Saturday, August 27, 2016

Medical (mis)adventures and suchlike

Well, now that I'm safely back home, I guess I can tell you more about my recent adventures in hospital, and what led up to them.

As regular readers will know, I had kidney stone problems last year, leading to two procedures:  a lithotripsy, trying to break up the stone from outside using directed ultrasound pulses, then, when that didn't work, a ureteroscopy.  (The latter was a lot more painful than the kidney stone!)  In the process of diagnosing and treating the kidney stone, an ultrasound examination revealed that I also had gallstones;  but because they weren't causing any problems at the time, it was decided to do nothing about them in the short term.

Earlier this year, I began a water fast to try to knock off some weight and kick-start my metabolism, which had been severely disrupted by drug interactions and had never fully recovered.  The fast worked very well, at least initially, and I dropped 25 pounds in only about 3 weeks . . . but unfortunately, the water fast also led to some very severe pain from my gall bladder (a known side effect of rapid weight loss, about which I'd read but for which I wasn't fully prepared).  I therefore suspended my water fast and went back to the doctors (being hampered by having recently moved to this state, and therefore not having a local network of medical practitioners who knew me).  I was eventually referred to a surgeon, and the decision was taken to yank my gall bladder.

I did the usual pre-admission testing and form-filling at the local hospital (discovering, to my extreme annoyance, that thanks to Obamacare's 'improvements', I'd have to pay a lot more out of my own pocket for this operation than I'd been charged for previous procedures).  Everything was going smoothly until three days before the scheduled surgery, when the anesthetists at the local hospital demanded a cardiac clearance before they would proceed.  I'd had a heart attack in 2009, followed by a quadruple bypass, so they regarded me as a high-risk patient.  They would not accept that my two procedures under general anesthetic in 2015 were predictive evidence that I wouldn't have problems this time around.  I was very angry about that, particularly when they used the usual 'weasel words' about wanting to 'improve my experience as a patient' (meaning, of course, "We want to cover our asses in case anything goes wrong!").  I suppose that's the nature of things in our litigious society.  At any rate, my surgeon managed to get a short-notice appointment for me with a local cardiologist, who checked me out and issued the required clearance.  Surgery was delayed for two weeks while this was going on.

Then came the fun and games of admission and preparation.  I have fairly tough skin on my arms (the fruit of many years in African sunshine), and I also donated blood for several years as part of a cell separation team in South Africa.  This involved taking blood out of one arm, centrifuging it to take out a single required component, then putting the rest back through the other arm.  As a result, the veins in my elbow region on both arms have built up scar tissue, making it harder to get a needle into them.  The poor nurses tried, and tried, and tried again, but simply couldn't 'stick' me as they required (the first time I'd experienced that - until now, other nurses in other states have not had anything like the same trouble).  After nine (!!!) tries in my elbows and hands, they gave up, and called in a specialist with an ultrasound machine to insert what they called a 'pick' into a deep vein in my upper arm.  She failed, twice, and had to call in a colleague to try the other arm.  On the twelfth attempt, the 'stick' succeeded . . . leaving me feeling like a pin-cushion, with pain and frustration steaming out of my ears.  I was not a happy camper!  (Poor Miss D. had to leave the room, as the constant pricking and needling was making her feel nauseous, never mind her husband!)

I'm told the surgery itself went well;  but it seems that the delays in treatment had led to my gall bladder becoming necrotic, leading to infection and other complications.  The surgeon decided that instead of discharging me the same day, as had been planned, he'd prefer to keep me in hospital in case of complications.  This would allow medical staff to keep an eye on me, and initiate treatment quickly if it proved to be required.  I only learned about this when I came out of the anesthetic, which led to a lot of vociferous unhappiness from yours truly.  (My wife had to deal with that, as she relates on her own blog).

