Monday, December 31, 2007

The Anatomy Of An Approved Drug

Ever wondered what a drug that gets approved by the FDA looks like? What are the most common types of drugs that the agency approves, and what other characteristics improve a drug's chances for approval? If you've pondered these questions, then you're in luck: In 2006, the FDA released a review examining the drugs that get approved by the agency and their characteristics.

Overall, 47% of the 77 drugs reviewed from 2002 through 2004 were approved the first time they went up for approval; 23% were approved after resolving approvable-letter concerns; 5% were issued not-approvable letters; and the remainder had approvable-letter concerns that had not been resolved by the time the report was issued. Cumulatively, then, at least 70% of drugs making it to the FDA review process went on to get approved.

The Milken Institute (opens PDF) pegged the approval rate for new molecular entities under review at 81% in an earlier 2002 report. The FDA report cited 73% of drugs treating a life-threatening condition with a new mechanism of action as getting approved on the first go-round from 2002 through 2004. A drug like Genentech's (NYSE: DNA) Avastin falls into this category.


How Electric Cars Could Save the Grid

Their idea is simple: electric cars have to plug into the power grid anyway to get their batteries recharged. Why not use those batteries collectively as electricity "sponges" to soak up and wring out the excess power from utility companies that fluctuates notoriously on any given day?

Utility companies would benefit because they'd have a place to store energy; car owners would receive a fee to participate; and car manufacturers would have an attractive selling-point by which to promote their vehicles.

And it doesn't take much to get started.

"If you can collect 300 cars, that fleet is sufficient for a utility operator to run a V2G operation," said team member Ajay Prasad, professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Delaware in Newark.

Car owners drive, on average, about one to two hours per day. So statistically, a large percentage of the total population of cars is sitting idle at any given time.

At the same time, electric grid operators play a balancing game of generating electricity that will meet customer demand. On top of that, they must pay to keep a generator fired up that will serve as a back up in the event of a catastrophic failure on the grid. Until the failure, that energy is wasted.

But if all of those parked cars were electric and plugged into the grid, the utility operator could automatically draw on the batteries exactly as needed, meeting demand. And instead of paying a power plant to generate energy that would be wasted anyway, they would pay a fee to the electric car owner for making the battery available.



This sounds fine and dandy, except it won't work in India. Well, it won't be needed in India until far into the future. I guess our current needs far exceed what the grid can pump.


Saturday, December 29, 2007

Ubuntu Linux Vs. Windows Vista: The Battle For Your Desktop

To be honest, there's a lot about Ubuntu that impresses me. The out-of-the-box software available with the OS is well-chosen, and the Ubuntu community folks have made a good effort to support the vast majority of the things people do with their PCs. The fact that Ubuntu is free is of course another big motivator, especially if you've already blown your budget for a PC on hardware alone.

But there's at least as much about Ubuntu that I find disheartening or frustrating. There are still too many places where you have to drop to a command line and type in a fairly unintuitive set of commands to get something done, or edit a config file, or -- worst of all -- download and compile source code. For a beginner, this last is the kiss of death, because if compiling code fails, a beginner will almost certainly have no idea what to do next.

To be scrupulously fair, the situation isn't always much better in Windows: Most people find the idea of spelunking the Registry to be about as unappealing -- although the Registry does enforce at least some degree of consistency in the way configuration data is stored.


Comment ...

I think the idea of the article is great: An objective comparison of Vista and Ubuntu. However, I think the author fell short and had some significant biases. Before I mention the specific judgements made by the author, I'd like to point out some more subtle indications of bias. First, discussing Ubuntu features as 'Windows-like" and not describing some Windows features as (Ubuntu-like) demonstrates a bias. Another subtlety is the use of the phrase "elegant". Normally what is implied is a simplicity and intuitiveness. However, if somebody has spent their whole life using Windows--and most have--then Windows features will often seem more intuitive! True, there are objective standards of intuitive user interfaces, but it is very hard to assess by individuals because of their experience. It is sort of like and American going to England and claiming that driving on the left is less intuitive than driving on the right. It may be true, but it is very hard to accept that there is no bias as the American has spent their whole life driving on the right and has been driving on the left for only one week while on vacation in London! He is in a foreign country, doesn't know his way around, like he does for most of his driving at home, and is naturally frustrated because of it. This is not exactly the best posture to make "objective" judgements. At least the author pointed out in the beginning that, despite every effort to be open-minded, he is slanted towards Vista. Nonetheless, it is misleading to present an article in an objective tone, when it isn't at all objective.

