So sad…

When charter schools are nonprofit in name only
Many institutions are paying for-profit companies for management services, and regulators are taking notice

The rich get richer, the taxpayer takes it in the ass. Ain’t America Grand? has decided to ‘invest’ $1 million in an effort to get Elizabeth Warren to run in ’16. I hope she does; though I am intrigued with the idea of a female President and might vote for Hillary if it comes to that, I am quite certain she (Hillary) is no different than Obama (or McCain or Romney for that matter) and her being President means business as usual. Of course, Warren might sell out (have already sold out), but it is a certainty that Hillary already has. I doubt that the GOP will put up anyone moderate enough to appeal to the swell of democratic leaning voters for the ’16 election, the Tea Party will ensure that anyone who gets nominated will have to at least act like a crazy. A friend supports the Republican Ben Carson. If he is moderate enough to appeal to moderate voters then I doubt he can make it through the nomination process; if he is wacko enough to get the Tea Party seal of approval, I doubt he will appeal to the moderate voters. It is possible, though, that he could make a good President, but I am so sure that it is the Democrats election to lose that I can’t even generate the enthusiasm to read his Wiki page.

It is looking like the laser tag idea is going to fall by the wayside. Realizing that I might wind up spending thousands to save hundreds, I started to inquire how much my ASIC detector wafers might cost. Shockingly, I can’t get anyone to give me any figure which makes me think that the price is too high. I have considered revisiting the UMD FabLab where I made some halting efforts to get my DNA chip fabricated years ago, but my wife thinks even thinking about that idea is a waste of time. She pointed out that I have many other things I should be thinking/working on and I agreed that my time is probably (likely (almost certainly)) better spent working on the ‘retro’ game. Oh well, it entertained my brain for a number of hours.

Regarding our glacially evolving construction efforts: I have been spending the last couple of weekends getting prepped for the boiler installation for heating the pool. It is amazing how expensive copper fittings are, once you get away from the 1/2 and 3/4 inch variety at the Big Box Stores. We probably spent close to $300 for a couple of dozen fittings, on top of the $350 or so for the titanium heat exchanger and of course the $3,400 for the boiler itself. Oh, we will probably also pay a bit North of $1K for the installation by the professional plumber (to preserve the warranty). Heating the pool went from less than $2K to now over $5K, but the efficiency went from 80% to 96% and since we might wind up doing the bulk of the greenhouse heating from the radiant heat of the pool, I expect that extra percentage will pay for itself in 5 years or less.

Tacloban, Philippines (where my ‘rents-in-law live) managed to avoid the worst of the nearly super typhoon Ruby (also known as Hagupit). The eye went well North of them, but they did have some wind damage and the storm surge evidently put a foot or so of water in the street in front of the house. The airport was messed up enough, though, that they will be a week late visiting us for the holidays. The word I heard was even where the eye passed over the islands (it went over the North end of Samar) the storm surge was a lot less than Yolanda and the winds a bit lower. Also, people took the warnings seriously and got the hell out of dodge.

In case I don’t get on the blog in the next couple of weeks, a very happy holidays to all my reader(s)!

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Been busy

It is a nice change of pace that my days are going by so fast that I don’t have time to blog. However, there are a number of topics I would like to blog on (I won’t list the links as I still hold out hope I can make time over the holidays), so I wish I had more time.

Well, it looks like my vanity patent will be for naught. The USPTO finally picked it up, but then rejected all of my claims. Because I have got to little interest in backing the R&D effort to validate and commercialize the idea I haven’t made the time to do a detailed analysis of the examiner’s response, but after a brief review I agree with my patent lawyer that the examiner has my concept conflated with that of the nanopore idea and thus doesn’t see the distinction. I had the _exact_ same problem with my lawyer when he found some IP he felt was prior art and I had to make the trek into DC to draw pictures and wave my arms about face-to-face to convince him of the difference. I believe the issue boils down to the unavoidable similarity of the drawings for both approaches. When you take something inherently three dimensional and reduce it to two dimensions sometimes you lose information. I feel fairly comfortable that I (and my expensive lawyer) could convince the examiner that my idea is novel, but it will cost money and time and given the glaring lack of interest in the concept I have found among those companies I expected to be most interested in providing support, my small investor and I decided not to put any more money and time in this project. There is still a small window of opportunity, we have to respond by Jan 6th (or could pay fees and extend that date to April 6th) so could decide to pick it up again, but I lack money, my investor is pretty well committed elsewhere, so unless an interested party pops up out of nowhere, come Jan 7th I will have officially wasted about 2,000 hours and about $7,000 of my time and money on this project.

