immersion is best.
Solution: Make a MMORPG (Massively Multi-player Online Role Playing Game) with languages divided by race.
We know that immersion is the best way of teaching a foreign language. The best place to learn French, in my indefensible opinion, is Quebec. Every street sign, business sign, and label is presented in both English and French. In walking around Quebec, hundreds of words and their English equivalents are pasted into my brain. I would like an analog in computer based education.
How about world where the Hobbits speak English, the Elves speak French, the Orcs speak Spanish, the Dryads speak Hungarian, and the Dwarves speak German? In this scheme, new players would start the game in their own towns, speaking their own languages, and building up characters. As the character progresses, quests and treasures lead the characters into border regions where both languages are spoken, as in Quebec.
On the further fringes of the border regions, the original language drops away and only the foreign language is immediately available. Some spells would be available to temporarily translate speech or writing as ghostly highlighting, but the spells are rigged to be too expensive to continually rely upon. As the player spends more time trading in foreign goods, entering Elvish caves that have awaited a Hobbits for thousands of years, and going about their questing, more and more of the vocabulary and spelling of the language seeps into the player’s brain.
Putting grammar into the game and into the player’s brain may require special constraints. Requiring magic spells and puzzle solving to use correct grammar would augment the grammar learned from reading or interacting with NPCs. Some inconvenient items might require short language puzzles for each activation. The goal is to keep the explicit learning low enough that the gaming and the implicit learning continues.
This idea is certainly within reach. The FSF has been working to GPL an MMORPG infrastructure. That is, an organization is working to make everything free software, so that designing the landscape and quests would bring this idea to reality.
December 20th, 2006 — Coding, Idea, Ideas, Invention, Products, Society
Problem: Spammers Annoys Me
Solution: Me Annoy Spammers (FireFox Plug-in)
“Any energy you send out, it shall return to you three-fold” — Wiccan philosophy
You can make a FireFox plug-in that allows a user to tag some URLs as spam. The plug-in would then visit each link in the spam ten times, loading pages and filling in forms. It would fill in forms with random, possibly plausible, values. It would do this only a few times for each spam received. All this would happen in the background.
There have been various centralized attempts at using bandwidth usage costs against spammers: Lycos launched the “Make Love Not Spam” screen saver; BlueFrog attempted a forcible opt-out method. Most of these attempts have had a centralized, vulnerable component. A Hassler plug-in would have be controlled and selected by the end user.
Technology can be used for good or ill. The same technology would allow a user to pick a website they disagree with
and continually spam the site. Harmless
sites could be hassled to death by random annoying people. This is a cute hack to do more good than bad in the short run. In the long run, the email protocols need rethinking.That said, the core pieces of this hack include:
- A method of scanning the highlighted text for URLs and adding those URLs to a current targets list that records sites to be hassled and how many more times they should be hassled.
- A method of picking an idle time in the browsing process to start loading a page and associated images, cookies, and frames into a buffer.
- Scanning the buffer for forms to automatically fill, or for links to follow.
- Options box for everything.
September 11th, 2006 — Idea, Ideas, Society
As some of you may know, California has a “2 strikes to life” law. In practice, this law incarcerates you for life on your second possession conviction. The law was theoretically supposed to wait until a third conviction, but the prison business is booming and needs a steady supply of inmates. In practice, the second arrest will be for two felonies. No violent crime is required: drug use, peeping toms, shoplifting, and others have all been used.
So a rational human, once convicted of one felony, would do anything to avoid a second one. We would like to think this avoidance would take the form of scrupulously honest activity, but it could also take the form of extreme violence to silence witnesses. Hence the storyline.
One plausible outcome is a far more violent gang. If a felon were arrested, gang member would immediately target the arresting officer, witnesses, etc., to prevent conviction. After all, the conviction is a death sentence and a convict on bail would probably try for this. It could extend further, to random acts of crime in the neighborhoods of high conviction judges. Once convicted felons would find themselves forcibly recruited.
No need to think too deep, as this would be one of those “just enough storyline to justify cathartic violence” novels. Pick either side as the protagonist and kill the otherside in droves.
July 31st, 2006 — Society
I saw Miami Vice last night.Â It struck me as a comment on the stupidity of our Drug War.
This post contains spoilers related to the current movie Miami Vice. Continue reading →