Friday, December 28, 2007

BBC’s Favorite Technology 2007

Witricity, a device for delivering energy to laptops and other electronics without wires.

Enum, which can map net domains to telephone numbers and could unify the worlds of phones and the Internet.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Antigua Wins Another Round In Online Gambling Fight With U.S.

Arbitrators have ruled that Antigua can suspend its intellectual property obligations to the United States in retaliation for the U.S. prohibition of online gambling.

In a 97-page report (PDF) released last week, a panel weighing Antigua's complaint that the online gambling ban violates free trade agreements said that Antigua has no effective trade sanctions against the United States in terms of services and agreed that the country could suspend copyright, trademark, and intellectual property obligations.

The decision means Antigua can take copyright-protected U.S. goods, like CDs and software, and sell them without copyright protection. The value of the goods can total up to $21 million a year to satisfy the supposed damages the country has suffered.

The ruling estimated Antigua's trade loss at $21 million, which is less than the country estimated but more than the United States estimated. Antigua claimed $3.4 billion in losses; the United States said the country would lose $500,000.

Care to comment? Google feature lets news sources respond

This should fix misquoting and misreporting by journalists, which is all too common.


Google News, an increasingly popular way to get news online, may tip that balance, however, with a feature it calls "Comments From People in the News." The idea is simple: If you have been quoted in an article that appears on Google News, which presents links and summaries from 4,500 news sources, including the familiar big players, you can post a comment that will be paired with that article.

Knol

Wikipedia, Citizendium

Slashdot

ask.metafilter.com

ask.slashdot.org

yahoo answers, google answers, amazon

google groups (usenet)

dilbertblog

wikihow

instructables

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Quote of the Day

Mike Krzyzewski - "The truth is that many people set rules to keep from making decisions."

Indexing, Searching documents - Full-text

Lucene, Xapian and Swish-e.org are open source solutions. A comprehensive list.

PostgreSQL Full-text (tsearch2) is better than MySQL full-text. Postgres performs as well as Lucene, MySQL doesn't come close.

Yes, Lucene is specifically designed for search, but there are many advantages to using something like PostgreSQL is it performs on par. The details of the search can be described more articulately in SQL than in a search grammar. Additionally, it would allow us to later join the search results against "other" data for the purposes of simple intersection as well as altering the relevance based on some piece of data known outside of Lucene.

If going ahead with database based indexing, it would be better to take a look at Sphinx. This is being used at curse.

Sphinx is a full-text search engine, distributed under GPL version 2. Commercial license is also available for embedded use.

Generally, it's a standalone search engine, meant to provide fast, size-efficient and relevant fulltext search functions to other applications. Sphinx was specially designed to integrate well with SQL databases and scripting languages. Currently built-in data sources support fetching data either via direct connection to MySQL or PostgreSQL, or using XML pipe mechanism (a pipe to indexer in special XML-based format which Sphinx recognizes).



Xapian is very well-recommended and would work well for intense loads.

You should take a look at Xapian (http://www.xapian.org). I've messed with Lucene (I'm also not a Java fan) and TSearch2 GiST/GIN (I've been a PostgreSQL DBA for 5 years), and neither seemed as simple or scalable as Xapian. I mostly use the python bindings, and I was able to handle thousands of queries per second with a concurrency level of 10 against a 16GB Xapian db containing millions of documents. It's feature-full (http://www.xapian.org/features.php), indexing and searching are incredibly fast, administration is very straightforward (http://www.xapian.org/docs/admin_notes.html), and it scales quite well (http://www.xapian.org/docs/scalability.html). It even has a remote backend for distributed searching and indexing (http://www.xapian.org/docs/remote.html). If I was implementing a large-scale full text searching solution right now, I'd definitely use Xapian. By the way, thanks for writing such a great book.