Of course, just because the odds of success are several orders of magnitude better than playing the lottery, it isn’t like the odds are incredibly in my favor. I felt that I had a 50/50 chance of getting backing and I was in several serious discussions, so perhaps a wee bit of luck and things would have gone the other way.

I have been working on a laser tag concept for a while and had been working with DaWei (my major commenter) but haven’t heard from him the last month or so. DaWei, if you are still out there, did you get my emails? Anyway, DaWei has helped me (really, he did all the work) design a circuit for the laser portion and gave me information on actually fabricating the thing. Sadly, I have been too damn busy to try to assemble the parts, in any case I am not clear on how to ‘modulate’ the laser yet, something I presume can be done via a control chip, but I would need to experiment. Our last communication was shifting to the design of the target of the laser and I sort of flooded him with a bunch of ideas. My latest was/is to actually go with an ASIC, but perhaps the most basic design you can get: the wafer would be doped to become a giant photodiode, then diced into centimeter square chunks, then wired up as a 2d array and then a controller would sequentially sample each square to determine if it is being illuminate by a laser or not. The only real drawback is getting something like this custom fabricated for a reasonable price means I get to do all the engineering (if I pay someone else, the costs are on par with that of patent lawyers!). I haven’t been spending the required time to sort this out since I have been ‘distracted’ by a revival of my retro game.

When I was discussing what to do regarding my DNA sequencing patent with my investor, he suggested that I spend my time on my idea for the retro game since it was something that cost very little (so far, nothing but time) and as such didn’t require any outside investment. My son occasionally nagged me about the game and I thought about it from time to time, but until my investor gave me a push, I never made any time. Well, with his push I got motivated to work on it again, though sometimes it is just 3-4 hours a week. Initially I had to get it to run again; I had been using Apache web server and interacted with the program via CGI, but it seems in my latest OS upgrade Apache also got upgraded and now it is so ‘secure’ it is no longer useful. As an optimization I had been planning on making the program into its own web server (this amortizing the substantial startup costs over all the subsequent connections) so I figured, after a number of frustrating hours being unable to get Apache to change its webroot, that I would develop an ‘embedded’ web server. I spent a few hours searching for open source implementations and found GNU’s libmicrohttpd and decided to give it a try. I was extremely grateful when it compiled and installed without any fuss or muss and all the examples worked as advertised. However, when it came time to integrate it with my game code I found it as difficult as getting Apache to be useful, so decided to write my own HTTP server. I studied HTTP before and have written a few servers so I didn’t see it as a major deal. The only real wrinkle was the changes between HTTP 1.0 (when I last spent any time on the protocol, yes it does date me) and HTTP 1.1: in 1.0 the connection closed by default after each page transmission, in 1.1 it remains open by default. It didn’t take me too long to figure this out, but it did add some complications to my server and right now it only really works on localhost since running it over the Internet adds delays that cause problems. I will sort it out eventually, but since I have something that works now I shifted my program from being hard-coded to run in a database (I am a fan of Postgresql, free and high performance!). Not quite done with that yet, but I have been fairly consistent the last couple of weeks in putting an hour or two almost each day (during the week, on the weekend I am generally too tired from the construction efforts). I am cautiously optimistic that in a few months I will actually have something playable and can ask my reader(s) to be alpha testers.

