Aug 252011

The 8/25/2011 American Thinker published my short piece: “Thank You, Steve Jobs“.

He became wealthy offering value for value. In the end, we and his customers (and his employees and the people who wrote iPad apps, etc.) all won. This is why free market capitalism is a wonderful, moral system.

On a related note, Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit has a nice interview with former BB&T CEO John Allison on how the government caused the financial crisis and why capitalism is the only moral economic system:

Jul 262011

The NPR show Planet Money recently aired a fascinating story about the underground online market for stolen credit card numbers. (Click on the link to listen to the audio file.)

Basically, this underground market has many features of legitimate online sales websites (such as eBay or Amazon), but with some curious inversions.

For instance, you can’t get an account unless two other current members (who are also criminals) can “vouch” for you as also being a fellow criminal.

However, to do any kind of “business” they still have to rely on some of the same mechanisms that honest marketplaces use. For instance, there are rating systems for buyers to give feedback on sellers of these stolen credit cards. Getting a good A+ rating as a seller is critical to this sort of “commercial” success. Many sellers also have FAQ’s (“Do you offer discounts for bulk purchases?”, etc.) that mirror the sorts of FAQs one sees on eBay.

Of course, the transactions are conducted not via credit card (heh), but through other forms of secure digital currency.

Other funny/bizarre tidbits:

  • The site moderator warns users not to use ALL CAPS in their posts, otherwise, they’ll be banned.

  • To get in, you also have to click on a “Terms of Use” box that states you’re not a journalist nor a law enforcement officer. In other words, they are relying on the “honesty” of the bad guys. (Of course, the story was aired by an NPR journalist working with an FBI agent who quite appropriately “agreed” to those terms without any moral qualms.)

    (Update: SteveD points out that the Terms of Use are relying on the honest of the good guys, not the bad guys. Yes — quite right!)

  • Many of the big operations end up functioning like real businesses, hiring employees, etc. In other words, they “successful” bad guys have to work hard for their ill-gotten gains — which makes one wonder why they don’t just get honest jobs.

As I listened to the story, it really struck me how the bad guys were in so many ways parasitical upon methods and practices of genuine honest producers.

The full story lasts about 30 minutes and I highly recommend listening to the whole thing! (Download the audio file.)

Jul 192011

At FuturePundit, Randall Parker described how “Crowd Sourcing Identifies 2 Parkinsons Disease Genes“.

Here’s an extended excerpt from his post:

The folks at personal genetic testing company recruited Parkinson’s Disease (PD) patients from mailing lists and other means and compared their genetic variants with a group of 23andMe customers who also got their genetic variants tested by 23andMe.

They used the resulting data to discover 2 more genetic variants associated with Parkinson’s Disease. The results demonstrate the speed, low cost, and power of web-based recruiting to do genetic research outside the traditional academic framework.

We conducted a large genome-wide association study (GWAS) of Parkinson’s disease (PD) with over 3,400 cases and 29,000 controls (the largest single PD GWAS cohort to date). We report two novel genetic associations and replicate a total of twenty previously described associations, showing that there are now many solid genetic factors underlying PD. We also estimate that genetic factors explain at least one-fourth of the variation in PD liability, of which currently discovered factors only explain a small fraction (6%–7%). Together, these results expand the set of genetic factors discovered to date and imply that many more associations remain to be found.

Unlike traditional studies, participation in this study took place completely online, using a collection of cases recruited primarily via PD mailing lists and controls derived from the customer base of the personal genetics company 23andMe.

Our study thus illustrates the ability of web-based methods for enrollment and data collection to yield new scientific insights into the etiology of disease, and it demonstrates the power and reliability of self-reported data for studying the genetics of Parkinson’s disease.

You can read the whole open access Plos Genetics research report at that link.

What’s cool about this: Using a web site and cheap genetic testing services people can volunteer themselves as research subjects on a scale that historically has taken far more effort to organize. This approach can scale into the hundreds of thousands, and even hundreds of millions of people. There’s a big network effect where the more people who get tested the more useful genetic testing becomes.