Also found some useful information on mod_python memory usage.

I often see the complaint by people about mod_python’s memory overhead, but when you query them about it, they more often than not have no basis for the claim and are usually just repeating what someone else has said. Since you have a large site using it and have made this comment, I would be quite interested to here from you directly what basis you have for pointing out the memory overhead of mod_python. As much as we would like to address memory overheads issues in mod_python, it seems no one running real sites ever comes to the mod_python mailing list to share their experiences.

It seems MySQL is better at replication than Postgres. Needs further investigation. MySQL Cluster and Slony might be completely different.

My experience with mysql vs postgres is that these days, depending on what you are doing postgres can easily beat mysql on a single box system, but when it comes to replication mysql wins hands down. Slony is a complete dog. Once you move past a single box postgres has severe problems.

Alfresco is an open source Enterprise Document Management System.

Soumen Chakrabarti may be the right person to talk about all these.

Bug #1 in Ubuntu

Bug #1 (liberation), first reported on 2004-08-20 by Mark Shuttleworth

Microsoft has a majority market share

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Sex and chocolate deliver powerful brain boost

If you are looking to boost your brain power there is nothing like sex and chocolate, according to a new book titled "Teach Yourself: Training Your Brain." Authored by Terry Horne and Simon Wootton, the book says individuals can boost their brain power by having plenty of sex, eating equally high amounts of chocolate and cold meats.

The book throws aside conventional methods of keeping the brain fit like doing the daily crossword and even Sudoku. The book also says that people who want to improve memory must shun cannabis, soap operas and keeping company with fussy people.

"For decades we have thought that the capacity of our brains is genetically determined, whereas it's now clear it's a lifestyle choice," said Horne, who is a cognitive psychologist. "People can make lifestyle choices that will not only prevent what used to be seen as an inevitable decline in cognitive ability after the age of 17, but will constantly increase it throughout our adult lives."

The book also offers several mental exercises for people wanting to improve their brain power. Furthermore the effect of diet, stress and environment on a person's mental capacity is thoroughly analyzed. Many tips offered in the book are based on the release of certain hormones after various activities.

For example, sexual intercourse increases the levels of the hormone oxytocin, which in turn triggers the brain's innovative recesses. Diet wide, the book says that magnesium and antioxidants in dark chocolate can provide more oxygen to the brain.

"Mix with people who make you laugh, have a good sense of humour or who share the same interests as you, and avoid people who whinge, whine and complain, as people who are negative will make you depressed," Horne added.

Instead of running after happiness, the book says that people should adopt the BLISS policy; that is Body-based pleasure, Laughter, Involvement, Satisfaction and Sex, for better lives.

Frameworks Exist for Conceptual Integrity

Chapter 4 of my copy of The Mythical Man-Month has a permanant bookmark now: it is the chapter about conceptual integrity, and after rereading it this weekend, I've finally figured out that conceptual integrity is exactly what continues to frustrate me about Pylons. When there is no conceptual integrity, a product is unusable as the basis of further programming, and a product with no conceptual integrity is fundamentally incomparable to one that does. Brooks says as much in the very first chapter - in fact, on the first page:

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Immune system may target some brain synapses

A baby's brain has a lot of work to do, growing more neurons and connections. Later, a growing child's brain begins to pare down these connections until it develops into the streamlined brain of an adult.

Now researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have discovered the sculptor behind that paring process: the immune system.

The value of this discovery goes beyond understanding how connections are weeded out in a normal, developing brain. The finding could also help explain some neurodegenerative disorders - such as glaucoma, Alzheimer's disease and multiple sclerosis - that result from the loss of too many neuronal connections, which are known as synapses.



But according to an unknown model of the brain (see
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaussian_adapation#the-evolution-in-the%20b...)
an algorithm such as Gaussian adaptation may - according to its theory - simultaneously maximize the mean fitness and disorder (entropy, average information) of signal patterns, thus climbing a mental landscape efficiently obeying the Hebbian rule of associative learning. This disorder and average information may be of crucial importance to the success of the process.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Asian datacenter energy use to double by 2010

Energy use by datacenters in the Asia-Pacific is set to double from 2005 to 2010 as growth in the region's consumption outpaces the rest of the world's, said a study released Thursday.

The region excluding Japan will require electricity equal to output from two new 1,000-megawatt power plants by 2010 to run datacenters, which house computer systems, and telecommunications, storage and cooling systems, it said.

The report, released by US chip giant Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), detailed what it called shifting patterns in worldwide datacenter energy use in the United States, Western Europe, Japan, the Asia-Pacific and the rest of the world.

The US share of total world server electricity use from datacenters will likely decline from 40 percent in 2000 to about one-third by 2010, while the Asia-Pacific region will increase its share from 10 percent to about 16 percent over that period, the study said.

Electricity used by datacenters in the United States and Europe makes up about two-thirds of the world's total, with Japan, Asia-Pacific and the rest of the world each at between 10 and 15 percent.

From 2000 to 2005, the study found that electricity use by datacenters in the Asia-Pacific region grew at a 23 percent annual rate, outpacing a world average of 16 percent a year.

The report coincides with world climate talks in the Indonesian resort of Bali where more than 180 countries are discussing a framework for tackling global warming past 2012, when pledges under the Kyoto Protocol expire.

Growing use of electricity by datacenters and Internet-related systems has been a subject of concern in the expanding information-technology industry amid worries over global warming caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

"Coal provides 25 percent of global primary energy needs and generates 40 percent of the world's electricity," said AMD environmental strategist Larry Vertal in a statement.

"We must work harder than ever to not only deliver more efficient server and cooling technology, but also work with our industry and government partners in areas where we see the most dramatic increases in energy use," he said.

Why iproute2?

Most Linux distributions, and most UNIX's, currently use the venerable arp, ifconfig and route commands. While these tools work, they show some unexpected behaviour under Linux 2.2 and up. For example, GRE tunnels are an integral part of routing these days, but require completely different tools.

With iproute2, tunnels are an integral part of the tool set.

The 2.2 and above Linux kernels include a completely redesigned network subsystem. This new networking code brings Linux performance and a feature set with little competition in the general OS arena. In fact, the new routing, filtering, and classifying code is more featureful than the one provided by many dedicated routers and firewalls and traffic shaping products.

As new networking concepts have been invented, people have found ways to plaster them on top of the existing framework in existing OSes. This constant layering of cruft has lead to networking code that is filled with strange behaviour, much like most human languages. In the past, Linux emulated SunOS's handling of many of these things, which was not ideal.

This new framework makes it possible to clearly express features previously beyond Linux's reach.

http://lartc.org/howto/lartc.iproute2.html#LARTC.IPROUTE2.WHY

http://www.linux-foundation.org/en/Net:Iproute2

http://itsecureadmin.blogspot.com/2007/02/creating-virtual-ip-addresses-on-linux.html

Culture Speeds Up Human Evolution

Homo sapiens sapiens has spread across the globe and increased vastly in numbers over the past 50,000 years or so—from an estimated five million in 9000 B.C. to roughly 6.5 billion today. More people means more opportunity for mutations to creep into the basic human genome and new research confirms that in the past 10,000 years a host of changes to everything from digestion to bones has been taking place.

"We found very many human genes undergoing selection," says anthropologist Gregory Cochran of the University of Utah, a member of the team that analyzed the 3.9 million genes showing the most variation. "Most are very recent, so much so that the rate of human evolution over the past few thousand years is far greater than it has been over the past few million years."

"We believe that this can be explained by an increase in the strength of selection as people became agriculturalists—a major ecological change—and a vast increase in the number of favorable mutations as agriculture led to increased population size," he adds.

Roughly 10,000 years ago, humanity made the transition from living off the land to actively raising crops and domesticated animals. Because this concentrated populations, diseases such as malaria, smallpox and tuberculosis, among others, became more virulent. At the same time, the new agriculturally based diet offered its own challenges—including iron deficiency from lack of meat, cavities and, ultimately, shorter stature due to poor nutrition, says anthropologist John Hawks of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, another team member.

