Four days ago I stopped getting mail from my academic mail account on my iPhone and Mac Mail. I was in a bit of a crunch so didn’t really pay attention since I still got some mail on my business and non-profit accounts in a unified Inbox. Imagine my surprise Monday when I realized I hadn’t received new and important e-mail since Thursday!
Apparently Gmail engineers fixed some bugs in the last month or two and when those changes propogated to my account, it changed the behavior of certain filters that were not, er, perfectly well defined. If you had filter (such as before:2011/01/01) to cause all messages before a certain date to skip the Inbox (which is useful when migrating from old accounts), then this may have happened to you. The Gmail Inbox feeds through Imap to the iPhone and Mac Mail clients, so they would no longer see new mail. The mail is still there, just under “All Mail” instead. Fix the filters, and life goes back to normal.
The Higgs Boson has finally made an appearance on stage at the LHC (large hadron collider)! Looks like the fireworks are in Europe this 4th of July. The last element of the standard model has been empirically confirmed leaving us with 12 constituent particles, 4 forces, and the Higgs boson for mass (not shown) to predict most of what we see in the observable universe.
Back in 1995 I had the good fortune to be sitting in the class of astrophysicist Alan Guth (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Guth), co-inventor of Inflationary model of the Big Bang which explained the uniformity of the cosmic background radiation discovered by physicists Penzias (now at NEA!) and Wilson. Continue reading “Debut of the Higgs” →
A colleague recently emailed an argument that higher level computing providers like Heroku are doomed due to the “Fundamental Law of Another Mouth to Feed” where the margin requirements of the services these providers are reselling means they will eventually lose to someone without that margin in their supply chain. As with any asymptotic complexity argument, this is sound theoretical thinking, except it ignores the significance of constants in the equation. Following is a slightly cleaned up version of my response.
The Fog of War is invoked to describe the uncertainty that permeates combat operations. This term is generally attributed to a quote by Clausewitz: “The great uncertainty of all data in war is a peculiar difficulty, because all action must, to a certain extent, be planned in a mere twilight, which in addition not infrequently — like the effect of a fog or moonshine — gives to things exaggerated dimensions and unnatural appearance.” (via wikipedia).
The evolution of an innovation or innovative company faces a similar fog. At any point in time, we extrapolate from current conditions a set of possible future outcomes and take action to try to bring the best outcome into being. In one view, we should make economically rational decisions, those that maximize our expected return over the outcomes weighted by their likelihood.
However, Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s “The Black Swan” argues convincingly us that the seeds of disruption and destruction lie in events that exist outside all reasonable extrapolations of a current state of affairs. The occurrence of a highly improbable event is, in fact, inevitable.
Since we can’t know anything for sure, innovators have to operate at a completely different level than analysts. It’s a chess game where the rules can change mid-play forcing a complete re-evaluation of strategy. For example, the iPhone was a Black Swan to the cellular industry, as this analyst’s perspective shows. This dynamnic is why you should ignore Forrester and other analysts – they tell you what the world will be like if nothing surprising happens, but surprising things always happen.
Continue reading “The Fog of Innovation” →
The family doctor or nurse’s job is an impossible one. Given our imperfect description of symptoms, and possibly a blood test, they have to figure out what intervention will help us return to a stable, healthy life. The problem is that human beings are probably the most complicated system that we can imagine to try to regulate. Our environment, psychology, and life habits interact deeply with dozens of major internal organs and body systems which manifest tens of thousands of possible known problems. We know a great deal about the components of our body, but what we do know is dwarfed by what we don’t know about how these components interact with one another. After a brief digression into what makes medicine a hard problem, I’ll introduce some ideas for what we, as patient participants, can do to improve the problem solving process, our own care, and healthcare at large.
A recent TEDMED talk by Albert-László Barabási highlights the rich system of interconnected networks the exist both within and outside our body; networks are a way of viewing the world that we are only beginning to understand. The functioning of our body is not independent from our mind and environment. The bugs in the soil communicate with the symbiotic bacteria that enable us to digest food, the micro-RNA of the plants we eat may directly change our gene expression, the inactive ingredients in breast milk line a baby’s intestines and protect it from external pathogens until the immune system has matured, and our expectation of a treatment’s effect can physically transform how our bodies function (the so-called placebo effect).
Continue reading “Physician Replacement Therapy” →
Recently I’ve been observing via RescueTime that I spend 3 hours or more hours in my e-mail application most days. However, I don’t have a good breakdown of how much of this is scheduling, looking up information, commenting on something substantive or social discourse. There is a tremendous amount of information locked up in the time-series of e-mail’s sent and received that can provide insight into aspects of my behavior such as focus of attention (time of day e-mail is sent), social relationships (what organizations I interact with in a given week), the density of idea generation, etc. E-mail logs contains a wealth of raw data that can be instrumented to uncover important information about our life.
Our E-mail logs are also rich archive of useful information such as phone numbers, addresses, what we said to someone, when we said something to someone, edits to papers, attachments, etc. With a proper set of tools, many of which have been built for analyzing social media, we can turn this archive into a database of useful information that can significantly enhance e-mail-based instrumentation.
Continue reading “What can we learn from our E-Mail logs?” →
AcademyHealth announced the winners of their REACH Challenge contest including my own project, Aggregated Self-Experiments. The project was a collaboration between the MIT Media Lab, Lybba, and the C3N Project of the Cincinnati Childrens Hospital and Medical Center. The project submission was a demonstration of a web-based platform for authoring, execution, sharing, and aggregation of self-experiments.
This platform will be opened up to the public later this month and used to field test the ideas I’ve been writing about this last year, but you can pre-register today. Further, a research study I’m running on the site for people with chronic diseases (initially focused on psoriasis) will be opened for recruitment in the next few days. Pre-registration for the study is also available.
A discussion I had earlier today reminded me of an argument I’ve had with friends in the scientific community on multiple occasions. The argument revolves around the belief that conclusions of science, such as the effect of cholesterol on heart disease, suggests specific interventions, such as reducing the dietary fat that we believe causes high cholesterol. In essence, we debate the means by which new scientific evidence should be used to influence public policy and private behavior. Taking strong evidence of a specific causal link between a cause and an undesireable outcome as prescription for a population intervention to remove the causative factor is fraught with danger. There are many reasons for this, but the two most salient are confounding and the law of intendended consequences.
Continue reading “The Law of Unintended Consequences in Health Policy” →
My github fork of the Clojure library for HBase, clojure-hbase is now deprecated. I’ve extracted the functionality from David Santiago’s original library (with permission) along with a duplicate of his admin functions to create a parallel repository with the schema-oriented API I developed.
The new repository is owned by Compass Labs and can be found here. The library can also be referenced via Maven / Leiningen: