Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tom Ridge talks to Rachel Maddow

Bloggingheads.tv - more video on the web

There is a beautiful moment starting around 6:30 when Maddow reads a quote from the book jacket contradicting Ridge's just stated, revised claims. A Woody Allen moment,

Tuesday, September 15, 2009



(via @jdlasica)

Welcome to AnyClip. Find any moment from any film, instantly.

The White House - Blog Post - Streaming at 1:00: In the Cloud

The White House - Blog Post - Streaming at 1:00: In the Cloud

(via @timoreilly)

Today, I am excited to announce that we have launched Apps.gov to help continue the President’s initiative to lower the cost of government operations while driving innovation within government. I'll be discussing this in a speech at the NASA Ames Research Center at 1:00 EDT...

Apps.gov is an online storefront for federal agencies to quickly browse and purchase cloud-based IT services, for productivity, collaboration, and efficiency. Cloud computing is the next generation of IT in which data and applications will be housed centrally and accessible anywhere and anytime by a various devices (this is opposed to the current model where applications and most data is housed on individual devices). By consolidating available services, Apps.gov is a one-stop source for cloud services – an innovation that not only can change how IT operates, but also save taxpayer dollars in the process.
The federal government spends over $75 billion annually on information technology (IT). This technology supports every mission our government performs— from defending our borders to protecting the environment. IT is essential for the government to do its work, and it is essential that we have access to the latest and most innovative technologies.
However, federal agencies and departments encounter many difficulties in deploying new IT services and products. Procurement processes can be confusing and time-consuming. Security procedures are complex, costly, lengthy and duplicative across agencies. Our policies lag behind new trends, causing unnecessary restrictions on the use of new technology. Past practices too often resulted in inefficient use of purchased IT capabilities across the federal government. We are dedicated to addressing these barriers and to improving the way government leverages new technology.
Now, we can start to address some of these challenges by adopting the use of cloud computing in the federal government through Apps.gov. Cloud computing is defined by the National Institute of Standards and Technology as a computing model where IT capabilities are delivered as a service over the Internet to many users. Like a utility such as electricity or water, cloud computing allows users to only consume what they need, to grow or shrink their use as their needs change, and to only pay for what they actually use. With more rapid access to innovative IT solutions, agencies can spend less time and taxpayer dollars on procedural items and focus more on using technology to achieve their missions.
We are just beginning this undertaking, and it will take time before we can realize the full potential of cloud computing. Like with Data.gov, Apps.gov is starting small – with the goal of rapidly scaling it up in size. Along the way, we will need to address various issues related to security, privacy, information management and procurement to expand our cloud computing services. Over time, as we work through these concerns and offer more services through Apps.gov, federal agencies will be able to get the capabilities they need to fulfill their missions at lower cost, faster, and ultimately, in a more sustainable manner.

Vivek Kundra is the U.S. Chief Information Officer.

Monday, September 14, 2009

How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer P. 163-165

In chapter 5 of his book, How We Decide, Jonah Lehrer discusses back pain and what changed after the MRI became a "crucial medical tool. It allowed doctors to look, for the first time, at stunningly accurate images of the interior of the body.” Unfortunately without a proper context including a much better understanding of the human body, this ‘accurate evidence’ gave them a false confidence in their decisions. This appears to have resulted in lots of unnecessary tests, procedures and surgeries.

p. 163-164 How we Decide

“A large study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) randomly assigned 380 patients with back pain to undergo two different types of diagnostic analysis. One group received x-rays. The other group got diagnosed using MRIs, which gave doctors much more information about the underlying anatomy.

Which group fared better? Did better pictures lead to better treatments? There was no difference in patient outcome: the vast majority of people in both groups got better. More information didn't lead to less pain. The stark differences emerge when the study looked at how the different groups were treated. Nearly 50% of MRI patients were diagnosed with some sort of disc abnormality, and this diagnosis led to intensive medical interventions. The MRI group had more doctor visits, more injections, more physical therapy, and were more than twice as likely to undergo surgery. These additional treatments were very expensive, and they had no measurable benefit.”