"Their bodies and teeth shrank. Their brains shrank, too," he adds. "But they started to get new alleles [alternative gene forms] that helped them digest the food more efficiently. New protective alleles allowed a fraction of people to survive the dread illnesses better."

Security, encryption: Bruce Schneier Blazes Through Your Questions

http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/12/04/bruce-schneier-blazes-through-your-questions/

http://www.schneier.com/essay-092.html

http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2007/09/home_users_a_pu.html

http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2006/03/data_mining_for.html

http://www.schneier.com/book-beyondfear.html

http://www.amazon.com/Applied-Cryptography-Protocols-Algorithms-Source/dp/0471117099

http://www.amazon.com/Secrets-Lies-Digital-Security-Networked/dp/0471253111

http://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Fear-Bruce-Schneier/dp/0387026207

The Impending Destruction of the U.S. Economy: Part 2

To recap, here's our problem: Americans spend much, much more than they probably should and rely heavily on debt to fund their purchases. A huge amount of this debt is funded by foreign investors who enjoy the relative stability of American markets. As a result, we have an enormous account deficit -- nearly $800 billion per year.

With this massive account deficit comes a weakening dollar. With a weakening dollar, foreign investors will begin to demand higher interest rates to make their investment in the American economy worth their while. Sounds easy enough! But we have that pesky problem of our current real estate and credit disruptions that could place our economy in a tailspin and, hence, require lower interest rates to bail us out. Who is going to win this battle?

Less Tax, More Growth

According to ALEC, favorable tax rates -- both corporate and personal -- are sucking business out of the traditional Nor'easter economic powerhouses and into the South and Midwest, write the authors. That's bad news for Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania, but great tidings to governors in Arizona, Texas, and Utah.

My own Florida owns the fastest-growing population in the Union, thanks to no income tax and a retirement-friendly climate. We don't score very well in per-capita income metrics, but growth and a very high employment rate count for a lot.

California is suffering from the same kind of overtaxation issues that drive companies out of the Northeast. "California and New York share little in common, other than their movement in a pro-government intervention direction in recent years," reads the report. "They both stand out as flashing billboards for what states should not do if they want to gain income and wealth." (Emphasis in the original.)

Monday, December 10, 2007

Re: One Laptop Per Child Doesn't Change the World

I pretty much disagree with your view:

If you look at OLPC as an attempt to save the world, then of course, it won't. But if you see it as an innovative way to approach a number of educational deficiencies in a lot of developing nations, helping educated children learn and use computers and the internet, then I think it is very good.

I live and work in a developing nation that has millions of hungry children, but has millions more who eat enough and go to school regularly, but their families cannot even begin to consider purchasing a computer. There are others who are able to save up enough money to buy a 5 year old, "thrown away" desktop computer from Europe or the US for $100 which is guaranteed to work in the shop, but may break in 1 day. These used computers can be fine computers, but can also be expensive paperweights for a family that makes less than $100 per month (family may mean multiple married brothers and their children living in the same compound). These computers also use a lot of expensive electricity which may not work everyday.

I really don't know about the motives and real desires of all involved in OLPC project, but I do know that it is can meet a felt need in many places like where I live in South Asia. With it's power saving features, unique interaction with wireless networks, and low costs (among other things), it has the potential to be a very big advantage to the educated, but non-malnutritioned, children.

I have watched government and international money for food fall right into a black hole with no long term advantage (or often without any short-term value). So if you think giving money that could be diverted from a missile is a solution, then you haven't worked in the developing world. At least with OLPC, there is a physical asset that will be of value for several years, even if it doesn't meet it desired goal.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Earth: The parched planet

But for all its virtues, Chowdhury's 2-hectare farm is sowing the seeds of a global disaster. To grow the fodder that he needs to feed his cows, he is entirely dependent on irrigation water pumped from deep underground. Over the course of a year, his small electric pump sucks twice as much water from beneath his fields as falls on the land as rain. No wonder the water table in the village is 150 metres down and falling by 6 metres a year.