Direct-To-Consumer (DTC) genetic testing is what made the study above possible. Whether we will be able to continue to get our DNA tested without paying for a doctor’s visit and additional testing mark-ups remains to be seen. In the United States the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking a dim view of DTC genetic testing.

(Read the rest of Parker’s post: “Crowd Sourcing Identifies 2 Parkinsons Disease Genes“.)

Here’s the full PLOS Genetics paper: “Web-Based Genome-Wide Association Study Identifies Two Novel Loci and a Substantial Genetic Component for Parkinson’s Disease“.

I completely agree with Parker. Proposed FDA controls over the growing consumer genetic testing market not only deprive individuals of the right to learn the content of their DNA, but could also stifle the growth of new discoveries (and downstream therapies) made possible only by this sort of innovative free-market “crowdsourcing”.

The FDA has no business stopping people from voluntarily sharing their genetic information with others in hopes that they might reap life-saving benefits.

(See also my July 2010 PajamasMedia piece, “Should You Be Allowed To Know What’s In Your DNA?“)

Note from Diana: I got my 23andMe genetic test results back last week… with some useful but worrisome results. I’ll blog about that soon-ish.

What Is This Internet Thing?

 Posted by on 8 February 2011 at 11:00 am  Funny, Technology
Feb 082011

Classic video clip from 1994 in which Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric struggle to figure out what this “internet” thing is all about:

Here’s the image Gumbel was puzzling over:

(Via BBspot.)

It All Makes Sense At The End

 Posted by on 10 August 2010 at 7:00 am  Funny, Music, Technology
Aug 102010

Via David Rehm: A great song about Wikipedia: It All Makes Sense At The End.

Tracking of OLists

 Posted by on 5 August 2010 at 7:00 am  OList, Technology
Aug 052010

I’d like to do some better tracking of statistics for my OLists so that I and the other OList Managers can easily monitor their health.

In particular, I’d like to know at a glance, for each list:

  • How many subscribers does the list have now? How many has it had over the last month and year? If applicable, how many subscribers are lurkers versus posters?
  • How many new subscribers have been added to the list in the last month and year?
  • How many messages have been posted to the list over the last day, week, month, and year?
  • How many different subscribers have posted messages over the last month and year? What’s the distribution of posts by author for the last month and year?

I’d like those statistics displayed as a nice graphs and tables, so that the month’s statistics are broken into days and the year’s are broken into months.

Then, for all lists:

  • For any given member, what lists are they on? How often do they post on those various lists?

Right now, I can piece together most of that information, but it’s very inefficient. I’d like to have it all at my fingertips, more or less. Some of it is private to me as the list manager, and so I figure that I might need to manually download that information so that the requisite statistics can be generated.

So… does anyone know of a program that will allow me to do that? It has to work with Google Groups somehow, as I don’t intend to move the OLists off that platform.

The Joys of Hearing

 Posted by on 19 July 2010 at 7:00 am  Technology
Jul 192010

An eight month old hears for the first time as his cochlear implant is turned on.


 Posted by on 27 April 2010 at 11:00 am  Culture, Technology, Television
Apr 272010

One of my favorite television miniseries is the HBO production, “From The Earth To the Moon“. This series details the saga of the Apollo space program, with the goal (in President Kennedy’s words) of “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth”.

Although I’m not a supporter of government-funded science for the same reasons Ayn Rand laid out in her essay “Apollo 11“, like Rand I still marvel at this tremendous achievement which was a triumph of man’s reason and courage.

Of the various episodes in the series my favorite is probably episode 5, “Spider“.

“Spider” depicted the development of the Lunar Module (LEM) by Grumman Aircraft, led by engineer Tom Kelly. Kelly and his team solved engineering challenge after challenge through a combination of reason, ingenuity, creativity, intellectual integrity, and above all an utmost respect for the facts of reality. The episode is upbeat and nicely captures the joy of engineering.