I have been recovering from my ‘creeping malaise’, thankfully. Not back to jogging yet, but I am walking briskly and am going up 4 floors of stairs at work, so hopefully in another couple of weeks (just in time for winter! (though we have already had Jan temps)) I can get back to jogging. My health improvement hasn’t resulted in any noticeable increase in output on the weekends, though. We have been working on lots of little things and have only been putting in a handful of hours of work lately. We have pretty much given up our fantasy of being able to swim over the Christmas holiday (we had already given up hope of swimming on Christmas day), we are now ‘unofficially’ discussing being able to swim on our boy’s spring break in April. Lack of progress is now battling with lack of money as we near the end of this project. Our credit cards are almost all close to being maxed out, yet until we get this done we can’t refinance the house to pay it all off. Fortunately our credit is good enough that we pay reasonable interest rates, but it is getting tiresome to have to juggle nearly every decision due to financial considerations.

It is hard to believe that next week is Thanksgiving. Just a few short weeks later is Christmas, where has all the time gone? I guess I shouldn’t complain, for so many years I have watch each second crawl by like an hour, but sometimes I wish I had some of that time now…

I may have some time to blog over the holidays, but then again, I might not. If not, then happy holidays to all my reader(s)!

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Now the GOP must put up, else be shut up in two years

Another rambling post…

Lots of talk about a GOP landslide with the last election (man I was getting tired of those damn ads!), but I believe the reality is that if the GOP can’t make something positive happen for the bulk of the American voters, they will be wiped out in the next election. Since the Presidential elections heavily favor Democratic turnout (with midterms favoring GOP turnout) I am willing to put a few bucks on the line that if we have yet another 2 years of dysfunction in our government that the Republicans will take a beating that will be decades in the repair. They already have massive deficits in women and minorities and old white men are on the verge of becoming minorities themselves, so the GOP only has a few years left to recruit new converts before they become a fringe group (or rather more fringe than the Tea Party is now). I doubt that Obama will be any less effective (really, can he be less effective than the last 2 years?) with a GOP controlled congress and in any case, the Democrats in the Senate have 6 years of education on how to be a minority and still gum up the works. My expectation is that if the GOP can muzzle their Tea Party wing they might have a chance at the Presidency in ’16, if not, they will for sure continue their loss streak on the White House and will probably lose both houses of Congress to boot. Not that Obama did a damn thing when Democrats had control for two years, maybe Hillary will be different, though I am hoping that Elizabeth Warren will run, she will have my vote.

I have been suffering from some strange ‘creeping malaise’ for the last several months. After a whole lot of tests the doctors think I had Epstein-Barr virus. Fortunately it allows me to work without any real impact, I am fine as long as I sit in a chair. It has, though, had an impact on our construction efforts. I am probably at half speed or a bit slower. I often have to take naps after several hours of relatively light-duty work. I have been Xray-ed, CAT scanned, stress tested and echo-ed in my chest as well as lots of blood tests. Except for barely being able to walk up stairs or hills, I am fine.

I got my first feedback from the USPTO regarding my vanity patent, the reviewer rejected every one of my claims. I am not sure I want to bother fighting with the reviewer (my lawyer thinks the reviewer is conflating my application with existing IP, despite our efforts to address that in the application), particularly given the $675/hr rate I have to pay. The main issue is the unwillingness I have been finding in getting anyone to fund the research. Since patent applications to most of the relevant countries world-wide would cost around $100K (and that money needs to be paid by Sept 15 of next year) and I can’t get less than that to do the research to prove the concept, what chance I will get the green to cover the global patents. I am meeting with my investor tomorrow to discuss it, but unless he wants to fight I may just fuggedaboutit.

I have actually been enjoying work these last few months (a significant reason for my quiet on TFOUI), lots of interesting, intricate programming, though the flaws I am discovering in the program that I am testing are not being addressed because the developers are ‘too busy’ right now to take a look. Oh well, such is life. It isn’t without frustration though, I discovered today that a bug I had been beating my head over for the last couple of days was getting two symbols backwards (variable =+ value instead of variable += value). I hope tomorrow will be a better day now that I think I got that one solved. The day sure does go by a lot faster when you enjoy your work!

Just a few days ago I revived an idea from over a decade ago: the atmospheric satellite. It is a plane that flies at around 100K ft where the winds are very stable and thus appears stationary from the ground, just like a geostationary satellite, but with much faster turnaround times. A decade ago I wanted to fly them over the continental US, but the politics was just too much for me to consider fighting the powers-that-be. What changed? The realization that there is a significant market for cruise ships and air planes. Of course, it is almost certainly going to go the way of all my other ideas, meaning nowhere, but at least it keeps my brain active.

I have been working on an idea for fabricating my own laser tag systems because the prices for the ones we have been finding run around $200 a pop. Interestingly, as we move along in the process, I am developing the thought that the price point for such a system has to be in that range even though the parts would probably total to under $50. I have been enjoying thinking about how I could use ASICs to make the parts cheaper, but naturally with higher startup cost. We might wind up spending a few thousand to save a few hundred, but such is life. At least we should wind up with something I understand and can repair/enhance as needed.

BTW, as a totally unrelated matter, if you are interested in intellectual comics there is this interesting online strip that details how AIs interacts with humans as they becomes self-aware:

It has a squid-faced alien that is a compulsive thief, an engineered dog who is also an engineer and a planet with 450 million robots all becoming self-aware with only 20K adults. I find it amusing as well as thought provoking, perhaps you will as well if you are into that sort of thing (it was a sad day when Calvin and Hobbes ended!).

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Finally! An explanation!

The big “middle class” rip-off: How a short sale taught me rich people’s ethics
So many of us are clueless about business and finance. Here’s why that’s just the way the investment class likes it

An interesting article that had this comment that really spoke to me:

For my entire life (and I don’t think this will ever change) I’ve watched friends and family engage in one Fred Flintstone-esque, get-rich-quick scheme after another. I’ve also been caught up in more of these than I’m comfortable admitting, and they always fail, without exception. At the same time (at least in my own circles) this starry-eyed group of middle- and lower-class strivers vote overwhelming for the Republican Party. I find a direct correlation with an unlikelihood to ever become wealthy corresponding with a stronger commitment to vote Republican. They further solidify institutional advantages of the business elite to which they will never, ever belong.

I also admit to being drawn into an MLM (multi-level marketing, e.g., Amway) or two over the years so I am certainly not immune from the get rich quick concept, but to me it is all about barriers to entry. If there are no significant barriers, then there should be no significant profit. When you see obscene profits and there are no barriers to entry (or those barriers are simply having the right parents, attending the right schools and/or hanging out with the right crowd) then you know you have found a place where the elite have engineered themselves a spot fleecing the sheeple.

I particularly like the author’s observation regarding the correlation between people believing they can get rich quick and their support for the GOP. I have seen it a number of times myself and am always surprised at how vehement some people object to taxes yet have no problem taking advantage of the services those taxes provide (how about them highways, for instance; ever feel the need to call 911? wanna take that idiot neighbor to court?) OR taking advantage of the ‘welfare’ of social security and/or unemployment (which, btw, we all pay for during normal times!).

Things aren’t going to change until we, the sheeple, stop voting for people who only have the elite’s best interest in mind. Any chance this will change in any of our lifetimes?

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When things worked as planned…

The Astonishing Story of the Federal Reserve on 9-11

Yes, I know that the Fed really isn’t part of the govt, so this really isn’t praise for the govt, but it is an amazing read and remarkably gripping considering it is about banking and mundane things like check clearing. Give it a read, I think you will be surprised, perhaps even shocked, how James Bondian it reads.

I never really gave it much thought, but 9/11 really was a worst-case scenario for the banking system. So much banking is in NYC and in and surrounding the Trade Center that in retrospect the fact that our economy didn’t melt down is a tribute to the largely unseen people making things work. A little sad to me that the heroic work of these unsung heros is tarnished (to put it mildly) by the greedy ‘capitalists’ in Wall Street out to make a buck.

On an unrelated issue I am too lazy to make as a separate blog entry for, anyone notice that Ebola is about to become a huge deal?