Anyhow, I ended up in a ward, where I settled down as best I could.  I'm afraid I baffled the nursing staff.  They're used to immediately-postoperative patients moaning in pain, not wanting to move, and being generally down in the dumps.  I got up within an hour and started walking the halls, forcing my body to get moving and get on with it.  Later that evening, Old NFO, Lawdog, aepilot_Jim and Miss D. arrived to visit, and we ended up walking the halls for another half-dozen circuits, chatting away loudly about surgeries we have jointly and severally known.  The staff clearly aren't used to military veterans trying to outdo each other with memories of which surgery hurt the most (as were some of the other patients, who seemed a bit taken aback by our efforts to out-brag each other!)  I've learned (as have we all) that it's no good moaning about pain.  One simply has to push one's body to recover as quickly as possible.  Since I've been in pain literally 24/7/365 since my spinal injury and damaged nerve in 2004, this was simply a higher level of what I've learned to handle every day, and I wasn't about to let it get me down.  That attitude was clearly not what the nursing staff were expecting!

Next morning the surgeon came to visit, clearly startled to be told by the nursing staff that I'd done more than two dozen circuits of the floor since being admitted, and was champing at the bit to go home.  He signed off on my release, and the nice nurses told me it would be "Only about two hours" before they did the paperwork and got me a wheelchair to go down to the entrance.  I gave them twenty minutes, or I'd leave without the paperwork, and refused point-blank to even consider a wheelchair.  With long-suffering sighs, they eventually gave up and produced the documentation.  They did insist that one of their staff go down to the front door with Miss D. and I, just in case I had a fit of the collywobbles or something like that.  (He told us gleefully that the job was just what he wanted, as there was a bistro near the entrance, and he felt in need of a donut or two.  He disappeared in that direction as soon as we got off the elevator, leaving us to make our own way to the front door.)

I'm back home now, with a cat who's being very gentle about jumping on me (she clearly knows I'm feeling sensitive, and is being very considerate - for a cat, that is!).  I'm in a fair bit of pain, but the surgeon prescribed Percocet, so it's under control.  (I was highly amused at aepilot_Jim's feigned annoyance when I told him I'd turned down a nighttime dose of Dilaudid on the ward, because I regarded it as unnecessarily strong for my level of pain, and I don't like the light-headed, dizzy feeling over-strong painkillers give me.  He reckoned I should have taken 'the good stuff' to share with my friends - namely, him!)

I daresay my sleep cycles will be disrupted for a few days.  I'm trying to get some rest as and when the pain level increases, rather than follow my normal pattern - I find this works best when recovering from this sort of thing.  Blogging will thus be a now-and-then affair until I get back my rhythm.

Thanks to all who left good wishes and prayers in comments to my previous post.  So far, so good!


Friday, August 26, 2016

Written from my hospital bed

It's almost 1 am, and I'm typing this on my cellphone. I'd hoped to be home by now, and had queued up what I thought were enough blog posts to cover my absence, but complications have arisen, so I have to stay in hospital vile longer than planned.

I underwent surgery to remove my gall bladder, but due to several delays, the darn thing had turned necrotic (i.e. was almost dead and rotting) by the time they got to it. I've got to stay in hospital until they're sure there will be no complications.

I should be out sometime on Friday. Regular blogging will resume ASAP.


Thursday, August 25, 2016

Rockets tipped with swords?

I was fascinated to read about some early rockets tipped with blades.

Tipu Sultan brought the concept of using sword and blade thrust rockets in their military force to fight the advancing British army. There was a regular rocket corps in the Mysore Army, beginning with about 1,200 men in Hyder Ali’s time. At the Battle of Pollilur (1780), during the Second Anglo-Mysore War, Colonel William Baillie’s ammunition stores are thought to have been detonated by a hit from one of Hyder Ali’s rockets, contributing to a humiliating British defeat.

Hyder Ali and his son Tipu Sultan deployed them effectively against the larger British East India Company forces during the Anglo-Mysore Wars. These ‘missiles’ were fitted with swords and traveled several meters through the air before coming down with edges facing the enemy.

The British took an active interest in the technology and developed it further during the 19th century. The Mysore rockets of this period were much more advanced than what the British had seen, chiefly because of the use of iron tubes for holding the propellant; this enabled higher thrust and longer range for the missile (up to 2 km range). Although rockets existed also in Europe, they were not iron cased, and their range was far less than that of their East Asian counterparts.

. . .

