Tamiflu is a billion-dollar boondoggle

Updated Review: Tamiflu Is a Bust
After finally getting their hands on full clinical study reports, independent reviewers say the antiviral drug is ineffective.

I mentioned Tamiflu and its uselessness when I complained about the uselessness of the flu vaccine, it seems like further study has only confirmed this:

An international team found that while Tamiflu might reduce the duration of flu symptoms by half a day, there’s no evidence that it reduces hospital admissions or complications of an infection. On top of that, the antiviral’s side effects include nausea and vomiting. “There is no credible way these drugs could prevent a pandemic,” …

Predictably, Roche (the developer) had this to say:

Roche stands by the utility of Tamiflu. “We fundamentally disagree with the overall conclusions” of the review, the company told MedPage Today. And others have said that the results don’t necessitate an end to stockpiling the drug. Sabrina Spinosa of the European Medicines Agency (EMA), which approved the use of Tamiflu in 2002, told Nature that the agency had reviewed the same clinical trial reports. “The review does not raise any new concerns,” she said, adding that the EMA maintains its position on the risks and benefits of Tamiflu.

Move over military industrial complex, the pharmaceutical industrial complex is now the boss!

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How America is rigged for the rich

This is kind of a ‘retweet’. I think this is important for the health and welfare of our nation, though I figure the rich have such a lock on things their hold is unbreakable. I would love to be wrong (I would love to be rich also), but I don’t have a lot of faith in my fellow sheeple. A couple of key paragraphs to encourage my regular reader(s) to take a look:

Contrary to myth, most of today’s plutocrats are not the kind of Steve Jobsian visionary risk-taking entrepreneurs or superstar celebrities. The .01%, for instance, tend overwhelmingly to be high-end corporate managers and executives, particularly on Wall Street, operating in interlocking networks that inflate the standard of what an executive is “worth.” Or they are the heirs of the great entrepreneurs (4 of the 10 richest Americans are children of Sam Walton), inheritors of fortunes of which it can truly be said, “someone else built that.”

Today, as it was during the last Gilded Age, the concentration of wealth gives the rich the political clout to further concentrate their wealth. (And now, as then, the Supreme Court greases the skids in the name of “liberty”). This clout is wielded in plain sight now, without any pretense of civic equality. And it calls to mind the warning attributed to Justice Louis Brandeis: “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”

This isn’t to suggest that all super-wealthy people are “welfare kings” (they’re not) or to imply that they have a monopoly on selfishness or sociopathic attitudes (they don’t). Yet if it’s unfair to paint everyone in the 1% with the same unflattering brush of “dysfunctional culture,” isn’t it far worse to do the same to the poorest 20%?

If you have noticed a problem with my blog recently, let me apologize. It seems somehow people (or bots) were using my defunct forum (http://sol-biotech.com/cgi-bin/waxology/YaBB.cgi) to send spam and that was triggering some zombie processes which sucked up the available processes (my web servers are on a shared resource) which lead to defective presentations. I killed the zombies and disabled any ability to mail from the forum (at least I hope so), so ideally this won’t be an issue going forward.

Regarding my job search, it continues… I have some positive leads (I had a good interview yesterday at a company that promises an ACID compliant cloud database) and have another one tomorrow for an IC job. A couple of other things percolating: a wee bit of part-time work that might look good on my resume (one is for helping a guy with his stock trading platform and another to provide some expert opinions regarding computer architecture and performance) and a couple of promising contacts from recruiters. I have been working on my blubber reduction by going for walk/jogs most days (did 7 miles on Tuesday, didn’t even stop the whole time (which just shows how out of shape I have been in)), but still haven’t got my ass programming the game. Though I really have been busy with the job search, it generally is taking me anywhere from 2-6 hours a day (highly variable) and I have a couple of hours dedicated to too-ing and fro-ing the boy to school.

On my walk the other day I actually failed to notice most of the unfolding nature because I was deep in my noggin doing feasibility calculations for some osmotic energy ideas I have been thinking about the last couple of years. I think it might be possible to get a decent (20%+) return on capital building such a system, at least I am sure enough I believe I will start up a spreadsheet and start doing some in-depth economic research to get better information.

