Sunday, May 26, 2013

The S.S. United States: Built to Last

I've been blogging about a documentary about the ship, made by an organization that's trying to save it from the scrap heap. Today's installment is Chapter 3:

CHAPTER 3: BUILT TO LAST. The SS United States is America's Flagship — a perfect marriage of design and engineering all wrapped in one amazing sea-going symbol of post-war America. Built in 1952, she handily beat the transatlantic speed record on her maiden voyage. No ocean liner has ever broken this record. Now, this amazing ship needs our help. Save America's Flagship from being lost forever at

Chapter 3 of 5 — Click here to view Chapter 4:

This chapter is possibly my favorite. Previous chapters that I blogged about are here and here.

Fire Ants better than Crazy ones

What's worse than fire ants? Crazy ants:

Invasive Crazy Ants Are Displacing Fire Ants, Researchers Find
[...] “When you talk to folks who live in the invaded areas, they tell you they want their fire ants back,” said LeBrun. “Fire ants are in many ways very polite. They live in your yard. They form mounds and stay there, and they only interact with you if you step on their mound.”

LeBrun said that crazy ants, by contrast, “go everywhere.” They invade people’s homes, nest in crawl spaces and walls, become incredibly abundant and damage electrical equipment.

The crazy ants were first discovered in the U.S. in 2002 by a pest control operator in a suburb of Houston, and have since established populations in 21 counties in Texas, 20 counties in Florida, and a few sites in southern Mississippi and southern Louisiana.

In 2012 the species was formally identified as Nylanderia fulva, which is native to northern Argentina and southern Brazil. Frequently referred to as Rasberry crazy ants, these ants recently have been given the official common name “Tawny crazy ants.”

The Tawny crazy ant invasion is the most recent in a series of ant invasions from South America brought on by human movement. The Argentine ant invaded through the port of New Orleans in about 1891. In 1918 the black imported fire ant showed up in Mobile, Ala. Then in the 1930s, the red imported fire ant arrived in the U.S. and began displacing the black fire ant and the Argentine ants.

The UT researchers studied two crazy ant invasion sites on the Texas Gulf Coast and found that in those areas where the Tawny crazy ant population is densest, fire ants were eliminated. Even in regions where the crazy ant population is less dense, fire ant populations were drastically reduced. Other ant species, particularly native species, were also eliminated or diminished.

LeBrun said crazy ants are much harder to control than fire ants. They don’t consume most of the poison baits that kill fire ant mounds, and they don’t have the same kinds of colony boundaries that fire ants do. That means that even if they’re killed in a certain area, the supercolony survives and can swarm back over the area.

“They don’t sting like fire ants do, but aside from that they are much bigger pests,” he said. “There are videos on YouTube of people sweeping out dustpans full of these ants from their bathroom. You have to call pest control operators every three or four months just to keep the infestation under control. It’s very expensive.”

LeBrun said that in northern Argentina and southern Brazil, where the ants are native, populations are likely held in check by other ant species and a variety of natural enemies. In the U.S. there is no such natural control.

Here the crazy ants can attain densities up to 100 times as great as all other ants in the area combined. In the process, they monopolize food sources and starve out other species. LeBrun said the crazy ants, which are omnivorous, may also directly attack and kill other ant and arthropod species.

The overall result is a significant reduction in abundance and biodiversity at the base of the food chain, which is likely to have implications for the ecosystem as a whole. [...]
Yikes. What can be done? The rest of the article talks about ways of slowing the spread of crazy ants, to buy time to find and answer about what to do about them in the long run. See the article for pics and embedded links.


Can Windows 8 be "fixed"?

We may find out next month:

Windows 8: 5 Hopeful Signs
[...] Windows 8's consumer appeal is about to get a major upgrade.

An important note: this prediction presupposes that the OS's usability issues are addressed in Windows 8.1, a free update, formerly known as Windows Blue, expected to be revealed in June.

There's been some doublespeak from Microsoft on the usability point. Redmond executives have claimed that customer feedback informed Blue's development -- but they've also defended Win8's Live Tile start screen, which has been a significant driver of user criticism. There's a fine line between upholding one's convictions and alienating one's fans. Win 8.1 looks like it will land on the right side of that line -- but I'll come back to that later.