Ebola outbreak: Experts warn cases could number one million by January as ‘window closes’ to stop disease becoming endemic

It becomes increasingly hard to avoid the tin-hat thinking that, given the number of companies developing an Ebola Vaccine (my dear wife works at the NIH Vaccine Research Center and is in the midst of testing one such vaccine), this is entirely coincidental. It is amazing timing that just as a couple of vaccines are ready for human testing there is an outbreak that looks like it will become an epidemic. No doubt these companies have already seen their stock skyrocket; presuming their vaccines show efficacy (the preliminaries are very encouraging) no doubt many countries will stockpile huge amounts of their vaccine even further inflating their value. I wonder, though, if any of that money will translate to vaccines given to the at-risk population, given that most of those countries have little or no hard currency and some barely have governments.

Also, with the massive increase in the number of people infected, we are performing a giant experiment to increase the transmissibility of the disease, much like that done to ferrets (for those of you who missed it, this paper was briefly censored because people were worried about terrorists using the same technique; here we are doing it ‘naturally’ instead). If you were lacking for reasons to lie awake at night, this should help fill the need.

Posted in Business, Economics, Government, Healthcare, InformationTechnology, Society | Leave a comment

Well said

U.S. Falling Into the Islamic State’s Trap

This post almost exactly echos my thoughts about these ISIS (or whatever they call themselves) dewds in Iraq: they are going to fade away if they can’t get the US to attack them. The average Joe and Jill in the US has not the faintest idea of the chaos in the middle east, the competing loyalties, the family ties that go back thousands of years, the fact that there hydraulic despotism (literal as well as figurative) all around the region due to its arid nature, etc. Also, the average Joe/Jill won’t take a few minutes to do any research to see if that spouts from the mouths of our ‘great leaders’ is anything but nonsense, the most glaring that Saddam was in bed with al-Qaeda (exactly the opposite: he hunted down and exterminated any trace of it he could find; the fact that despite his efforts there were some members in Iraq shouldn’t come to any surprise to anyone who isn’t surprised that Ted Kaczynski spent 17 years bombing people right here in the good old USofA). As such Americans have this rather quaint idea that unlike, say, the gangs in LA, the mob in Chicago, etc., the Middle East is a monolithic entity and only simple things happen. Heck, just drive up into the mountains of West Virginia and check out the feuds that ‘only’ go back a hundred years or so. Why should we expect a region that is literally the seat of civilization be immune from such things? So, the region is entirely fragmented by competing groups with various levels of influence and reach and after spending trillions of dollars and inflaming millions of people (and creating 10′s of thousand more terrorists!) by elevating Osama and al-Qaeda to the top of the pile, now we are going to do the courtesy of shifting our efforts to magnifying ISIS instead. How many trillions will we spend making ISIS the rally point for all the new terrorists we will be creating as we go about dropping bombs in this highly volatile region?

Sometimes I have to wonder if this really is an emotional knee-jerk (emphasis on ‘jerk’) reaction by our ‘great leaders’ or if it is really part of a 0.1% agenda to keep the (borrowed; anyone notice that once again we are going to ‘war’ without paying for it?) money flowing into the military-intelligence industrial complex? Sometimes I almost think Osama was being paid by the 0.1% to stir everything up. Perhaps those wearing tin foil hats have it right and we are all just bizarre puppets in some even more bizarre version of the Matrix, except we aren’t in a computer generated world where the computers harvesting our bio-electricity, we are in a world generated by the elite and they are harvesting our money.

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Legalized theft

The real Olive Garden scandal: Why greedy hedge funders suddenly care so much about breadsticks
Remember that “hilarious” report last week ripping the chain eatery to pieces? The back story will infuriate you