The rockets had a range of about 1,000 yards. Some burst in the air like shells. Others, called ground rockets, would rise again on striking the ground and bound along in a serpentine motion until their force was spent. According to one British observer, a young English officer named Bayly: “So pestered were we with the rocket boys that there was no moving without danger from the destructive missiles …”. He continued:

"The rockets and musketry from 20,000 of the enemy were incessant. No hail could be thicker. Every illumination of blue lights was accompanied by a shower of rockets, some of which entered the head of the column, passing through to the rear, causing death, wounds, and dreadful lacerations from the long bamboos of twenty or thirty feet, which are invariably attached to them."

There's more at the link.

Mysorean rockets captured in India were taken back to Britain for analysis and further study.  They were the basis of the later Congreve rocket, used in the Napoleonic Wars and against the USA in the War of 1812.


A chilling odyssey of violent crime

Journalist Peter Nickeas describes three years on the nighttime crime beat in Chicago.

Halfway between dusk and dawn in the dead of winter, I parked under the Pink Line viaduct and stepped out into blackened snow and biting cold. I had driven southwest from the Tribune Tower, down Ogden Avenue, the skyline shrinking in the rearview mirror, out past Mount Sinai Hospital and the Ogden District police station to Lawndale Avenue.

Snow reflected light from dirty yellow streetlamps, casting an industrial glow over the neighborhood. The sky was an eerie shade of lavender. A police officer wanted to know who I was, then told me I’d get a better picture of the body if I circled back through the alley to the other side of the crime scene. The cops said a man had been shot after stepping on someone’s shoe at a house party. A murder over nothing, almost too petty to be believed.

I didn’t know the body would still be there. I didn’t know the police would be OK with me being there. I didn’t know what to do when the family showed up—the dead man’s son was there. I didn’t know how to talk to them. This was only my second murder scene in the city. Being out in the night was still new, and I carried an anxiety in my stomach wherever I went.

I tried to make myself invisible, but I was the only white person outside the police tape. As family members started walking away, I stopped a few of them and handed out my card, in case they wanted to talk. (They didn’t.)

It was the beginning of a three-year stint working overnights at the Chicago Tribune, covering any violent event that happened in the city after dark. I’d wanted a job at the paper, and this was the one they had. I was 25 years old. It’s only in the last couple of years that I’ve been able to gain any perspective on what those three years have meant for me. I still feel wrecked sometimes. I still feel drained from the work of chasing incessant violence. Drained from going from shooting to shooting to shooting. Drained from enduring the mind-numbing silence of a slow night only to be jolted awake, adrenaline on, into full chase mode. Drained from trying to convince my wife that the job hasn’t changed me. Or that the change hasn’t been so bad.

I lurked in shadows, riding around listening to the police scanners, getting close enough to observe but staying far enough away not to interfere. Watching for new graffiti, gangbangers, memorials, crowds. Listening for yelling, breaking glass, squealing tires, revving engines. For calls of gang disturbances, for the battery in progress, for the battery just occurred. For anonymous neighbors complaining about young men harassing passing motorists or young men selling drugs in front of homes.

For shots fired.

There's more at the link.  It's repellent, but fascinating and highly recommended reading.

People who live in such a culture of violence and social degradation (whether by choice, or because they can't afford anything better) are conditioned by it to a frightening extent.  (An excellent example occurred in a Chicago courtroom just yesterday.)  When frustrations boil over in such areas, they spill over from there to more civilized suburbs, and to towns that would normally consider themselves free of big-city problems.  Natural disasters can produce the same effect;  witness, for example, the migration of crime and violence in the wake of the dispersion of refugees from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  (I experienced that myself in central Louisiana, and wrote about it at the time.)

It's important for us to understand what's going on in inner-city ghettoes and impoverished areas such as those Mr. Nickeas describes, because such problems are only a heartbeat away from becoming our problems too.  It's all very well to say that 'the government' must fix them, but the cold, hard truth is that no government can address them.  Poverty and social degradation can't be solved by bureaucratic edicts or political promises.  There will always be people who choose the 'dark side' of life;  drugs, crime, violence, and the like.  They tend to gravitate to such areas, and if moved out of them, will simply drag down their new places of residence until they resemble the old.

That's reality . . . and we'll do well not to forget it.  Mr. Nickeas has done us a service by reminding us about that.


Where can one get advanced driver training in the USA?

In Britain and some of its colonies, the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) is a premier driver training school for 'post-graduate' work - i.e. to attend after you've got your driver's license plus a certain amount of experience.  I did their basic course in South Africa during the early 1980's, and found it very helpful (although since then I'm sure I've picked up more than enough bad habits).