We primed the walls/ceiling of the pavilion last weekend, but it was so cool (around 50 F) that it didn’t dry fast enough for us to put the paint on. That is our goal for this Sat, then lay the floor, then things will really start to take shape when we put the cabinets in. It is finally getting exciting to go out each weekend, though sometimes a bit depressing when we only get half the stuff done we were hoping to. At least I can see the end…

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Updated construction website

I finally got off my butt and updated our construction web site. Last weekend we were hoping to prime/paint the pavilion, but, once again it took longer than expected to put the finish coats of spackle and sand, so it will be next weekend. Anyway, the main site is here:


The specific new page is here:


I still have a few leads on the job search, but most positions are awaiting feedback which can sometimes take quite a while. My poor wife is all stressed out, but I am having a great time. I had a small nibble on my DNA work, hopefully I will know in the next week or so if it will lead to something. I am going to try to turn my focus on to the game and take advantage of this time off to get the thing playable. Even though I have been off for three weeks (as of today), I have had an amazing number of things keeping me from working on the game. I believe I have all the distractions (except for job search) behind me now…

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On the job hunt once again

A week ago I was told that my services were no longer needed, don’t let the door hit my ass on the way out. The glorious life of a contractor! It wouldn’t be so bad if we weren’t so diligent about spending every penny we make and had a pile of cash in savings, but instead we decided to ‘invest’ in real estate. At least we have something to show for all our expense:

Google imagery from fall of 2013

It looks like the image was taken late summer / early fall of ’13. There are still some leaves on the trees but they are falling fast. The inside of the greenhouse/pool is still largely incomplete, but the exterior walls are done (the exterior walls still need siding) as is the roof, as you can see. The damn thing is monstrous! Note that the house has 6 ft overhangs on each long side, so the house proper is actually 12 ft narrower. The pavilion (really, another kitchen) is the part that sticks out toward the North. There we are making much better progress, the interior walls are almost done (we are spackling now and hope to prime and paint in a couple of weeks), then it will be lay the floor and put in the cabinets (the island is 16 ft long, 5 ft wide and has two stoves and a 36 inch griddle, not to mention 3 exhaust fans). A half bath and a full bath when all is said and done. It makes me tired just typing this!

I will be so happy when we finally get done with the construction and can just go out there and relax!

How about this winter snow, eh? I believe the news said yesterday that Dulles Airport got nearly 60 inches (5 feet!) of snow this year. None in huge piles, though, fortunately. The Snowmageddon we got back in ’10 was less overall (I believe), but more at once and the pile of snow next to the driveway was over 6 ft when all was said and done (the boy was sledding down the pile!). I nearly threw out my back heaving the snow over the pile, man I was tired of snow that year! This season the individual snow amounts were quite manageable, I was OK digging out. Hopefully our wet winter won’t be followed by a dry summer, some of my plants are still in need of a few more years of clement weather before they are established enough to handle yet another drought.

If any of my dear reader(s) know of someone looking for a performance oriented C/C++ programmer, here is my resume:


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Shocking! America falling behind the third world

Why is American internet so slow?
The country that literally invented the internet is now behind Estonia in terms of download speeds

I have been complaining about how the US has been rapidly turning into a third-world country, this is just more evidence…

According to a recent study by Ookla Speedtest, the U.S. ranks a shocking 31st in the world in terms of average download speeds. The leaders in the world are Hong Kong at 72.49 Mbps and Singapore on 58.84 Mbps. And America? Averaging speeds of 20.77 Mbps, it falls behind countries like Estonia, Hungary, Slovakia, and Uruguay.

Its upload speeds are even worse. Globally, the U.S. ranks 42nd with an average upload speed of 6.31 Mbps, behind Lesotho, Belarus, Slovenia, and other countries you only hear mentioned on Jeopardy.

Somewhat ironic to me, the best solution presented in the article is _increased_ regulation. It seems the ‘deregulation’ has been done in such a way to guarantee that there will be little to no competition, so much like health care, we pay the most for the worst. While deregulation in the airlines has been successful (at least on a ticket price basis; the price we pay today is a small fraction of the inflation adjusted price we paid prior to deregulation, though I am sure most would not consider us ahead on the experience (though I must say, pre-911 I was for the most part happy with the experience, except for the lack of leg room)), it quite plausible that it has had the opposite effect in telecommunication. How much of that is because our government is owned outright by the billionaires that own the telecoms is another issue…

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Giant viruses and virophages

Viruses Reconsidered
The discovery of more and more viruses of record-breaking size calls for a reclassification of life on Earth.