I posted a video yesterday of Nassim Taleb, saying the same thing about certain financial metrics: the (false) precision of the measure gives a trader or bank executive a false understanding of the risk being taken and a false confidence in his/her understanding.

p. 165 How we Decide

“The problem with diagnosing the origins of back pain is really just another version of the strawberry-jam problem*. In both cases, the rational methods of decision-making cause mistakes. Sometimes, more information and analysis can actually constrict thinking, making people understand less about what's really going on. Instead of focusing on the most pertinent variable -- the percentage of patients who get better and experienced less pain -- doctors got sidetracked by the irrelevant MRI pictures.

When it comes to treating back pain, this wrong-headed approach comes with serious costs. "What's going on now is a disgrace," says Dr. John Sarno, a professional of clinical rehabilitation at New York University Medical Center. "You have well-meaning doctors making structural diagnoses despite a serious lack of evidence that these abnormalities are really causing chronic pain. But they have these MRI pictures and the pictures seem so convincing. It's amazing how perfectly intelligent people will make foolish decisions if you give them lots of irrelevant stuff to consider."

*Strawberry Jam problem: in blind taste tests, students’ tastes correlated with a panel of experts, but when asked to explain their decisions, another group of students showed no correlation. i.e there are situations when rational-decision making causes worse decisions.

“The old ways that led to this crisis cannot stand.”

On Wall Street, Obama Pushes Stricter Finance Rules - NYTimes.com:

"“I want everybody here to hear my words,” Mr. Obama said. “We will not go back to the days of reckless behavior and unchecked excess at the heart of this crisis, where too many were motivated only by the appetite for quick kills and bloated bonuses. Those on Wall Street cannot resume taking risks without regard for consequences, and expect that next time, American taxpayers will be there to break their fall.”

Mr. Obama touted the administration’s plans to increase capital cushions at big banks, give the Federal Reserve new powers to oversee system-wide risks to the financial system and establish a new consumer-protection agency, which would have broad powers over home mortgages and other consumer loans.

Mr. Obama also urged banks to adopt changes before Congress acts by simplifying the language they use with consumers, overhauling their pay structures or allowing shareholders vote on 2009 bonuses."
“At the same time, what we must do now goes beyond just these reforms,” Mr. Obama said. “For what took place one year ago was not merely a failure of regulation or legislation; it was not merely a failure of oversight or foresight. It was a failure of responsibility that allowed Washington to become a place where problems — including structural problems in our financial system — were ignored rather than solved.”

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Art by Novik | Blurb

Art by Novik | Blurb

I put together a cool little art book. It is 7 inches X 7 inches and its pages are graced with beautiful reprints of eighty-five paintings by my friend, the painter Novik. We are selling the book for a limited time at cost ($34 + tax and shipping), but after a short time the price will increase to $100. The idea is to let friends, etc. purchase this collection at cost, but then raise the price to better reflect its value. Eventual profits, if any, will first go toward paying for production expenses and then toward the continued promotion and advancement of Novik's work. The first fifteen pages can be previewed by following the link.

By Mark E. Merritt

Monday, September 07, 2009



While coverage of the health care reform debate has focused on yelling, booing and fistfights, not all engagements between lawmakers and constituents turn hostile. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) discussed his beliefs and goals about health care reform at the Minnesota State Fair Wednesday with a group of constituents, and calmed down some who were upset, giving clear, honest answers to thought-out, sincere questions. "I thank you for your passion," he says to a vocal member of the crowd, "we need that, and we need to have these conversations."
And then, remarkably, she calms down, and everyone discusses the matter in a reasonable and cool-headed manner.
"We all want reform, the question is how do we do it," Franken said. A mixed bag of opponents and supporters gathered around as the senator explained his perspective, how he will vote, and how he believes the legislation will benefit the people of Minnesota and the nation.


Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Applied Rheology

Republican recounts lessons of the past
by Lisa Vorderbrueggen,
Contra Costa Times
August 21, 2009

David Harmer, a case study in Applied Rheology ;)