Miss D. and I would like to do some training like that, both to refresh and improve our driving skills, and also as something we can do together.  However, I'm having trouble finding suitable facilities and programs in Texas or nearby states.
  • Advanced Drivers of America claims to offer an IAM-type course in this country, but they don't respond to e-mails, which isn't very helpful.
  • There are several performance and racing schools (e.g. Bondurant, Skip Barber, etc.).  They look like a lot of fun, but I'm not sure their training is all that practical for non-racing purposes.  They also tend to be very expensive, which we probably can't afford.
  • Some schools appear to offer only specialized training (e.g. skid pans, off-road rallying, etc.).  That's useful, but it's too limited for what we want.
  • Online searches don't yield much else, apart from remedial driving courses for those convicted of motoring offenses, which isn't the case for us.

Can any of my readers recommend courses for people wanting to become better, safer, more competent drivers overall, improving their existing skills (and perhaps learning new ones that are useful on normal roads, rather than racetracks)?  Offerings in or near Texas would be most useful, but we can travel if we have to.  Please let us know about them in Comments.  Thanks very much.


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Useful long-term dry food storage tips

A couple of days ago I wrote about a German suggestion that everyone store emergency food and water supplies for up to ten days, in case of emergency.  I recommended storing a minimum of thirty days' supplies, because a major emergency might disrupt deliveries to supermarkets and other places where we can replenish our larders.  It may take weeks before things get back to some semblance of normality.

That led to a few e-mails from readers, asking what foods were easiest to store long-term without the risk of them going bad.  That's not necessarily a primary consideration for short-term supplies, of course.  One can simply buy one or two extra cans every week of food one already consumes (e.g. tinned beans, corned beef, Spam, vegetables, etc.) and build up one's reserves that way.  One consumes the oldest can first, and replaces it in one's larder by a newer tin, so that one's supplies are constantly rotated and never get out of date.  It's relatively easy to adopt this method;  in fact, for my wife and myself, it's our primary reserve.  We have canned food sufficient for up to thirty days, used carefully.  This would be supplemented by dry foods such as rice, flour, dried beans, etc.  (We also have a couple of dozen freeze-dried meals for quick-and-easy preparation.  They're relatively expensive, but keep your eye out for sales - we bought ours at half the normal price on a Woot deal similar to this one.)

That said, there's nothing wrong with (and a lot to be said for) having a longer-term supply of dry foods.  The Mormon church is particularly helpful about such matters, as it's part of their normal faith practices for families to keep up to a year's food in reserve.  Many of their recommended supplies can be purchased online from the LDS Store, or through their local churches (many of which also offer food storage classes, and the shared use of expensive resources like canning machines, etc.).  The University of Utah (known, with tongue firmly in cheek, as the Mormon Church in academic gowns!) has a very helpful food storage guide (downloadable in Adobe Acrobat format).

If you don't have the budget or storage space for large quantities of stored food, there are several economical steps you can take to begin more limited preparations.  The first is to find appropriate storage containers.  Plastic and mylar bags and containers are not always the best choice;  they can be punctured, are hard to make (and keep) airtight, and so on.  I strongly recommend the good old-fashioned Mason jar (particularly the larger sizes - I prefer the 64 oz., or half-gallon, version).  They're air- and watertight, can be readily re-sealed with new and inexpensive lids, and can easily be vacuum-sealed.  It's worth shopping around for the best price, including doing an Internet search every time, because prices vary constantly.  For example, I bought some more half-gallon jars last week.  On, the cheapest price I could find at the time (including shipping) was $16.30 for six (a price per jar of $2.72).  Almost every other vendor was more expensive (including local stores, buying them off-the-shelf).  However, offered a dozen of them (with free shipping to my local store for pickup) for only $20.38 - a dollar cheaper per jar.  I'm sure you can guess where I bought my supplies!  Spare lids and bands are also useful items, as are reusable plastic lids to secure the contents while they're being used after the jar's vacuum seal (if it had one) was broken when it was opened.

(By the way, if the boxes in which the Mason jars are delivered are heavy-duty and offer cardboard dividers between jars, don't throw them away.  They make useful storage containers.  I have some beneath the bottom shelf of our food closet, providing added protection to our filled Mason jars.)