What is less well known is that the success of this "green revolution" was built on a massive investment in irrigation systems. Today the world grows twice as much food as it did a generation ago, but it uses three times as much water to grow it. Two-thirds of all the water abstracted from the environment goes to irrigate crops.
This use of water is massively unsustainable, and has led many people to conclude that the apocalypse wasn't averted, only postponed.

The starkest example is India. Over the past decade, the country has seen an extraordinary "barefoot" hydrological revolution. Farmers have hired drilling rigs and bought electric pumps to mine water that has sat undisturbed beneath their fields for millennia. Today, more than 21 million Indian farmers tap underground reserves to water their fields, and two-thirds of India's crops are irrigated with underground water.

The juggernaut is still accelerating. There are a million more pumps every year. We are only just beginning to see the consequences." Shah estimates that at least a quarter of Indian farmers are mining underground water that nature will not replace, and that up to 200 million people face a waterless, foodless future.

The groundwater boom is turning to bust and, for some, the green revolution is over. Fifty years ago in northern Gujarat, bullocks driving leather buckets lifted water from open wells dug to about 10 metres. Now tube wells are sunk to 400 metres, and they still run dry. Half the traditional hand-dug wells and millions of tube wells have dried up across western India. In the southern state of Tamil Nadu, two-thirds of the hand-dug wells have failed already, and only half as much land is irrigated as a decade ago. Whole districts in Tamil Nadu and Gujarat are emptying of people. Suicides among farmers are rife. Many more are joining the millions migrating to urban slums or joining the gangs of construction workers and labourers travelling the roads of India.

His electric pump brings up 12 cubic metres of water an hour. When he needs to irrigate his fields, which he does 24 times a year, it takes 64 hours to pump up all the water he needs. That adds up to 18,000 cubic metres of water a year to grow the fodder to produce just over 9000 litres of milk. That's 2000 litres of water for every litre of milk. According to Shah that is better than the local average.

In the backwoods of Gujarat, I met Haradevsinh Hadeja, a retired Indian police officer who has transformed his home village of Rajsamadhiya by doing just that. He has turned a near-desert landscape of desiccated fields and empty wells into a verdant scene of trees, ponds, full wells and abundant crops. Most of the other villages in the area rely on government water tankers to provide drinking water for much of the year. They have little left to irrigate their crops. That's not the case in Rajsamadhiya. "We haven't had a water tanker come to the village for more than 10 years. We don't need them," Hadeja says.



PayPal Says Linux Grid Can Replace Mainframes

"I came from Visa, where I had responsibility for VisaNet. It was a fabulous processing system, very big and very global. I was intrigued by PayPal. How would you use Linux for processing payments and never be wrong, never lose messages, never fall behind the pace of transactions," he recalled in an interview.

He now supervises the PayPal electronic payment processing system, which is smaller than VisaNet in volume and total dollar value of transactions. But it's growing fast. It is currently processing $1,571 worth of transactions per second in 17 different currencies. In 2006, the online payments firm, which started out over a bakery in Palo Alto, processed a total of $37.6 billion in transactions. It's headed toward $50 billion this year.

Now located in San Jose, PayPal grants its consumer members options in payment methods: credit cards, debit cards, or directly from a bank account. It has 165 million account holders worldwide, and has recently added such business as Northwest Airlines, Southwest Airlines, U.S. Airways, and Overstock.com, which now permit PayPal payments on their Web sites.

Thompson supervises a payment system that operates on about 4,000 servers running Red Hat Linux in the same manner that eBay and Google conduct their business on top of a grid of Linux servers. "I have been pleasantly surprised at how much we've been able to do with this approach. It operates like a mainframe," he said.

As PayPal grows it's much easier to grow the grid with Intel (NSDQ: INTC)-based servers than it would be to upgrade a mainframe, he said. In a mainframe environment, the cost to increase capacity a planned 15% or 20% "is enormous. It could be in the tens of millions to do a step increase. In [PayPal's] world, we add hundreds of servers in the course of a couple of nights and the cost is in the thousands, not millions," he said.