This is really the core problem with our ‘capitalistic’ society, the thieves have been put in charge. I recall reading a case study when I was back in MBA school, more than 20 ago, which was already many years old already: a predatory investor had figured out that some lumber company (long since gone now, I imagine, but I recall it being a well-known name at the time) that owned thousands of acres of mature forest carried the land on the books for the original purchase value. Realizing that the stock was grossly undervalued as a consequence, he got a bunch of cronies to pool their money to purchase a controlling interest in the stock (which is almost always way, way less than 51%, sometimes can be as little as 1 or 2%), then immediately had the land appraised which caused the stock price to skyrocket. Not content with that, he then proceeded to have all the mature forest (and some of the immature forest) logged all at once, which not only destroyed the assets of the company but caused the price of lumber to crash. Then he sold the stock before anyone was smart enough to do the calculations and realize the company was now valueless and made a humongous pile of money. That the company was completely destroyed and the livelihood of thousands of people permanently thrown in the crapper was totally fine, it was all about the bucks. This guy (don’t remember his name now, but it wasn’t like it was a secret) was sort of the trigger that lead to the massive amount of ‘corporate raiding’ that been going on since and is manifest today as the hedge funds that pick off poorly controlled companies (generally meaning that there is no committed executive with lots of stock and those stock holders that do own large blocks don’t care about the longevity of the company) that are undervalued for some reason and destroy them in the name of ‘capitalism’.

Ain’t America Grand?

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Not so bad after all…

Crystals Reveal Early Earth Wasn’t as ‘Hellish’ as Previously Thought

It is increasingly being held that there was water on the surface of the early Earth, possibly even before the impact that created the moon. During the late heavy bombardment models indicate that despite the wide prevalence of a molten surface on the Earth, there were locations that would have been wet and thus hospitable to early life. It is highly unlikely that we could have survived, but there are plenty of members of the Archaea that would have found the conditions perfect for life (I once worked with an organism that was most happy in dilute battery (sulfuric) acid at 70 C (158 F), for instance). As such, there was probably life from shortly after the Earth cooled from the moon forming impact. Complex life probably took so long to evolve afterwards because the only organisms to survive the late heavy bombardment were probably the ones with the most stable genetic material. For instance I worked with an organism, Nostoc commune I believe, that I was told had DNA so stable that some estimates for the rate of mutation were close to zero, so the organism today is nearly identical with that from a billion years ago. I feel that had the Earth avoided the late heavy bombardment life might not have taken several billion years to evolve into multicellular organisms. Who knows, intelligence might have evolved hundreds of millions of years ago…

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Artificial spleen

Next Generation: Blood-Cleansing Device
An external device that mimics the structure of a spleen can cleanse the blood of rats with acute sepsis, ridding the fluid of pathogens and toxins.–Blood-Cleansing-Device/

A cool idea, but an interesting caveat:

Fink cautioned that bacterial resistance is a theoretical possibility. “Using this device will remove bacteria that sticks best to MBL, which might select for bacteria that don’t stick well to MBL,” he said. “To underestimate the bacteria would be a mistake.”

I was also amused to note the inclusion of ‘HIV’ and the even more topical ‘Ebola’; got to spew as many buzzwords as possible to maximize your chance of getting into the mainstream press and all the attention that would lead to! Of course, I would do exactly the same, so I can’t blame them…

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Is Skynet really something to worry about?

When machines outsmart humans

I suppose someone should worry about this sort of thing, but much like the The Cambridge Project for Existential Risk I think it is largely a total waste of time (for society, of course; for the individuals involved it can be a very amusing way to pass the time). Once we as a society have reached the point where we are capable of producing AI that is capable of out smarting us, it isn’t likely to happen just once. Indeed, given that technology builds on itself, it is highly likely that many (dozens, perhaps more) groups will achieve the same breakthrough at just about the same time, so what is the chance that _all_ of these groups are working with the same rule book? Even in the unlikely event that that is the case, what is the chance they are doing it correctly (meaning in such a way to avoid the extinction of the human species)? I babble about ‘Skynet‘ from time to time, it is really just a tack-on to the general apocalypse I run off about from time to time.

Anyway, I firmly believe that machine intelligence (e.g., that smarter than we) is inevitable in the not-to-distant future. Unless we kill ourselves with a “12 Monkey’s” event, of course. Were we to somehow design an AI that doesn’t feel the need to destroy the human species (I imagine doing so quite regularly, I can’t imagine an AI not despairing at our idiocy and wanting the peace of mind knowing we won’t spread like a plague across the universe), what then? We are just pets now to coddle and take care of…

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