You should also buy packets of oxygen absorber, because oxygen is the primary contributor to dried products going bad over time.  I use these ones from, putting one or two into each half-gallon jar (depending on the food inside;  dense foods like rice get one per jar, because there's less air space, while non-dense foods like pasta get two, because there's more oxygen to absorb).  They effectively vacuum-seal the jar as they absorb the oxygen it contains.  You can also buy a low-cost vacuum sealer with attachments to fit Mason jar lids if you want the added security of that approach.  (I like to keep them on hand for foods that don't need oxygen absorbers.)

Some argue that Mason jars, being made of glass, are too easy to break.  That would mean both the loss of the food they contain, and the risk of injury from broken glass.  I accept that's a potential hazard, but not necessarily a major one.  If you're in earthquake territory, where jars are likely to be shaken off shelves, by all means take that into account;  but not all of us are.  Even in earthquake country, storing jars on the bottom of a closet, beneath the protection of the lowest shelf, means they won't fall off anything, and should also protect them from things falling on them.  Others object that jars are more fragile and heavier to transport in an emergency;  but one's emergency food supplies aren't normally something one would 'bug out' with.  They're meant to be used in place.  If you plan to take them with you when you leave, tin cans or bags would certainly be more 'portable';  but even Mason jars are reasonably secure for travel if moved in the boxes in which they came (as mentioned above).  If they arrived safely in those boxes, there's no reason to presume they won't be just as safe in them when they leave!

Finally, if you practice home canning or bottling (preserving fruits, vegetables and meats for your own use), you're almost certainly already using Mason jars by the dozen.  It's no problem to add some more for dry food storage as well.

If you have further hints and ideas, please let us know in Comments.


Impressive A400M dirt field testing

Airbus has been testing its A400M Atlas military transport on unprepared surfaces in recent months.  Here's video of its tests on a sand landing strip, showing how engineers measure the disturbance of the surface by the aircraft's passage and other important parameters.

Considering that the A400M's maximum rated landing weight is over 130 short tons, it's pretty impressive that it can handle unprepared surfaces like that.  I bet the landing gear takes a beating in the process.


Stuxnet has offspring all over the place

It seems Stuxnet and Duqu, the (in)famous cyber-spying programs, have given birth to multiple descendants, all far more sophisticated and far harder to detect than their ancestor.  They include packages such as Gauss, Duqu 2.0, Regin and others. Strategy Page reports:

Yet another high-end spyware system was recently discovered. This one has been called Sauron and it is very difficult to detect because it is designed that way. So far Sauron has been found in over 30 government networks in China, Rwanda, Russia, Iran and Belgium. Sauron spends most of its time monitoring the system it is in for specific types of information (like passwords, decryption keys and similar useful stuff.) Sauron can deliver its information via the Internet or by hiding in USB drives that are available. Internet security experts are hard at work trying to find out how to more easily detect that a system has been infected by Sauron and who created it and controls it.

High-end malware like this began showing up (or was first discovered) in 2009. In 2012 American and Israeli officials admitted that the industrial grade Cyber War weapons (like Stuxnet and several others) used against Iran recently were indeed joint U.S.-Israel operation. Few other details were released, although many more rumors have since circulated. Initially it was thought high-end malware might be created and used by existing Internet criminal gangs. East European programmers are suspected of being capable of this sort of thing and Russia appears to have commissioned some “royal” software using East European mercenaries. But as time goes on, and more is known about how this very complex and efficient malware is designed and built it becomes obvious that a government operation is the most likely source.

. . .

Despite all the secrecy, this stuff is very real and the pros are impressed by Stuxnet-type systems, even if the rest of us have not got much of a clue. The demonstrated capabilities of these Cyber War weapons usher in a new age in Internet based warfare. Amateur hour is over and the big dogs are in play. The Cyber War offensive by the U.S. and Israel appears to have been underway for years, using their stealth to remain hidden. There are probably more than three of these stealthy Cyber War applications in use and most of us will never hear about it until, and if, other such programs are discovered and their presence made public.

There's much more at the link.