Hot Image Your PC's Hard Drive with DriveImage XML

You don't need a complicated boot CD or expensive software to create a restorable system disk image for your PC: free utility DriveImage XML can save a full, working snapshot of your Windows hard drive while you work on it. (That's hot.) When your PC crashes and burns or just slows down over time, the best insurance you can have is a mirror image of your operating system, complete with drivers, user settings, software applications, and documents in one place. A while back we covered how to partition and image your Windows hard drive using the Linux-based System Recovery Boot CD, a process that involves command line work, disk-burning, rebooting, and video driver wrangling. With DiskImage XML, imaging your PC's hard drive is a matter of a few clicks, no reboots required. Let's check it out.

http://www.freewaregenius.com/

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Can Greed Save Africa?

Agriculture isn't sub-Saharan Africa's only investment draw. Microlending—the making of small, unsecured loans to ordinary people—is bringing in big profits for a raft of publicly traded companies all across the continent. Blue Financial is among a new breed of so-called salary-microlenders, which make loans only to formally employed borrowers and take payments directly from their paychecks. The set-up helps Blue manage its risks: Bad loans are only in the 3%-to-4% range, remarkably low in a part of the world where fewer than one in five people has a bank accoun

Genentech's Gamble

For a time, his maverick approach produced an impressive winning streak. Soon after he took over as CEO, he briefly amped up Genentech's research spending to 50% of the company's sales—more than twice what most drug companies spend on R&D. The resulting stream of hit drugs pushed Genentech's sales up from $1 billion to $9 billion since 1999, and the company swung from a $1 billion loss that year to profits of $2 billion in 2006. Genentech's market cap soared past $75 billion, surpassing the valuations of Amgen (AMGN), Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY), and Schering-Plough (SGP).


To prove it, Levinson is taking on one of the most treacherous areas of medicine. He's targeting diseases that arise when the immune system becomes deranged, attacking the very tissues and organs it's supposed to protect. These so-called auto­immune diseases include multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and more than 80 other ailments for which there are few effective or lasting treatments. Together, they afflict some 23.5 million Americans and are so disruptive for victims that they cost the U.S. health-care system $100 billion a year—nearly double the economic burden of cancer.


Levinson himself is still in the thick of scientific decision-making. When newly hired researchers defend their early-stage research in meetings, he often drops in to pepper them with questions. It's rare for pharmaceutical CEOs to get so deeply involved in research that isn't anywhere close to yielding marketable products, Scheller says. Adds Vishva Dixit, vice-president for discovery research, "He'll send us e-mails at 2 a.m. about some journal article, and he'll say: 'Have you read this paper? Look at figure 5, panel E.' He's the CEO, and he's sitting at night, pondering science. That's an awfully powerful message to the rank and file."

Chimps Beat Humans, But How?

The performance of these chimpanzees is very impressive. It highlights another cognitive capacity that these animals exhibit and supports the idea of their high intelligence. Studies such as this one are useful for demonstrating similarities and differences in human and nonhuman animal abilities through direct comparison.

I do wonder whether this advantage of chimpanzees over humans really is less about retention and recollection of information in working memory and more the result of differences in processing speed of stimuli. These things are related, of course, but there is evidence that some nonhuman primates enjoy an advantage over humans in terms of their processing speed of certain kinds of stimuli and their speed in responding. In this paper, human performance suffered in comparison to one young chimpanzee in exactly the condition where the presentation of the numbers was so short that humans may not have been able to process all of them. This suggests that the chimpanzee processed the numbers faster than the humans did. If true, we need
to understand what the benefits and costs are for such fast processing (and why processing speed may change across the lifespan, as the older chimpanzee did not perform as well as either the young chimpanzee or the humans). Understanding how humans might have benefited from the substitution of other cognitive skills in place of pure processing speed may highlight an important component in the evolution of human cognition.

I also wonder about the effects of experience. The chimpanzees were highly experienced with the task (one might even claim that they reached a level of expertise in terms of their training), and I suspect humans who had an equal amount of practice might improve their performance. Extensive practice or experience often changes perceptual and cognitive abilities (think of the musician who can detect the slightest note out of tune where the non-musician cannot), and this can happen in situations requiring rapid processing of stimuli (as with the chess master who surveys a board only briefly and knows instantly who has the upper hand).

