Kafka on diagnosis

by reestheskin on 02/06/2020

Comments are disabled

 

Just because your doctor has a name for your condition, doesn’t mean he knows what it is — Franz Kafka.

I hadn’t come across this quote by Franz Kafka before. It is of course true, but the converse is even more worrying. I like Sam Shuster’s aphorism better: the worst thing you can do is make a diagnosis (because it stops you thinking about what really is going on).

On the back of the envelope

by reestheskin on 01/06/2020

Comments are disabled

The famous nuclear physicist, Enrico Fermi, was said to be fond of coming up with surprisingly useful numerical answers on topics where he possessed little prior expert knowledge. ‘How many piano tuners are there is New York?’ is one example. The ever excellent Jean-Louis Gassée in the Monday Note joins in, allowing us all to marvel at modern logistics. BTW, if you follow the link you will see that he does not ignore the fact that such marvels require a human calculus, too.

In the next Xmas quarter, Apple will need to produce 80 million iPhones — that’s about the number Apple disclosed before it decided to no longer give out units data. Given 8 million seconds in a quarter (90 days * 24hrs * 60mins * 60 seconds = 7,776,000 seconds), this yields a nicely rounded production requirement of 10 iPhones per second — 24 hours a day!

How many production lines are needed to create that many devices? Let’s say the assembly, test, and pack process for one iPhone takes 10 minutes (600 seconds). This means a single production pipe can output 1/600th of an iPhone per second. If you trust my math, producing 10 iPhones per second would require 6000 assembly/test/pack pipes working in parallel.

$12B TSMC US Plant: What Problem Does It Solve? – Monday Note

Bound by their briefs

by reestheskin on 29/05/2020

Comments are disabled

Charlemagne reports on the spat between the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and the German Constitutional Court. The latter had accused the former of acting ultra vires in giving support to the bond-buying by the European Central Bank. One view is that national governments tolerate the ECJ and use dissent to any of its decisions for domestic political purposes when it suits (pace the clowns in Number 10). Charlemagne uses a colourful metaphor that some of the clowns might enjoy.

If legislators did not like the court’s actions, they could always change the law. That they hardly ever do suggests that they do not object strongly to the court’s rulings. In this sense the ECJ resembles an S&M dungeon. National governments are happy to be tied up and slapped around in a dimly lit room by people in odd outfits. However, they would prefer not to mention this fact to their jealous spouses back home: domestic courts and domestic voters.

Charlemagne – The wizards of Luxembourg | Europe | The Economist

On the Nanny State

by reestheskin on 26/05/2020

Comments are disabled

We may be coming to realise that the people who complain about the nanny state are the people who had nannies.

Sarah Neville is the FT reviewing The Nanny State Made Me: A Story of Britain and How to Save It, by Stuart Maconie

Even those who liked it at the beginning are becoming wary of the creeping clapping fascism,

I’m an NHS doctor – and I’ve had enough of people clapping for me | Society | The Guardian

Indeed.

Cat Thinking

by reestheskin on 22/05/2020

Comments are disabled

How to improve digital healthcare

Why is digital healthcare full of promises that don’t deliver? Why is interoperability such a big problem? Why are health IT systems so unreliable and hard to use, and so much worse than consumer devices?

I put digital health’s problems down to ‘cat thinking’. Cat Thinking, which is fine for consumer products, promises simple, exciting health IT solutions, regardless of evidence and hard science. Unfortunately Cat Thinking misdirects politicians, funders and referees – as well as doctors and hospitals – into thinking that digital health is an easy win.

Harold Thimbleby

On predicting the future

by reestheskin on 20/05/2020

Comments are disabled

I am very fond of the Alan Kay line that the best way to predict the future is to invent it. Indeed, my default line with Alan Kay is to tend to believe that he is always right. But Audrey Watters  disagrees (via Stephen Downes)

Their imaginings and predictions were (are) never disinterested, and I don’t agree at all with the famous saying by computer scientist Alan Kay that “the best way to predict the future is to build it.” I’ve argued elsewhere that the best way to predict the future is to issue a press release. The best way to predict the future of education is to get Thomas Friedman to write an op-ed in The New York Times about your idea and then a bunch of college administrators will likely believe that it’s inevitable.