We hear a great deal in the news media about computer malware and state-sponsored hacking by China, Russia and some other places, but there seems to be very little mention of the fact that the USA appears to be up to its neck in the same activities, using software such as that described above.  One does wonder who really hacked those DNC e-mails, and the Clinton Foundation . . .


A forgotten heroine of World War II

I've studied the Second World War for decades, and know a great deal about it;  but now and again, stories emerge that still surprise and enthrall me.  Here's another one.

In the First World War, she was decorated for staying by her patients’ side even while Germans stampeded through her hospital. In the Second World War, as a member of the secret service, she landed behind enemy lines to bring two commandos back to Britain. She would also, during that conflict, save the lives of British and American women imprisoned in Ravensbrück, the infamous concentration camp known as the “Women’s Hell”.

And yet, today, Mary Lindell is largely forgotten. Whereas other female secret agents have gone down in history for their contributions to the war – not least Nancy Wake and Pearl Witherington, who inspired Sebastian Faulks’s novel Charlotte Gray – Lindell died in relative obscurity.

. . .

Born in 1895, into a wealthy family, Lindell was one of the thousands of young women in the First World War who volunteered for the nursing services, signing up  for the French Red Cross. Known as La bébé anglaise by the French soldiers, she was awarded the Croix de Guerre, after staying with her patients when her field hospital was overrun by the Germans.

Between the wars, Lindell married a French count, with whom she raised three children. After the Fall of France, she took the sight of German soldiers parading the avenues of Paris as a personal affront. She recalled: “Some of us had to stand up to the Jerries. Who? I said to myself, 'Darling, you’re to do it.’ ”

In her first mission she escorted an ambulance convoy out of Paris to the Vichy zone of France, but rather than seize her own freedom by crossing into Spain, Lindell returned to Paris to set up an escape line. She helped Frenchmen wanting to join the Free French and British soldiers who had missed the boat at Dunkirk. For two weeks she hid Jimmy Windsor Lewis – who would later win the DSO twice – while she obtained false papers for him and charmed the Germans into giving her a travel permit out of occupied France. Her own cover was “to hide in the open” dressed as a nurse.

In early 1941, Lindell was arrested on suspicion of anti-German activities and spent nine months in solitary confinement. When released, she hid in Lyon for several months until she escaped with more false papers, this time describing her as an English governess. In Spain she persuaded the British secret service to send her home by flying boat.

Back in London, Lindell was taken up by MI9 (a branch of Military Intelligence, rather shorter lived than MI6), where she received the briefest of training before being sent back to France to help a team of commandos, charged with destroying German ships in Bordeaux, to get back to Britain. As a concession to her age – Lindell was 47 by this time – Lindell was flown into France in a light aircraft, rather than being forced to use a parachute.

Only two men survived the raid, Herbert “Blondie” Hasler and Bill Sparks. After disguising themselves as tramps, the commandos finally made contact with Lindell in a town called Ruffec. On seeing Hasler, her first remark was: “That moustache is going to come off; it reeks of England.”

Lindell helped the men on their way then smuggled their report to a covert radio station in Switzerland. She then returned to France to organise an escape line for soldiers and downed airmen.

She was caught again in November 1943 having just escorted a party of Allied airmen to a Pyrenean village. She was wounded while jumping from a train and, after a long convalescence, sent, in September 1944, to Ravensbrück, where tens of thousands of women were worked to death or died of starvation and disease or were gassed and cremated.

There, despite the obvious danger of doing so, she quarrelled with the authorities. “I threw my weight about a lot,” she once said. “I used to say, 'You’ve lost the war, you know perfectly well you have.’ And they knew they had too. It didn’t stop them. They were b-------s. The weaker the people, the more beastly they were.”

Lindell found work in the camp hospital, and from there gathered intelligence, smuggled food and clothes into the cell block and finally produced a list of American and British women – when the Germans denied there were any in the camp – to the Swedish Red Cross, who evacuated them – and Lindell.

The French awarded her a second Croix de Guerre and the British awarded her the OBE, but Lindell herself hated the adulation. “When they say I am a heroine, I am most embarrassed and I think it’s ridiculous,” she said. “One does a job, it is a job, but the heroine is all twiddle-rot.” Nevertheless, Airey Neave thought her one of the most remarkable characters of British Military Intelligence.