So, it remains to be seen whether this is really an advantage of chimpanzee memory over human memory or the result of some other effect such as amount of practice or speed of processing (or perhaps it is some combination of all of these). It may be that chimpanzees do have a true memory advantage, and the researchers have suggested an interesting and viable hypothesis for why this might be the case. Questions remain, but they certainly do not diminish the impressive performance shown by these chimpanzees or the importance of these data for our understanding of the evolution of cognition.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Job Board Statistics vs. Hard Data

This morning I was getting caught up on my reading over at fellow blogger Justin Thorp’s site and noticed that a couple of days ago he wrote about how for many popular sites like Facebook, ‘The Number of Active Users Is Different Than The Number of Accounts Created’. It reminded me of a thought that I’ve been having about the job board and blog statistics that I’ve been tracking lately. A thought that I just can’t get out of my head when the job board reps call me to ask me to spend $5-12k for access to their resume databases.

My thought has been centered around the numbers game that is used to sell companies on job boards. It is usually either ‘we have the most users so use us’ (Monster), ‘we are partnered with the most papers’ (Careerbuilder), or ‘our users are only here and not there’ (Jobfox).

The Taxman Barely Cometh

The biggest tax-avoidance strategy targeted by Rangel is what might be called cross-border tax arbitrage—taking advantage of the difference between higher U.S. rates and lower rates abroad. Companies can do this because they do not have to pay taxes on earnings from their overseas operations until the income from those operations is brought back into this country. One of the big beneficiaries of this rule is semiconductor manufacturer Broadcom, which calls Irvine, Calif., home but makes most of its goods in low-tax countries such as Singapore. It then ships them directly to overseas customers.


Corporate Taxes: Who Pays the Least
http://bwnt.businessweek.com/interactive_reports/corporate_taxes

Congress is currently considering lowering the 35% federal tax rate. But a lot of companies don't need help from Washington, they've been finding legal ways to shrink their tax bill for years. We asked the analysts at Capital IQ (a division of Standard & Poor's) to cull the cash taxes (ie. actual checks) that the companies of the S&P 500 paid to the tax collector over the past five years and then look at how that compares to their earnings before income taxes. Here's a list of the 100 companies that sent in the smallest checks





FairTax.org - Freedom. Fairness. Savings.

What is the FairTax plan?

The FairTax plan is a comprehensive proposal that replaces all federal income and payroll based taxes with an integrated approach including a progressive national retail sales tax, a prebate to ensure no American pays federal taxes on spending up to the poverty level, dollar-for-dollar federal revenue neutrality, and, through companion legislation, the repeal of the 16th Amendment.

The FairTax Act (HR 25, S 1025) is nonpartisan legislation. It abolishes all federal personal and corporate income taxes, gift, estate, capital gains, alternative minimum, Social Security, Medicare, and self-employment taxes and replaces them with one simple, visible, federal retail sales tax administered primarily by existing state sales tax authorities.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

We live in a youth-oriented society

In 2006, Americans had 11 million cosmetic surgical and noninvasive procedures, a 48% increase from 2000, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Unsurprisingly, Botox injections skyrocketed by 420% during that time, while breast augmentations and hyaluronic acid injectables, like the lip plumper Restylane, grew by only 55% and 59%, respectively.

"We live in a youth-oriented society," he says, "and a very large number of my patients come in and say, 'I sell homes, and I can't compete with a woman in her 30s. I need to look young enough.' I've had a lot of salesmen who say they've been told they look angry or tired, so they get a brow lift."


Recruiting candidates from college: Thoughts on What is the best interview process / approach?

Most IT companies visiting college campuses [in India, at least] go armed with predefined question papers containing lots of “analytical” questions [puzzles, lateral thinking stuff, geometry riders, etc.] - the assumption being that anyone good enough to solve a certain number of these questions within a short time-frame should be good enough to write code [after training, of course].

Now, what we asked ourselves was… is the assumption true?

How To Debug Web Applications With Firefox

Debugging is one of the most painful parts of developing web apps. You have to deal with browser inconsistencies with HTML, CSS and javascript, let alone the difficulty of debugging javascript itself.

Here’s a rundown of the Firefox extensions I use to manage this madness.