Space, SWAG, 2CVs, and viruses

by reestheskin on 19/05/2020

Comments are disabled

Terrific post in the Monday Note from Jean-Louis Gassée. He writes:

This week’s note was sparked by a conversation with a learned engineer friend. He cut through my lamentation that our country lacks the will to send astronauts to the Moon again. ‘It’s not about will, it’s about our changed estimate for the cost of human lives!’.

Jean-Louis then expands on this with details of the various space flight-related accidents, before moving on — as befits a Frenchman— to the legendary 2CV, and the change in safety trade-offs between then and now in car design. Then there is the matter of covid-19, and the calculus advanced societies took the in the not so distant past.

Worth a read in full, and not just for the new acronym (to me, anyway) SWAG (scientific wild-ass guess).

The slow now

by reestheskin on 18/05/2020

Comments are disabled

Education is intellectual infrastructure.  So is science.  They have very high yield, but delayed payback.  Hasty societies that can’t span those delays will lose out over time to societies that can.  On the other hand, cultures too hidebound to allow education to advance at infrastructural pace also lose out.

Stewart Brand.

On waking Europe from an alcoholic stupor

by reestheskin on 15/05/2020

Comments are disabled

No, not post-covid nor even post-final Heineken or six-nation rugby 2020 🙁, but rather the default drink of the networker. As Bronowski might have said of a golden period of 20th century physics: it was done as much in coffee houses an in laboratories. Is imbibing alone also subject to that other familiar disapprobation?

What began as an obscure berry from the highlands of Ethiopia is now, five centuries later, a ubiquitous global necessity. Coffee has changed the world along the way. A “wakefull and civill drink”, its pep as a stimulant awoke Europe from an alcoholic stupor and “improved useful knowledge very much”, as a 17th-century observer put it, helping fuel the ensuing scientific and financial revolutions. Coffeehouses, an idea that travelled with the refreshment from the Arab world, became information exchanges and centres of collaboration; coffee remains the default drink of personal networking to this day.

The Economist | The big grind

Dumb techies and their acolytes

by reestheskin on 15/05/2020

Comments are disabled

There is lots about covid-19 that I do not understand — the biology and all that. But the NHS and government’s responses are something else. I find it hard not to assume that every statement has an ulterior motive: they are, it seems, strangers to the truth. Here is Bruce Schneier (the security guru as the Economist once called him).

Crypto-Gram: May 15, 2020 – Schneier on Security

“My problem with contact tracing apps is that they have absolutely no value,” Bruce Schneier, a privacy expert and fellow at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, told BuzzFeed News. “I’m not even talking about the privacy concerns, I mean the efficacy. Does anybody think this will do something useful? … This is just something governments want to do for the hell of it. To me, it’s just techies doing techie things because they don’t know what else to do.”

He writes:

I haven’t blogged about this because I thought it was obvious. But from the tweets and emails I have received, it seems not.

It has nothing to do with privacy concerns. The idea that contact tracing can be done with an app, and not human health professionals is just plain dumb.

Testing, testing and more testing, please.

The world is queerer than I can imagine

by reestheskin on 14/05/2020

Comments are disabled

Katherine Rundell writes in the LRB about the Greenland shark. I learn that these beasts who inhabit the cold deeps can live for up to 600 years. Not surprisingly, they run their lives — and their metabolism — slow: moving at 1-2mph, and only requiring the equivalent of a biscuit or two to keep a 200kg beast turning over for a day. If you wish to choose between a biscuit and the shark flesh, go for the familiar. Their fins smell of pee and the urea in their flesh is poisonous to humans. Seemingly, you have to bury the meat for months, allowing it to ferment, before hanging it out for yet several more months. She writes that for some it is a delicacy, for others an abomination. I don’t need persuading.