She died in 1986, aged 91. “You either go with your enemy, or you go against your enemy,” she said. “I couldn’t sit down and twiddle my thumbs. It wasn’t in my nature.”

There's more at the link.

The article's material is drawn from a new book about Mary Lindell.

Looks like that one's going on my "To Read" list.


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Einstein's definition applies to Chicago as well

Einstein defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results".  It seems Chicago police are fans of that approach.  The BBC reports:

An attempt to use software to help prevent gun crime in Chicago did not save lives, according to a study.

In 2013, the city's police began using algorithms to create a list of people deemed to be most at risk of being shot dead.

. . .

The so-called "predictive policing" initiative was based on the idea that potential victims of gun crime could be identified by building a social network model ... This resulted in a total of 426 people being identified as "high risk" in March 2013. They were placed on a register called the Strategic Subjects List (SSL).

The researchers said their analysis of the gun crime that followed indicated that being on the list made no difference to people's chances of being shot or killed. Neither was there any impact on overall homicide levels, they added.

But they said the SSL's members became more likely to be arrested for the shootings of others.

. . .

The Chicago Police Department has issued a press release in which it said the findings were "no longer relevant".

The force said it now used a more elaborate model that takes account of additional factors, such as how many times an individual has recently been arrested for violent offences.

There's more at the link.

So . . . if algorithms don't work as expected or required, use more and better algorithms!  Brilliant.  Genius at work.  Trouble is, the article gives no indication of whether or not the 'expanded' algorithms are producing any better results than the earlier ones.

What's more, one can't include human nature in an algorithm, because it can't be quantified and therefore can't be objectively measured.  Nevertheless, IMHO, it's still the major determinant of whether or not someone's going to be a criminal.  "Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man."  Replace 'mouth' with 'soul' or 'mind' or 'conscience' and you've got pretty much the definition of a criminal or a saint, right there.  "You will know them by their fruits" - and there isn't a single algorithm involved.


Sad news for bagpipers

It seems bagpipes may hold a hidden hazard for their players.  The Telegraph reports:

Playing the bagpipes could be deadly, scientists have warned, after a man died from continually breathing in mould and fungus trapped in the instrument.

Doctors in Manchester have identified the condition "bagpipe lung" following the death of a 61-year-old man from chronic inflammatory lung condition hypersensitivity pneumonitis.

The condition is triggered by the immune system’s response to an inhaled environmental irritants and is often associated with exposure to feathers and bird droppings.

When the unnamed man was first diagnosed in 2009 doctors were puzzled by his condition because he was not a pigeon fancier, his house contained no mould or signs of water damage and he had never smoked.

However, he played the bagpipes daily, and when his condition improved when he left his pipes at home during a three-month visit to Australia doctors believed they had found the cause.

Samples were taken from several areas inside the bagpipes, including the bag, the neck, and the chanter reed protector and were found to contain six types of mould and fungi.

It is thought the that the moist conditions inside the bag allowed mould and fungi to grow, which was then inhaled by the man who experienced breathlessness and eventually could not walk more than 20 yards.

Despite treatment, the man died recently and a post mortem examination revealed extensive lung damage consistent with acute respiratory distress syndrome including lung tissue scarring.

. . .

There have been other reported cases of hypersensitivity pneumonitis, arising in trombone and saxophone players, say the doctors.

In 2013, bagpiper John Shone spent four weeks in hospital with pneumonia brought on by a fungus which colonised inside his instrument which he had neglected to clean for 18 months.

The doctors warn that any type of wind instrument could be contaminated with yeasts and moulds, making players susceptible to the risk of hypersensitivity pneumonitis.

There's more at the link.

Denis Norden, on the BBC program 'My Music', when asked what was his favorite sound in the world, famously (or notoriously) answered that it was "Bagpipes, receding into the distance."  If this sort of fungal infestation becomes more widespread, that may become a sad reality . . .


Highly recommended reading

I've run into several articles over the past few days that have been fascinating reading:  in-depth investigations, news reports that lay bare important developments that are usually 'under the radar', and so on.  I don't have time to blog about each of them as they deserve, but I wanted to provide links to them so that you can check them out for yourselves.

First, we've discussed the pension crisis in these pages on numerous occasions.  Now comes this devastating analysis from Daily Reckoning.
... many retirees are in for a rude wake-up in the next few years.