First, here are five reasons things are looking up for Windows 8. [...]
Read the whole thing for "reasons". I have no doubt that Microsoft will improve it. And that it won't be perfect. The question is, will it be "good enough"?
The article concludes that it ultimately will depend on increasing it's "usability".


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The real-life family from "The Impossible"

It's their family's true story, that the movie "The Impossible" is based on:

All I could see was water and two of my boys clinging to the tops of trees
It seemed like the perfect Christmas break for the Spanish family of five.

But then the splashing and laughter were drowned out by a deafening roar and Maria watched in horror as a towering wave pushed in from the sea and ripped through the hotel.

The family’s Far Eastern holiday over Christmas 2004 had ended in disaster — caught up in the Boxing Day tsunami which killed around 240,000 people in 14 countries.


Recalling the moment the tsunami struck, Maria, a doctor, says: “The wave is big on the cinema screen but in real life it was so much more. It was everything.”

In an instant, she found herself separated from Lucas, husband Quique and younger sons Tomas, eight, and five-year-old Simon.

The wave smashed her against a plate glass window which exploded behind her and she was swept through the hotel.

She says: “I remember being pushed against walls. You could feel them trembling and breaking, feeling them as they gave way, one after another.

“Some of the walls did not collapse — that’s why people died. They were trapped.

“I was under the water for a long, long time. I was not in physical pain but the drowning sensation was like being in a spin-dryer.

“The doctors said I was underwater for more than three minutes because my lungs were absolutely full of water. I saw many lights under the water, tunnels with lights at the end, that people tell you they see when they are going to die.”

Like Lucas and Maria, Quique doesn’t know how long he was underwater.

He says: “I thought, ‘That’s it, I’m not going to make it.’ But I needed to try. I saw a light above me, so I tried to push myself up and get my head out of the water.”

He surfaced in the torrent, more than half a mile downstream from the hotel, and says: “The only thing I could see was water and the tops of the trees. I was alone.

“I thought there was no way my children had made it. I started to cry and then I thought, ‘Why are you crying when there is no one to comfort you?’”

Quique managed to grab hold of a tree and thinks he hung on for about half an hour as the raging waters roared past him.

He says: “Then I heard Tomas’s voice. He was shouting, ‘Papa! Mama! Lucas! Simon!’” [...]
Another good interview is here:

Seemingly impossible: Miracle survival of family who inspired new tsunami movie
[...] “We started to hear a very horrible sound. I was looking around thinking maybe this is just in my mind.

"No one recognised the sound. It felt like the Earth was coming apart but everything looked perfect.

“I was facing the sea and saw a huge black wall. I didn’t think it was the sea. I thought it was a black wall coming to get us.

“The two youngest boys were in the swimming pool with my husband.

"Lucas, the eldest, was just in front of me. He had just got out of the pool to fetch the ball we had bought them on Christmas Day.

"I screamed to my husband and to the kids. I thought it was the end for all of us. Lucas was crying out, ‘Mama, Mama’.

"Then they all disappeared under water. [...]
Based on the details in these interviews, it seems the movie re-enacted their experiences very closely. Follow the links for more details, and lots of photos.

Big Solar Flares this weekend?


Sunspot Blasting Out Major Solar Flares Will Face Earth Soon
The super-active sunspot responsible for unleashing the three most powerful solar flares of 2013 within a 24-hour stretch this week is slowly rotating toward Earth and will likely be facing our planet by the weekend, experts say.

Active Region 1748, as the sunspot is known, unleashed three monster solar flares between Sunday and Monday (May 12 to 13). Every one of the solar storms registered as an X-class flare — the most powerful type — with each successive event stronger than the last, culminating in an X3.2 megablast Monday night.

These solar explosions did not affect Earth, since AR1748 was not facing our planet at the time. But the sunspot is now circling into view, so future flares and any associated eruptions of super-hot solar plasma — called coronal mass ejections (CMEs) — could potentially target our planet, scientists say. [Sun Unleashes Biggest Flares of 2013 (Photos)]

"In a couple of days, it will be far enough onto the disk that any CMEs that we got would probably have some impact on Earth," solar astrophysicist C. Alex Young, of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., told

AR1748 should be near the center of the solar disk by around Saturday, Young added.