What money can’t buy

by reestheskin on 13/05/2020

Comments are disabled

But, as R.H. Tawney once observed, shifts to collective provision are only realised after demonstrations that ‘high individual incomes will not purchase the mass of mankind immunity from cholera, typhus and ignorance’: many elements of the coming future ought to be favourable to the left, though only if they are shaped politically, and if blame – always elusive in the UK’s diffuse system of responsibility – is correctly apportioned.

James Butler · Follow the Science · LRB 4 April 2020

I’ll Drink to That

by reestheskin on 08/05/2020

Comments are disabled

The value of wine exchanged yearly between consumers, connoisseurs and collectors—the secondary market—has quadrupled to $4bn since 2000, says Justin Gibbs of Liv-ex, a wine-trading platform. He reckons that just 15% of those buying wine on his website are doing so to drink it. The rest see it as a store of value.

Amateur buyers of fine Burgundy fear a speculative bubble – Smoking barrels

Annoying, isn’t it? But we all tend to a naive idea of value. Especially when we think about pricing drugs.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

by reestheskin on 07/05/2020

Comments are disabled

One of the pleasures of retirement from medical practice is not being on the General Medical Council (GMC) register. If you were able to listen in on many doctors private conversations, and run some Google word analytics, the word you might find in closest proximity to the term General Medical Council (GMC) would be loathe. There would be other less polite words, too. As the BMJ once wrote: there is very little in British medicine that the GMC cannot make worse. It is a legalised extortion racket that fails to protect the public, messes up medical education and makes many doctors’ lives miserable.

The following are quotes from the Lancet and the FT. They are about the horrendous crimes perpetrated by a surgeon, Ian Paterson. The full Independent Inquiry report can be found here. I am not surprised by anything I have read in the  investigation into these crimes and the attacks on those who attempted to draw attention to them.

Health-care workers reporting concerns often come under substantial pressure from health-care management, and sometimes have to justify their own practice and reasons for speaking out. Four of the health-care professionals who did report Paterson were subject to fitness to practice scrutiny by the GMC during the later investigation because they had worked alongside him

Complicit silence in medical malpractice – The Lancet

The FT draws up some lessons. Here is number four:

The fourth lesson is that those who speak up are likely to suffer. Some of Paterson’s colleagues were worried about his practices. When six doctors raised concerns with the chief executive of the NHS trust where Paterson worked, four were themselves investigated by the General Medical Council because they had worked with him.

Maybe after clapping this Thursday evening people need to take a long hard look at the culture of NHS governance and its proxies in the UK. Pandemics just open up the cracks of incompetence that are hidden in plain sight.

Just so.

by reestheskin on 07/05/2020

Comments are disabled

As a human being, and a citizen of this country, I deplore almost everything that’s going on in public life,” Mr Herron says. “As a novelist with a bent towards the satirical, it’s a gift.

Mick Herron quoted in the Economist.

Mick Herron’s novels are a satirical chronicle of modern Britain – Spy fiction

Cito, longe, tarde.

by reestheskin on 28/04/2020

Comments are disabled

Cito, longe, tarde.

(Leave quickly. Go far away. Come back slowly.)

Faced with a highly contagious, lethal disease for which there is no known cure, President Donald Trump has ignored that timeless advice.

Instead, like a medieval demagogue, Trump is spouting quackery and hatred straight out of the 14th century, when panicked Europeans confronting the Black Death strapped live chickens to their bodies, drank potions tinged with mercury and arsenic, and blamed the Mongols and the Jews when none of it worked.

