Step away from the salad bar!

So no one gets hurt!

Why salad is so overrated

Tamar is an interesting writer (her blog, the rest of her writing at the Post). She often takes a controversial subject in the world of food and does in-depth analysis on it (sort of like how the Do The Math blog does for alternative energy). In this article she looks at the value of salad, specifically the cost/benefit when including the farm and transportation costs. I knew things were bad, but didn’t realize how bad they were. She puts a comparison thus:

A head of iceberg lettuce has the same water content as a bottle of Evian (1-liter size: 96 percent water, 4 percent bottle) and is only marginally more nutritious [lettuce is 95 to 97 percent water].

This is an interesting image from the article:

Picture of salads, without the salad
Minus their greens, left to right: the Caesar Salad With Chicken from the Cheesecake Factory; the Quesadilla Explosion Salad from Chili’s Grill & Bar; the Waldorf Salad from California Pizza Kitchen. (T.J. Kirkpatrick/For The Washington Post)

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Elevator to spaaayyyycccceeee!

Space elevator could take astronauts into the stratosphere
Canadian firm granted patents for elevator designed to reach 20km above Earth

Their space elevator idea has some promise, but I expect it is still $100’s of millions, if not billions, to build it. Finding someone willing to put that much green into something with only a 30% savings in fuel is likely to be challenging. It will be a serious engineering challenge as well.

My idea is to launch from a tube in the ocean (see here from back when I laughably thought I could interest others in my efforts) with an assist via microwave powered air breathing ‘rocket’ until the atmosphere runs out, then, in the case of fragile payloads (e.g., humans) a small rocket to get the rest of the way to the orbital space station. Non-fragile, non-perishable payloads can be sent much faster, thus should be able to get into orbit directly, then can use slow but efficient means to reach the station via ion drives. Yes, I have spent a lot of time thinking about this, 40+ years…

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Good news, bad news

The latest on my vanity patent:

After much back and forth-ing with the examiner and his supervisor it seems my claims are being approved. That’s the good news. That’s it. The rest is bad news…

The bad news is the examiner has made this moronic insistence that I include a specific detection method in the claims which naturally means that if anyone were to produce the exact same product, but using a different detection method, they wouldn’t be infringing. The particular detection method is only meant to be used at the largest commercial scale (250K+ parallel sequencers) and there is plenty of money to be made at a much smaller scale (I already have a design with 40K parallel sequencers that would work just peachy, except uses a different detection method). Basically the patent is useless for any sort of intellectual property protection. Of course, if I had more money I could get around this nonsense, but the lawyer charges $675/hr and even though he has been generous in his accounting, I and my small investor just can’t afford to put in more money.

The worst thing, as if this weren’t bad enough, is the deadline to file for world-wide rights is Sept 15 and the lawyer needs at least 2 weeks to get the applications ready. Oh, the cost estimate for this process is $90-120K, more than the cost to validate the design. Thus, my uselessly narrowed patent will only be applicable in the US, probably no more than 20% of the market. My small investor took a tiny (yet still $1,000) ad out in the Wall Street Journal and to my mild surprise I got three inquiries. None amounted to anything; only one actually said no, the other two never got back to me despite my gentle nagging.

This whole process has really soured me on the idea of getting a patent. I’m quite certain that if we had a competent examiner that actually spoke comprehensible English we could have agreed on a set of claims that would have been commercially useful long ago and without getting the supervisor involved. A crap shoot on which examiner I get, though they all have specializations, so not totally random. Sort of like judges for trial, wind up with the hanging judge and spend the rest of your life in jail for a minor offense, get the bleeding heart judge and get probation for murder. Oh, examiners are basically paid piece work, so he has been reluctant to spend more time on my application since he has been working for ‘free’. I understand the government’s incentive to try and motivate the examiners with this approach, but now I’m being punished because of his incompetent insistence on wasting his time on irrelevancies.

So for any of you following this saga with any thought of getting a patent of your own, here are some bullet points for you based on my experience:

  • Never, ever, do this yourself. Your claims are everything. If you fuck up your claims before the examiner gets his (or her) mitts on them there is no recovery. Claims are legal statements, think about how easily Congress screws things up all the time. Don’t write your own claims unless you want to spend all your time and money on nothing.
  • Have deep pockets! I haven’t done a final accounting yet, but I am pretty sure I will have spent more than $20K for my useless patent. While it’s feasible to find a lawyer that charges a lot less than $675/hr (it isn’t like my lawyer gets all that, his firm has to pay for a nice building in the middle of DC, not to mention all the support staff) you have to be absolutely sure you have the right guy as this is an area where there are so many subspecialties it’s ridiculous. A portion of my patent mentioned LEDs and my lawyer worked with a specialist in LEDs to make sure all the right verbiage was included in my application.
  • Either plan to cover the global patents up-front or decide they aren’t necessary, this process is so long and drawn out that its just not practical to think you can get the US patent finalized before you go for the rest of the world. Though I never got to the point of doing the global applications (you apply for each country individually, in that country’s official language; let that sink in for a while) I have had a number of estimates in the same range. Thus, expect to have a working budget of at least $150K to get global coverage
  • Don’t bother. That is my take-away message from this debacle. All a patent grants you is the right to sue someone for infringement. If your idea is worthless to begin with, you won’t have any problems with infringers because you already wasted your time and money. If your idea is worth a mint (as I remain convinced mine _was_; now it is basically free to anyone, thus worthless to me) then you need to prepare every step of the way for prosecuting infringers AND have deep enough pockets to take them on. The US system is carefully crafted to basically make the odds of success for the individual on par with the lottery. I’m quite sure if I had ‘invested’ that $20K in lotto tickets I would have more to show for my efforts than I will ever get out of this patent.

Here is a partial list of other billion-dollar ideas I won’t be pursuing:

  • Long-term (million-year) archival storage with read speeds as fast as today’s fastest drives.
  • Table-top fusion. Actually, if this works it’s a trillion dollar idea.
  • Molecular memory that’s as fast as RAM, retains information without power and is infinitely re-writable.
  • This is probably only a $100 million idea: synthetic anti-freeze protein for tissue and organ preservation.

Aquaponics is probably my last attempt at elevating myself out of (upper) middle class. If I can get reality to match my pretty spreadsheet I can leverage our current resources into a nation-wide network that has billion-dollar potential. On days like today, though, it’s hard to get enthusiastic about the potential…

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Burning to live longer

Study: Can Spicy Food Actually Increase Life Span?

Would you eat chili peppers 2-4 times a week to live 10-14% longer?

I love the taste going in, but can’t stand the burn going out. Even with bidets, all I get is very temporary relief as the cool water flows, as soon as I turn the water off the burn is at least as bad as before. I like horseradish (wasabi) because it only burns going in.

I only half jokingly like to say: what is the point of living forever if your life sucks?

The paper.

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Insecure IoT

Vulnerabilities in Brink’s Smart Safe

This is far from shocking to anyone who has studied infosec. More of a total yawn, actually. Clueless people racing to claim market segments are naturally going to trip over complex things like security. Anything meant to be secure only has a chance of being such if the only way to change configuration is to properly authenticate. Customers hate that, though, because when they forget their password then they have an expensive brick on their hands. I experienced that myself: I bought a solid state computer I was intending at the time to use for hosting my web sites (my provider, at the time, was being incredibly unresponsive to my complaints). I chose a password that would be trivial to remember so naturally didn’t write it down. Over a year later I remember the thing is sitting in the basement and lo and behold, I have no idea what the damn password is. I believe I was eventually able to reset the box and get back onto it (I can’t remember, it was many months ago when I tried for a couple of days), but anyone else who had physical possession of the box could also do that. I quite doubt that the drive was encrypted such that it became a incomprehensible mess upon reset, I expect all the data would be there plain as day. Since I only paid a couple of hundred for the box I was frustrated, but it wasn’t a big deal. What if you had paid 100’s of thousands or millions? In that case you would demand that there be a back door (but only a ‘secure one’, whatever the hell that means!) so if the gewgaw was unable to be reached for some reason you could get around it and still get your money’s worth.

Real security is expensive and hard and is still steeped with vulnerabilities. Anything else is just window dressing advertising to a credulous customer designed to improve profit margins at the expense of ignorance.

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Designer Virus’

Ancient Viruses as Gene Therapy Vectors
Researchers deploy ancestors of today’s adeno-associated viruses to deliver gene therapies without immune system interference.

The interesting thing to me is that the _exact same_ techniques can be used to produce a variant for a lethal virus, yet there have been no calls to bury this research.

A hammer can be a tool for building a house, or a weapon for bashing someone’s brains out, but it is still just a lump of metal at the end of a shaft. One interesting thing about this tool is while it is trivial for a non-carpenter to grab up a hammer and kill someone with it, in order to use the techniques mentioned in the article to develop a lethal virus you actually have to be smarter than the people who developed the original tool. That day will come, of course, but it does mean that it isn’t likely to be a tool for terrorists, at least not ones with poor resources. No doubt a bent billionaire could hire the right people to develop such a weapon, but how realistic is that?

Anyway, we are slowly creeping towards a high quality medical system that can fix all sorts of chronic problems. In a generation or two hence these problems will be relegated to the medical history books.