"If it sends something off, then we can expect to get some CMEs sort of head-on" at that point, he said.


Scientists give AR1748 a 40 to 50 percent chance of firing off another X-class flare, he added, though this probability is a rough estimate that could change as further information becomes available.

X-class flares aimed at Earth can have consequences on a planet-wide scale, triggering widespread radio blackouts and long-lasting radiation storms.

Earth-directed CMEs have even more destructive potential. When a CME's charged particles interact with Earth's magnetic field, they can spawn geomagnetic storms powerful enough to disrupt GPS signals, radio communications and power grids.

Solar activity waxes and wanes over an 11-year cycle. The current cycle, called Solar Cycle 24, is ramping up toward an expected peak later this year. [...]

See the full article for embedded link, and video.

Panarama from Mars

Follow the link and click on the interactive panorama, in full screen mode. It's really cool:

Stand on Mars Next to the Curiosity Rover With This Incredible Panorama

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Japanese Tsunami Debris on Oregon Coast

It's starting to arrive in greater quantities. A few Sunday's ago, I encountered my first piece. We were having a nice walk on a local beach:

It was another day in paradise. Just beautiful. Then I saw it:

A first I thought it was just an ordinary piece of rubbish. But then I saw the Japanese writing on it. It was a bottle of hairspray. It had floated in the ocean for a long time, so long that it had seaweed growing on it.

I could only wonder; had it been sitting on a shelf in a hair salon? Or on a ladies dressing table, or in someone's bathroom cabinet? Was it swept out to sea from someone's house - WITH the house? With people still in the house? All questions that can never be answered.

I left it there, bearing witness to a disaster far away, years ago. I continued my walk, and told myself I would pick it up on my way back down the beach. But on the way back, it was gone. Either someone else picked it up, or it went back to sea for a while, to remind someone else on another day.

Meanwhile, an article in the Vancouver Sun tells us that a Tsunami here would not be as bad as the earthquake that would cause it:

Monster earthquake would devastate Pacific Northwest, leaving thousands dead
But tsunami would be secondary issue for Lower Mainland, because Vancouver Island would take brunt of big wave: expert
A monster earthquake and tsunami would wreak havoc on B.C.’s west coast, but the effects would be far worse in Washington and Oregon states.

“I suspect there’d be a significant number of deaths in the Lower Mainland as a result of the shaking,” said Ronald Clowes, a crustal seismologist and professor emeritus at the University of B.C. “But the tsunami would be a secondary concern.”

Clowes spoke on Friday after researchers told Oregon legislators Thursday that more than 10,000 people could die when — not if — a monster earthquake and tsunami occur off the Pacific Northwest coast.

Coastal towns would be inundated; schools, buildings and bridges would collapse; and economic damage could hit $32 billion, the researchers said.

These findings were published in a chilling new report by the Oregon Seismic Safety Policy Advisory Commission, a group of more than 150 volunteer experts.


According to the Oregon report, the 2011 Japan quake and tsunami were a wake-up call for the Pacific Northwest. Governments have been taking a closer look at whether the region is prepared for something similar, and discovering it is not.

Oregon legislators requested the study so they could better inform themselves about what needs to be done to prepare and recover from such a giant natural disaster.

The report says that geologically, Oregon and Japan are mirror images. Despite the devastation in Japan, that country was more prepared than Oregon because it had spent billions on technology to reduce the damage, the report said.

Meanwhile, a third minor earthquake has struck off the north B.C. coast, the latest in a series that has rattled the area since last fall. [...]
I don't deny that there is a seismic hazard here. But I don't know how they can say "Oregon and Japan are mirror images". Japan has a long history of active earthquakes, which is why they are better prepared. Earthquakes in Oregon are few and far between, which is why we are not better prepared. I don't see how that makes us a "mirror image". Though I suppose if a large earthquake and resulting tsunami happen, it won't much matter what we call it.

GOP supporting Gay Marriage?