The whole episode is superb and worth watching. But I was especially glad to find this short excerpt of the final 5 minutes on YouTube:

Kelly’s musings about how each LEM has a “soul”, consisting of the souls of all the men who built her, designed her, and dreamed about her was very reminiscent of Dagny Taggart’s musings in Atlas Shrugged during the first run of the John Galt Line when she thought that the motors running her engines were alive — operated by remote control by the souls and minds of the thinking men who designed them.

This excerpt also contains one of my favorite short pieces of television music, the “Eagle” theme by composer Mason Daring.

Daring’s piece captures a uplifting combination of hope, yearning, solemnity, and pride in wanting to meet great challenges and overcome them.

The musical theme to the series (at the beginning and end of each episode) by Michael Kamen is also very nice:

(The video track just above is from a different television show, but the audio track is from the HBO series.)

I’ve always thought of these as wonderful musical concretizations of the optimistic American sense of life that was so widespread and normal just a few years ago.

So if you find yourself getting depressed over current events, just remember that many Americans still retain that marvelous implicit sense that life is good, happiness is desirable and attainable, and great achievements are possible to men. And as long as we still have that, this country still has a chance.

Small Mistake, Huge Consequences

 Posted by on 13 April 2010 at 1:00 pm  Technology
Apr 132010

Wow, I’d never heard of this amazing case of the disappearing lake until my father sent me this video:

Lake Peigneur Sinkhole Disaster

The property damage was huge, but thankfully, no one died.

My New Musical Obsession: Mika

 Posted by on 5 March 2010 at 1:00 pm  Music, Technology
Mar 052010

I’ve found a new musical obsession to temporarily displace my beloved Lady Gaga: Mika. (That’s pronounced “me-ka.”) He’s an up-and-coming British pop singer. His music is super-happy-fun-complex pop — which I love love love. I’m most myself when in a state of crazy, wild joy at the mere fact of my own fabulous existence, and I connect with that feeling with Mika’s music. Oddly, Vivaldi’s Violin Concertos and String Symphonies give me the same feeling. (In college, I bought the fantastic ten-disc Vivaldi Collection by Shlomo Mintz and Israel Chamber Orchestra. I still adore it.)

In this post, I’ll tell you how I came to acquire Mika’s albums. The story is rather awesome for hooray-for-technology reasons. However, if you hate super-happy-fun-complex pop, please don’t torture yourself by hitting any of the “play” buttons below.

I first read about Mika in a post on Trey Givens’ blog: Straight Privilege. The post wasn’t even about his music, but instead about his sexuality. For some unknown reason, I googled him, then listened to the first track that came up: “Grace Kelly.”

I liked the song quite a bit from the get-go. That’s unusual for me, as I’m almost always somewhat slow to warm up to music that I like. I can tell the stuff that I don’t like immediately, such as Rush.

Then I checked out some of his videos on YouTube. Here’s “Grace Kelly,” for example:

Bonus! He’s cute! (Gay or straight or whatever, I enjoy gazing on tall, wiry guys with longish dark curly hair and large, angular facial features.)

And here’s “We Are Golden“:

Here’s “Love Today“:

Here’s more of a ballad, “Happy Ending“:

After I decided that I wanted to buy some of his music, I checked his discography on Wikipedia, and then bought his two albums — “Life in Cartoon Motion” and “The Boy Who Knew Too Much” — on iTunes. Then I thanked @TreyPeden on Twitter. (Trey might not be a fan; I don’t know.)

Since then, I’ve been listening pretty obsessively, as I always what I do with a new album that I like. Like with Lady Gaga, I enjoy every song on these two albums; that’s definitely a rarity. I’d only call a handful of the albums in my rather vast collection “perfect” in that way. So far, my favorite song is “One Foot Boy”:

So why is that story remarkable? Just fifteen years ago, I couldn’t have done any of that. Back in those stone ages of the internet…

  • Blogs didn’t exist.
  • Google didn’t exist.
  • Lala didn’t exist.
  • YouTube didn’t exist.
  • Wikipedia didn’t exist.
  • iTunes didn’t exist.
  • Twitter didn’t exist.

As depressed and worried as I often get about the direction of this country, I’m so happy that the fabulous innovators, capitalists, and workers of this country make my life so much more awesome on a regular basis.


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