Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Library to Last Forever

.. the vast majority of books ever written are not accessible to anyone except the most tenacious researchers at premier academic libraries. Books written after 1923 quickly disappear into a literary black hole. With rare exceptions, one can buy them only for the small number of years they are in print. After that, they are found only in a vanishing number of libraries and used book stores. As the years pass, contracts get lost and forgotten, authors and publishers disappear, the rights holders become impossible to track down.

Inevitably, the few remaining copies of the books are left to deteriorate slowly or are lost to fires, floods and other disasters. While I was at Stanford in 1998, floods damaged or destroyed tens of thousands of books. Unfortunately, such events are not uncommon — a similar flood happened at Stanford just 20 years prior. You could read about it in The Stanford-Lockheed Meyer Library Flood Report, published in 1980, but this book itself is no longer available.

Op-Ed Contributor - A Library to Last Forever -
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The Uber Nutrient Worth “Hundreds of Billions”

D is not just another nutrient. Putting it simplistically, it is the über-nutrient that affects the way all other nutrients, not just calcium, are utilized. Virtually every cell in the body has a D receptor, even those in the brain. Until recently, however, few asked why. This is a particularly interesting question because there is very little vitamin D actually available in food. Most of our nutritional D, in fact, is added. Historically, the primary source of D, not only for humans, but for many other animals, has been sunshine. We convert the energy found in ultraviolet B in our skin to vitamin D. Obviously, there is something critically important about D if our prehistoric ancestors could manufacture it even during times of famine.

Now we see a compendium of solid peer-reviewed research indicating that many of our most troublesome and expensive diseases are symptoms of vitamin D deficiency. Rickets, apparently, was only the tip of the iceberg. Other diseases on the list of conditions caused or exacerbated by D deficiency include cancers, diabetes, susceptibility to bacterial and viral infections, autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, heart disease, stroke, osteomalacia or age-related bone mass thinning, osteoporosis, depression and even food allergies. Obesity, in fact, is highly correlated with vitamin D deficiency. In many of these conditions, risk factors drop within months, and by as much as 80%.

The Uber Nutrient Worth “Hundreds of Billions”
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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Improbable Rise and Fall of E-Gold

So in early 1996, Jackson began programming a back-end system for a new electronic currency, practicing medicine by day, and coding by night.

He hired a software engineer to create the user interface, and four months later launched E-Gold.

As Jackson envisioned it, E-Gold was a private, international currency that would circulate independent of government controls, and stand impervious to the market’s highs and lows. Brimming with evangelical enthusiasm, Jackson proclaimed it a cure for the modern monetary system’s ills and described it at one point as “an epochal change in human destiny” and “probably the greatest benefit to humanity that’s ever been thought of.”

Timberlake, the economics professor, is convinced that Jackson’s radical dream, his goal of upsetting the economic status quo and overturning the government’s monopoly on money, is what really got E-Gold targeted.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Should Yale support biotech lobbyists?

I understand the hopes, shared alike by local universities and municipalities, that biotech will reenergize Connecticut’s sagging industry and employment landscape. The actual realization of a wealthy, well-educated workforce and lucrative industry may someday redeem the subsidies and other favors made to incentivize the growth of local biotech shops and drug manufacturers in CT.

Reasonable people disagree about the benefits society will reap from lengthy monopolies on biological drugs–for periods of a decade or more.  For instance, is it true that a certain, dozen-year period of drug exclusivity is required for firms to recoup their research?  After all, manufacturers of generic biological drugs will, in all likelihood, confront the same bevy of expensive safety and efficacy testing as the original producer.  In some cases, the sheer cost of reproducing the process for making a biologic treatment may make these inventions immune to the kind of generic versions that can be made of simpler, small-molecule based drugs (mainstream antibiotics and antidepressants, for instance).

In addition, the monopoly provided by government-guaranteed data exclusivity has nothing to do with the already decades-long patent protections that cover the inventions packaged into drugs.

Considering the enormous price that our society will likely pay for high-tech drugs in the coming decades, we should at least understand what kind of deal we’re getting with drug manufacturers as we negotiate the monopolies they’ll receive on the next generation of life-saving treatments.  It is in the interest of the university community, not to mention the Connecticut taxpayer, to keep industry lobbyists like CURE at arms length, at the very least, so that meaningful, two-sided debate can occur on the enormous issues of drug cost and healthcare reform.

Should Yale support biotech lobbyists? |
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SAT and GRE testing

The workaround for this problem is to tailor the test to the examinee, real-time, with computer-adaptive testing. So let's say you get an item with a difficulty estimate of 1 correct; now the computer will hit you with one at 1.2, for example, and keep ramping up until you kind of level off at getting 50/50 right, which is where it decides you belong. Once it has you figured out, it either just throws easy ones at you so you feel good about yourself, or starts serving up items still undergoing pilot testing. Either way, what you do after that point will not affect your score.

This sounds great, and it would be great, if it worked reliably. The problem is that the thing has to kick in somewhere at the beginning of the test, and define a broad range that you belong in, and then a narrower range, and then a narrower range, etc. What this basically does is unfairly "weight" the first few items of the test, because they are the ones that will determine what large band of scores you will be eligible for. Once the machine has pegged you at the lower half, say, there is no way for you to break out of that, because it's never going to give you those harder questions. If that's not where you belong, you won't be able to demonstrate that, and you'll just get the top score of that band. So if you start the thing out and you're nervous and you just make a dumb mistake, that mistake can really cost you--much more than it would later in the test. All these models are probabilistic, so guessing and just making dumb mistakes are accounted for. But the moment you go adaptive, the beauty of the model is trashed at the beginning and doesn't come into effect until later.

Many of the tests which moved to computer-adaptive methods have gone back to just serving a range of items, but one, the GRE, is still adaptive, even though ETS (the company that makes it and the SAT and the TOEFL) knows it doesn't work reliably (people taking the test over and over can get very different scores). Evidently there are financial/political reasons they can't get rid of it (rumor).

Slashdot Comments | MIT Axes the 500-Word Application Essay
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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

I can pay you back with penny stamps

Dear Daddy

This is just a very secret letter between you and I. I really do not like asking you, but do you think you could afford to send me some money, what ever you can afford. I want to buy Mummy something for Xmas, but as we only get (?) a week pocket money I'm afraid I spend mine. I try hard to keep some, but somehow it goes. If you can Daddy, I will keep sending you penny stamps to pay you back young man, then you can use them can't you. We are very disappointing you will not be home for Xmas but we will still hang a stockingup for you. Father Xmas might leave you something if you are good.

Please do not tell Mummie I have written, else she will be annoyed at me asking you for money, she is in town at this moment.So I will post this straight away. If you can't send it don't worry.

Lots of Love + Kisses old-pop xxxxYour Ann.

Letters of Note: I can pay you back with penny stamps
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