Many in the party are moving in that direction:

Conservative effort underway in push for gay marriage

There are some prominent names in there. I'm not surprised. In so many ways, the battle to stop it is a lost cause, for many good reasons:

The inevitability of Gay Marriage

Whatever you think of it, it's here, and it's not going away. Deal with it. The GOP has much more important battles to deal with, and should not waste any more time and resources on a battle they have already lost.

The changing face of healthcare

I recently came across this article, which is aimed at American physicians:

Getting ready for emerging care models
Like it or not change is coming to healthcare. The government, employer groups and other purchasers of healthcare are demanding higher quality and lower costs in the delivery of healthcare. The Affordable Care Act of 2010 started this evolution and whatever you call it -- value-based purchasing, accountable care, patient-centered healthcare, etc. -- it is taking root and starting to grow rapidly.


To get an idea of what you should be thinking about, let’s look to a healthcare market where these “new” healthcare delivery models are the norm and have been in place for years. One such market is in the Netherlands, where 90 percent of demand for care is generated in the primary care setting and providers (private) are paid a lump sum based on conditions and work in integrated care networks.

In the Netherlands today, 99 percent of physicians use a computer, 97 percent are Internet-enabled, 90 percent store all types of health records electronically, 84 percent receive lab results electronically, and 26 percent exchange data electronically with other providers – all benchmarks that the United States aims to achieve in the next 3-5 years. The international standards used in the Netherlands are consistent with U.S. conventions, as HL7 and ICD-9 are used in healthcare and ICD-10 is being adopted. Also, as in the United States, Holland does not have a dedicated health ID number or “smart card” for patients that some European countries have adopted but which are not relevant in this country. In these respects, the Dutch market is extremely similar to the U.S. market. This market is where our own company history started, and where our care collaboration and disease management solutions have matured.

Here is what you need and why
To participate in a value-based delivery model you must be willing and able to coordinate and collaborate on patient care with other ambulatory providers; the goal is to render the right amount of preventive care, avoiding health complications and resulting in better patient care with lower attendant costs. Once this mind shift has taken root -- a very different and, for some, a difficult way of thinking -- you need the basic tools and capabilities to engage in care coordination. These tools must:

Enable you to store patient information electronically. This does not have to be the typical full-blown EMR that legacy vendors have been marketing. These EMRs were developed in the fee-for-service model to optimize billing and reimbursement and resemble digital renditions of paper records. Not to mention they are expensive to acquire and maintain even when they may be subsidized by the ACO. Instead, you need a platform that is designed for the new delivery model focused on optimizing patient care, with a workflow that fits your practice pattern. For more on this see the 2010 PCAST Report titled "Realizing The Full Potential of Healthcare Information Technology to Improve Healthcare."

Enable patient-centric care, including making sure that patients receive reminders for preventive services through multiple channels based on their personal profile.

Support the care team network, allowing all providers, physicians, facilities, etc., involved in treating particular patients to share relevant information through collaborative and coordinated care.

Manage patients proactively.

Be able to generate electronic referrals.

Be a cloud-based solution. Cloud-based solutions require little or no local IT support and investment. This is really important for the average physician practice. Also the pricing level and payment structure with predictable cash flow more closely matches the size of the practice.

To distill down these capabilities into specific tool sets means you should expect to have the following: an EHR; a care collaboration/coordination solution; and the ability to exchange electronic referrals. The key in selecting the right solutions for your practice is to pick one with the right workflow for your practice. The solution(s) must be cloud-based so you can avoid the costly hassle of purchasing and supporting local software installations, which is expensive and not your core competency. If you do not have these capabilities you either might not be a candidate to participate in an ACO, clinically integrated care delivery network or PCMH, or the ACO will force you to use their solutions.

You should expect the ACO to provide other required solution capabilities such as clinical decision support (CDS), analytics, population health tools, health information exchange platform (HIE); reporting tools, etc. These are expensive solutions tailored for a large organization to manage and support. [...]
It goes on to describe the current inefficient, entrenched ways of doing things, and how they are going to be forced to rapidly change, as has happened in many other industries (It has an embedded link to an article in Forbes).

Also see:

Have Smart Phones to do Medical Work