Covid-19 Highlights Trump‘s Malignant Narcissism

On sleeping through the lecture

by reestheskin on 27/04/2020

Comments are disabled

The papers — at least the FT and Guardian — are full of woes about COVID-19 and Higher Education in the UK (and to a lesser degree, elsewhere). My old VC (Tim O’Shea) pointing out that few UK universities are capable of delivering reasonable online teaching in the near future. As Warren Buffet is reported to have said, when the tide goes out you can see who has been swimming without a costume. Answer: lots of people. It is just that many universities preferred the bums on (lecture) seats’ fees, since the only people who were embarrassed by them were the students.

Below is a quote from Steven Downes from last week

But it doesn’t matter. I think any genuine futurist in the field of online learning could and should have seen this coming. As I’ve repeated through the years, “educational providers will one day face an overnight crisis that was 20 years in the making.” Now it’s here.

After all, it is nearly a full quarter of a century after Eli Noam published his paper in Science with the title Electronics and the Dim Future of the University. We (?or they) were warned.

Almost queerer than we can imagine

by reestheskin on 24/04/2020

Comments are disabled

Some non-covid-19 recreational reading. Although the bees might be here longer than us..

Hive Mentalities | by Tim Flannery | The New York Review of Books

According to Thor Hanson’s Buzz, the relationship between bees and the human lineage goes back three million years, to a time when our ancestors shared the African savannah with a small, brownish, robin-sized bird—the first honeyguide. Honeyguides are very good at locating beehives, but they are unable to break into them to feed on the bee larvae and beeswax they eat. So they recruit humans to help, attracting them with a call and leading them to the hive. In return for the service, Africans leave a small gift of honey and wax: not enough that the bird is uninterested in locating another hive, but sufficient to make it feel that its efforts have been worthwhile. Honeyguides may have been critical to our evolution: today, honey contributes about 15 percent of the calories consumed by the Hadza people—Africa’s last hunter-gatherers—and because brains run on glucose, honey located by honeyguides may have helped increase our brain size, and thus intelligence.

Review of Buzz: The Nature and Necessity of Bees

by Thor Hanson. Basic Books.

Twenty years of schooling and the pyrrhic victors

by reestheskin on 24/04/2020

Comments are disabled

Charlemagne – Southern Europe’s millennials suffer two huge crises by their mid-30s | Europe | The Economist

In the aftermath of the financial crisis, analysts were quick to split the world into the winners and losers of globalisation. On the one side were those furnished with education, open horizons and language skills, who were supposed to thrive in the new order. On the other were those with no such luck, stuck in careers set to be overtaken by innovation. A third category containing southern Europe’s young must be added: globalisation’s pyrrhic victors. These people fulfilled the requirements of the winners’ club, armed with both the mindset and means—even possessing a passport from the EU, the institution that most embodies 21st-century globalisation. Yet thanks to repeated economic shocks, they have singularly failed to reap the expected benefits.

(“Twenty years of schooling and they put you on the day shift – look out out kid, they keep it all hid”, Bob Dylan)

Covid-19

I want to come out of this better than when I started.

A cliché, but one of the best guides to living through covid-19. From the Cortex podcast with Myke Hurley and CGP Grey.

(If you use Overcast, the direct link is here).

I was there

by reestheskin on 23/04/2020

Comments are disabled

Fifty years ago, Cardiff Arms Park.

The Breakdown | Protests, politics and a bus hijack: the rugby tour that gave Mandela hope | Sport | The Guardian

Personal memories of the tour are disappointment that Cardiff were overwhelmed by players who were far bigger than the usual opponents at the Arms Park. The politics went over the head of [this] /a young boy whose questions were to find answers later….[emphasis added].

 

Those protesting in 1969-70 – the Stop the Seventy Tour was chaired by Peter Hain and one of the organisers in Scotland was Gordon Brown – were written off by the rugby media here as idealists and do-gooders, irritants who did not understand rugby union’s fraternity.