That’s because U.S. corporate pensions are woefully underfunded and may have to cut payments to seniors in order to stay solvent.

Forget Social Security (which we all know is a broken system living on borrowed time). Now many corporate pensions are in the same boat and may soon start reneging on the promises made to workers.

To back up what the article says about Social Security, CNBC reminds us that it faces a $32 trillion shortfall.
A projection, known as the "infinite horizon," takes into account all the program's future liabilities, even those beyond the 75-year period that Social Security actuaries typically use in their calculations.

Under the infinite horizon, Social Security will have $32.1 trillion in unfunded liabilities by 2090, $6.3 trillion more than last year's projection.

The infinite horizon calculation is the most important part of the trustees' annual report, said Laurence Kotlikoff, a Boston University economics professor ... "We're not broke in 20 years to 30 years, we're broke now," Kotlikoff said. "All the bills have been kept off the books by Congress and presidential administrations for six decades."

Changing the subject to academic, theological and archaeological skullduggery, the Atlantic has a long, in-depth article titled 'The Unbelievable Tale of Jesus' Wife'.  It traces the origins and provenance of a fragment of papyrus that allegedly spoke of Jesus Christ's wife.  It turns out that the document is (to say the least) highly suspect, and the probable product of a fraud spanning continents and decades.  Very interesting reading - and a reminder never, ever to take such sensational claims at face value.  There's usually a hidden agenda, and sometimes a very strange, twisted one (as appears to be the case here).

Another interesting article comes from Popular Mechanics.  It's titled 'The Write Stuff:  How the Humble Pencil Conquered the World'.  There turns out to be a lot more to the pencil than meets the eye, including some fascinating historical details of how the modern version was developed as a substitute for embargoed graphite during the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars.

Finally, the twisted, far-left-wing, progressive (and dare I say evil?) influence of international financier George Soros is becoming clearer as his network of agents and sympathizers is increasingly exposed.  Two recent articles shed light on the matter:
  1. Our World: Soros’s campaign of global chaos
  2. Leaked Doc: Soros Open Society Seeks to Reshape Census, Electoral Districts
Both are sobering and very worrying articles.  Basically, Soros seeks to use behind-the-scenes influence and his vast financial resources to undermine democracy and national sovereignty.  If you're not concerned about what he's doing, you should be.  His work has the potential to literally steal elections, including our own.

All the articles I've mentioned are highly recommended reading.


When foodies lose it

I have to laugh at the excessive sturm und drang unleashed by an Italian chef.

A well-known Italian chef and television presenter has described vegans as a “sect”, declaring “I would kill them all.”

The comments by Gianfranco Vissani were made on an Italian television programme.

The high-profile chef, who often appears on television in Italy and has written numerous books, said: “Vegans? They’re like the members of a sect. They’re like Jehovah’s Witnesses. I’d kill them all.”

. . .

There was a swift reaction to the remarks on social media, even though they seemed to be made largely in jest.  “Vissani has been possessed by mad cow disease! Put him into isolation!” said one woman on Twitter.

“We can discuss whether or not they should be killed, but on the fact that they have become a sect, there’s no doubt, it seems to me,” another Twitter user wrote. A third wrote: “Even famous cooks make stupid jokes.”

. . .

Mr Vissani is by no means the first celebrity chef to be rude about vegans and vegetarians.

Anthony Bourdain, the American chef who wrote Kitchen Confidential and A Cook’s Tour before forging a career as a TV celebrity, wrote in one of his books:

“Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter-faction, the vegans, are a persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn.

“To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace, or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living.

“Oh, I'll accommodate them, I'll rummage around for something to feed them, for a 'vegetarian plate', if called on to do so. Fourteen dollars for a few slices of grilled eggplant and zucchini suits my food cost fine.”

There's more at the link.

What can one say?
  • Clearly, there's more to this than meats the eye.
  • Vegetarians would as leaf not hear that sort of thing.
  • I don't know about vegetarians being a sect.  After all, if they cut their food with a knife before eating it, isn't that dis-sect-tion?
  • I suppose Italian chefs think that vegetarians are im-pastas.

I would say that Signore Vissani's remarks have set the cat amongst the pigeons, but I don't know if there are vegetarian equivalents to pigeons . . .