Skip to content


An interesting paper about compassion and action

Ethan Zuckerman's blog is more like a magazine of insightful, well written papers. I liked From compassion to action, from action to knowledge. Here's a key bit:

"If the inability to act makes us bored, cynical and apathetic, is it possible that doing something – even something that’s ultimately ineffective – could keep us engaged and compassionate? If so, is there an interplay between action and information-gathering that could turn a story into a movement that builds public will?" (from From compassion to action, from action to knowledge)

Another real-world ‘Diving Bell and the Butterfly’ story

Did you read the book "The Diving Bell and The Butterfly"? Or see the movie? It's quite an amazing story of a man with so-called "Locked-In Syndrome". It's an absolutely riveting story. Here's a new account of a similar story that occurred in Brussels. From the article:

'A breakthrough came when he was able to indicate yes or no by slightly moving his foot to push a computer device placed there by Laureys' team. Then came the spelling of words using his finger and a touch-screen attached to his wheelchair.

"You have to imagine yourself lying in bed wanting to speak and move but unable to do so — while in your head you are OK," Vanhaudenhuyse said. "It was extremely difficult for him and he showed a lot of anger, which is normal since he was very frustrated," she said.' (from "Son In Coma Heard Everything for 23 Years")

Waste, Fraud and Abuse: does that turn you off to health reform?

An article from Canadian Healthcare Technology notes that US Healthcare wastes up to $800 billion a year. I don't disbelieve this article but it doesn't make me not want to start with healthreform now that it seems possible that it might happen this year, warts and all. One might even say that that it shows how from the perspective of the Canadian health system, the US system 'has problems.'

The Massachusetts experience as covered in the press here is that the majority of the public like it; that it was consciously designed originally to try to tackle universal coverage and get to cost containment in future revs; oddly enough I have also heard some say that ER use has not gone down and some say because there are not enough doctors (or GP doctors or something.)

Here are some other articles that I thought were interesting:

Screening Debate Reveals Culture Clash in Medicine
The Wrong Side of History

On the importance of confidence in voting systems

I was following a series of articles about the Brazilian e-voting system, which apparently underwent a white-hat hack test and survived. It started with this Slashdot article, "Hackers Fail to Crack Brazillian Voting Machines" Problem is that the original article is in Portugese (although remarkably well translated by Google Translation) and is a general news article, without technical specifics.

This took me to this Slashdot article about how elections in Brazil are running on Linux boxes. Interesting, and essentially what we at the OSDV are embarking on. But I was still not satisfied because I was not familiar with the source of the stories and wasn't sure how much to believe everything I was reading. There was also a link to an interesting wikipedia article about Elections in Brazil.

Finally I wound myself to an article from the BBC, originally written in English, which talks about the Brazilian E-Voting system. The article is from last year and is more of an overview of the Brazilian system and does not talk about the white-hat test.

The final quote was, I felt, the most significant in a way:

"" The main value of the system is that our society believes in it," he said" (from How Brazil has put an 'e' in vote)

This quote, from a Mr. Rocha, the engineer who created the first electronic ballot boxes in Brazil, is especially significant to me, because it expresses what I believe too, which is, no matter how good or perfect voting systems are, cryptographically, scientifically or technically, in the end, nothing will work if there 's not a general feeling of confidence and trust in it.

An analogy: I drive across a bridge, not because I believe that the engineer that designed it is infallible (don't have time to think about that) or that in fact, it can never fail (there might be an earthquake at just that instant) but, just because, at the core, I have confidence and trust in the system that put that bridge there.

Which is why one needs to be careful about systematically sowing distrust and fear about elections based on exotic technical arguments. Just a personal opinion.

Check out Targeted Copyright Enforcement: Deterring Many Users with a Few Lawsuits(from Freedom to Tinker:

"One reason the record industry's strategy of suing online infringers ran into trouble is that there are too many infringers to sue. If the industry can only sue a tiny fraction of infringers, then any individual infringer will know that he is very unlikely to be sued, and deterrence will fail." (from:Targeted Copyright Enforcement: Deterring Many Users with a Few Lawsuits)

The post links to an article which explains a 'scheme' to still be able to deter infringers: basically, the enforcer tells the world that they will sue the infringers alphabetically. In other words, the one whose name (or other ID) starts with an "a" will get sued first.

Well this is supposed to deter the "Ables" and "Andersons" and so on, which now will put the "Bakers" and "Bozos" at risk, and so on.

Sounds kind of like the hangman's dillemma.

Do you think it would work?

Follow-up up Wall Street Journal about Super Freakonomics Dustup

I wrote the other day about the 'amusing' dust-up between the RealClimate blog and Levitt and Dubner, authors of Super Freakonomics.

Well today I see in the Wall Street Journal, a defense of Levitt and Dubner, but it's an odd one. It actually supplies no facts (unlike the article I sited) just a criticism of 'pro-climate-change' (forgive the generalization) people not being open to new ideas:

"But perhaps their biggest sin, which is also the central point of the chapter, is pointing out that seemingly insurmountable problems often have cheap and simple solutions. Hence world hunger was largely conquered not by a massive effort at population control, but by the development of new and sturdier strains of wheat and rice. Hence infection and mortality rates in hospitals declined dramatically as doctors began to appreciate the need to wash their hands" (from the Wall Street Journal)

Other than being amused by the tone of "An Open Letter To Steve Levitt", the original cat fight paper that I cited (note that if Steven Levitt was a woman I would probably be accused of sexism by calling it a cat fight) in my previous post, that article itself had a bit of fishyness to me.

My eyes rolled a little when the RealClimate article used a google search for 'world electricity consumption' as the starting point of a highly quantitative argument (Google's answer, via, is 16.83 Trillion KWh / year, in 2005). Wolfram Alpha says it's 15.45 Trillion KWh, in 2007) Pretty close, so probably that's ok.

Technorati Tags: realclimate, wsj, globalwarming