Quite interesting to me as a biochemist. So much has changed since I was in school, I need all new books! I was particularly intrigued by the idea of the virophages or viruses that attack viruses. There probably isn’t anything on earth that is immune from attack, probably a necessity of life. I am also intrigued by the idea of a fourth branch (in addition to eukaryotes (cells with a nucleus), prokaryotes (cells without a nucleus) and archea, the latter a relatively recent addition and used to be included with prokaryotes). It actually makes more sense to me that classification should be so difficult. I expect that millions, likely billions or even trillions of replicating ‘organisms’ arose more or less at the same time in the evolution of life on Earth; it makes sense that the successful ones would borrow successful bits from one another. Indeed, I suspect additional chemistries evolved as well (i.e., not DNA/RNA/protein based), but due to the formation of the moon only a few (or single!) chemistry was able to survive the impact (I believe I have seen models that posit that even though the entire surface of the Earth would have been molten, there exists a few places that would have been cool enough to sustain life). Alternatively, during the late heavy bombardment the competing chemistries may have lost out (models are quite convincing that there were places even on the surface where life might have survived).

Our world is so much more interesting than mundane politics makes out; I wish people would be more interested in this and less about gay marriage, immigration or racism (sometimes life is happier with rose colored glasses on).

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This is what happens when you spoil your children

Student’s lawsuit against parents for support loses first round in court

Though I think the bimbo (am I revealing my bias with that choice of word?) at the center of this is totally wrong and hopefully the court will agree, at the same time I blame her parents for the situation. It seems clear to me that the little darling has never been told ‘no’ in her life and got upset when it finally came (clearly she doesn’t know what abuse is); had her parents introduced her with the word ‘no’ and what it means (not ‘later’ or ‘when-you-ask-enough-times-I-will-agree-just-to-shut-you-up’) when she was younger, no doubt she would understand her current situation and had she decided to run away she wouldn’t be air-headed enough to sue her parents.

Oh, lets take a moment to curse the parents of her friends. What fucked up people are going to encourage / enable this airhead to sue her parents? The article says they are paying for the suit, what the fuck is it their business? The bimbo is 18 years old, it seems clear she left the house under her own terms, yet these assholes want to get involved. Plenty of blame to go around, but the core of it is her parents gave their little darling everything she wanted, until they finally wouldn’t any more, now they get to pay the price: nation-wide exposure and the Internet to remember forever what crappy parents they are.

I will be sending this to my wife, she needs to develop more comfort with ‘no’ and our boy…

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Welfare for citizens == welfare for corporations?

Hey, Washington! The Pay Is Too Damn Low: The Minimum-Wage War
Giving America’s lowest-paid workers a raise is great for the economy. And even better for Democratic prospects in 2014

This seems to be another step in my personal liberalization. I long viewed minimum wage as a bad thing because I felt it distorted supply and demand. Those who look closely at this will note that in most cities the true minimum wage is often substantially higher than the official wage (even when the local official wage is higher than the federal wage). I felt that the federal minimum would cause distortion in rural areas where the actual value of the work a person could do was below the wage set, so either jobs didn’t get done or there developed a huge incentive for illegal immigrants.

Today, though, since I have long been on record for supporting a strong social safety net, I am now convinced (the above article was just the last straw compelling me to blog on this topic) that a robust social safety net is nothing more than a massive (and by ‘massive’ I mean $20+ billion per year; it wouldn’t shock me to find out it was 10x that amount) gift to the low wage industry (e.g., Wall-mart, McDonald’s, etc.) that goes directly to their bottom line. Why should taxpayers subsidize these very profitable industries? Shouldn’t these industries pay their employees enough so that their employees can exist without welfare?

So, now I feel that minimum wage needs to be such that someone working full-time shouldn’t have to have welfare simply to exist. While the EITC sounds like a great thing, it is also a huge gift to low-wage employers as it does exactly the same thing: subsidizes those corporations lower wages with tax dollars (the article above quotes 1/3, where I got the $20 billion figure). Man, the amount of taxpayer dollars that winds up as corporate welfare here in the US has to run to a trillion dollars, easy (think about the DoD hiring contractors because the US govt doesn’t want all those millions of people directly on the payroll; if the govt hired these people directly it would probably cost half, or even less), and this isn’t even including the trillions of dollars in direct handouts to Wall Street as reward for crashing the global economy.

You might be surprised that the GOP, long a supporter of minimal government involvement in your personal space, is fighting the idea of raising the minimum wage, tooth and nail. Shockingly (perhaps), they support the idea of increasing the EITC, more taxpayer transfers to further subsidize corporate profits. Of course, the ideal for the GOP is to remove the safety net all together, yet keep the corporate welfare going full-blast. I wonder if they realize that as the middle class shrinks the amount of tax revenue shrinks (since rich people pay a disproportionately lower share of their income as taxes), so corporate welfare increasingly becomes a larger and larger percent of the budget, but who cares about that, I guess.

I believe we need a robust social safety net so that when capitalistic excess gets out of hand (bubbles anyone?) society doesn’t have to suffer because of the bad decisions of people too rich to give a damn. If we accept a strong safety net, then we need to be absolutely sure we don’t inadvertently (as is currently the case) subsidize the profits of low-wage industries and the only way I see to do that is to have a much higher (and indexed to inflation!!!!! how could that not be the case?) minimum wage. If that drives out some labor, perhaps those jobs really aren’t that necessary to society.

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Turning tide on executive compensation?

A new study: How overpaid CEOs tank their firms

Quite interesting article, I will copy the summary of the paper here:

We find evidence that CEO pay is negatively related to future stock returns for periods up to three years after sorting on pay. For example, firms that pay their CEOs in the top ten percent of excess pay earn negative abnormal returns over the next three years of approximately -8%. The effect is stronger for CEOs who receive higher incentive pay relative to their peers. Our results appear to be driven by high-pay induced CEO overconfidence that leads to shareholder wealth losses from activities such as over investment and value-destroying mergers and acquisitions.

So, overpaying the CEO leads to worse stock performance, who woulda thought? It seems that some hedge fund managers (who often own controlling amounts of company stock) are now looking at pushing back because they see the ‘investment’ in compensation as a loser. (It is kind if ironic to me that hedge fund managers, who, as a class, are grossly overpaid, might wind up corralling CEO pay.) Nothing gets the attention of Wall Street types like consistently under performing the stock market, maybe this will result in a dampening of these idiotic baseball player compensation.

I am also not very sure about this statement:

Cooper, who previously ran a firm at Goldman Sachs, doesn’t go as far as to say that higher incentive pay causes overconfidence. Maybe executives who are overconfident just tend to demand higher remuneration. After all, the reason CEOs earn so much in the first place is largely a supply and demand effect, he says. Running a large firm requires a rare and specific skill set, and because so few people can do that, Cooper says, that bids up the price.

I know a thing or three about corporate management (got an MBA, after all, back when getting one actually meant something) and I can say with some assurance that while not everyone is capable of managing managers (what is necessary at the CEO level of large organizations), neither is it a skill so rare that baseball player salaries are necessary. Lots and lots (and lots!) of people, even without formal education, have the skill set to manage at that level so I can state with very high confidence that it doesn’t take multi-million dollar compensation packages to get people with these skill sets.

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Interesting idea, I think

EU project to build lie detector for social media

I am not sure how practical this is, technically, as I see it as necessary to record the first occurrence of any new trend and there has to be many, many first occurrences that never turn into a trend. Also, they would have to record the origin of each occurrence, somehow classify its truthiness, _then_ track how it trends. An interesting technical challenge, something I think would be cool to try, but there are so many sources of nonsense you would have to monitor them all (for instance, how many times has some story made up on the Onion wound up being taken seriously by some nimrod who couldn’t be bothered with actually checking the source?) and to do so even when the networks get clogged with people pinging one another back and forth on the very same nonsense.

I would love to see it successful, though I have to say since I started responding to my relatives who spam me with nonsense by sending them a link to Snopes I have got a lot less of that type of spam. It is possible that they are now checking Snopes, but perhaps they just leave me off their distro list.

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