Would a medal do?

by reestheskin on 22/04/2020

Comments are disabled

Interesting article from a final-year PhD student in Bristol. She writes:

Around one week before lockdown, Public Health England sent a message to UK universities; it needed their help to find PhD students, postdocs and other researchers to carry out diagnostic testing in London.

Despite the urgency of the call, the email didn’t mention pay or whether researchers should have permission from their grant funders to up and leave lab projects. It also omitted any details on accommodation or travel support for those of us living outside the capital…Then, on 2 April, we received another email, apparently from Public Health England (PHE), which was circulated to everyone in our faculty calling on us to join a “scientific reserve to support regional Covid-19 testing operations”.

The email cautioned that the work would be hard, and would require ‘five or seven day on/off shift patterns with long shifts’. No mention again of whether funders approved. Are the companies that provide testing or the reagents for testing getting paid, I wonder? She speculates as to  whether the government will be generous to her and others like her in the coming economic crisis.

My assumption is probably not: it will ask us to get ourselves in debt to the tune of tens of thousands of pounds to get the skills the country needs, but not pay us to work once we have them.

Well said.

 That wording has been negotiated to the point of strangulation

So many bats

by reestheskin on 21/04/2020

Comments are disabled

Reminds me of JBS Haldane’s comment that God must have been inordinately fond of beetles (because of the large number of beetle species).

This study is in line with work done specifically on coronaviruses by Tracey Goldstein of University of California, Davis. In 2017 she and her colleagues published a piece of research in which they had tested for coronaviruses in bats, rodents and primates (including people) in 20 countries in Africa, South America and Asia. Individual bat species normally had between one and five types of coronavirus. (For comparison, human beings have seven, including the newly emerged sars-cov-2.) Scale that up for the 1,400 different species of the animals and it means there are potentially more than 3,000 coronaviruses circulating in bats [emphasis added]. This certainly increases the odds that bats will be responsible for generating a coronavirus dangerous to people. But only because there are lots of them.

The Economist | Not so guilty

Please, no…

Feel in need of a “mental health day” right now (or what we used to call “a break”)? We certainly do.

FT Moral money 8 April 2020

Today’s Covid19 briefing

by reestheskin on 18/04/2020

Comments are disabled

Still sounds very familiar.

During the Napoleonic Wars, newspapers were allowed to read and reprint naval and military dispatches in return for carrying ‘paragraphs agreeable to the Ministry’. Today, as Norton-Taylor reminds us, Whitehall departments still run their own gentlemanly lobbies in which selected hacks are allowed to see confidential papers and hear civil servants’ unexpurgated thoughts on policy, but only so long as the journalists ‘play by the rules’ and write only what their host-official permits. The lobby system, with the Number Ten lobby at its apex, smoothly controls and shapes the outflow of official information to the public. Opposition leaders are frequently gagged by briefings given on Privy Council terms.

Neal Ascherson · Secrets are like sex: Whitehall Spookery · LRB 21 March 2020

Neal Ascherson · Secrets are like sex: Whitehall Spookery · LRB 21 March 2020

Orwellian

by reestheskin on 17/04/2020

Comments are disabled

Yes, I am playing around with my rediscovered Twitter account.

An (almost) nice coronavirus story

by reestheskin on 17/04/2020

Comments are disabled

Dan Greenberg RIP

by reestheskin on 17/04/2020

Comments are disabled

Daniel S. Greenberg (1931–2020) has died. Nice obituary about him and why he mattered in this week’s Science.

Daniel S. Greenberg (1931–2020) | Science

At the time, the idea of a journalist-written section in a publication devoted to publishing research papers was highly unusual, and so was the approach that Dan and his team took. They covered basic research policy in much the same way a business reporter would cover development of economic policy: as a set of competing interests…[emphasis added].

However, it was not greeted with universal enthusiasm. In a preface to the second edition, Dan noted that it sparked “reactions that flowed from the belief that the scientific community should be exempt from the types of journalistic inquiries that are commonplace to other segments of our society.” He called that attitude “nonsense.”