Can’t happen soon enough for me!

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Life companions: you and your microbiome

The Sum of Our Parts
Putting the microbiome front and center in health care, in preventive strategies, and in health-risk assessments could stem the epidemic of noncommunicable diseases.

This is a really interesting article that sums up the evolving state-of-the-art regarding the health impacts of our microbiome. I knew that things were rapidly evolving but hadn’t realized that this research had gone from fringe to mainstream. I have discussed the microbiome a number of times and see it as a critical missing element in our health care regime.

Below are a couple of quotes as teasers to try and get you to read the full article. Your continuing health depends on this, though you probably don’t know it, and the health of your children even more so.

Germ-free (gnotobiotic) mice provide a sobering model for what happens to a developing human immune system in the absence of microbiome-based training. When microbiota are absent, normal postnatal immune maturation is blocked, and tissue homeostasis is never fully established. Lymphoid deficiencies occur in both the body’s mucous membranes and its systemic tissues, such as the lymph nodes and spleen. Germ-free mice also develop imbalances among specialized immune cell populations that result in improper immune responses when challenged with injury or a pathogen. Depending on the nature of the challenge, defective host immune responses may include increased susceptibility to certain infections, reduced vaccine responses, and/or inflammation-induced tissue pathologies, such as asthma or colitis.

Given the undeniable importance of commensal microbes in both training our immune systems and serving as a barrier between ourselves and the outside world, one of us (R.D.) has posited that a complete microbiome, seeded at birth, is absolutely critical for a healthful life, an idea called “the completed self hypothesis.” Single-celled organisms from all three domains of life—eukaryotes, archaea, and bacteria—join our mammalian cells to create a superorganism. Inadequate or inappropriate seeding of the microbiome is in many ways the equivalent of being born with a serious birth defect, resulting in inappropriately matured physiological systems. In the absence of effective microbiome-based training, the immune system does not learn what is safe outside of the body, resulting in haphazard, inappropriate reactions to innocuous environmental factors—allergens such as pollen, mold, cat dander, and peanuts. It also fails to properly recognize and ignore internal targets, resulting in autoimmune and inflammatory responses that are misdirected, ineffective, and sometimes never-ending. Such reactions can eventually compromise the function of our own tissues and organs.

There is a sidebar at the end that talks about direct manipulation of the microbiome, but we are still in our infancy in that regard. Right now it is tedious and time consuming to get details on exactly what is growing in/on us, when that process has finally become quick and economical we will surely make great strides in determining what is an optimal microbiome.

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PIXAR’s life lessons

8 Dark Life Lessons Kids Learn From Pixar Films

While there are a large number of articles at Cracked that are funny, every now and again you get one that is funny and thoughtful. Actually I take that back: they have lots that are funny and thoughtful; every now and then I find one that is funny and thoughtful and I want to blog about it…

I hadn’t thought about things the way the author has, I sort of sat back and just enjoyed the movies, but everything the author talks about is dead on. PIXAR is really giving kids a valuable education even if it never winds up on the SOL exams and doing it in a way where PIXAR makes tons of money, the kids have a great time and even adults can enjoy themselves. What an amazing combination!

Anyway, just had to ‘retweet’ this…

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Living in a Vacuum

The Judgy Bubble

Yet another interesting post by Scott. If you show to other people that you will be an asshole if they reveal certain information, what is the chance they will do so? Pretty slim, wouldn’t you think? That is the gist of his short post. Thus if you are a judgmental asshole you could actually be living in a different world from your family, friends and neighbors, because people would self-censor around you just to avoid hearing you mouth off. Quite an interesting concept, it helps to explain the ‘echo chamber‘. If you annoy the crap out of people who are the slightest bit critical of you, except for a few select assholes who love to piss those sorts of people off, you should expect that the vast majority of people will simply stop being honest with you. If no one around you will point out your idiocy why should anyone expect you would have even the tiniest thought that you were a moron incapable of seeing reality?

It is always nice to hear a theory that seems to fit all the facts. This one allows for some experimentation as well, such as what if you could isolate someone from his or her echo chamber, could you get them to acknowledge they’ve been in one?

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Poopy plants

With Sonar-Reflecting Leaves, Plant Lures Bats to Poo in it

This is a cool case of evolution. The plants have evolved to basically be flashing lights to bats and their echolocation which lead to selection for larger, dryer traps, which fed back on itself for years until you have the perfect sized traps for the bats. The plant’s reward for all this ‘effort’? Getting shit on! As gross as that is for us, it provides exactly the sort of nutrients the plant needs to thrive in its environment.

Picture of bat flying up to trap

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