What would happen if we did that? Why should we do that? Well, if you listen you hear certain things such as: med students don’t go into Family Medicine, even though they might want to very much, because they walk out of the four-year period loaded with debt from loans, so they gravitate toward high-paying specialties. What exactly the average debt load figure is seems to vary very much with the person being interviewed, but it’s probably 125-150, thousand that is. Some put it a lot higher. So, if increasing the number of Family Medicine practitioners is seen as a social good, one directly effective way to accomplish this would be to make initial medical training free. If you get accepted and if you pass with your MD degree, it’s all on the house. If you decide to go into plastic surgery, well, that part is up to you. Paying for specialty training is the student-doctor’s responsibility. At this point, it’s not clear what we mean when we say “on the house”. Whose house are we talking about? Is debt load really a major factor in the decision not to go into Family Medicine, or are there other elements in play? Internal Medicine is having some trouble recruiting too, because it’s viewed as very, very tough work on demand all the time. Plastic or Radiology or Derm can give you more time off. How important are these considerations in deciding? Don’t forgiveness programs already exist in different forms? Can’t they be re-focused to help generate the needed General practitioners? The “free med school” is a radical idea, but maybe it needs some looking at.
On this day in 1937, 16,000 people gathered to walk across the new Golden Gate Bridge. The bridge has become an international symbol. It is what the Coliseum is to Rome or the Eifel Tower to Paris. To get the bridge built meant overcoming a number of serious engineering challenges. But that was the easy part. It was much harder to get all the animals into the same tent facing in the same direction. Various interests had to be sweet-talked, cajoled, threatened or butt-kicked into supporting the project and staying in line. Ah, America! Land of rugged individualism, or better, whatâ€™s In It For Me? That’s the spirit that made this country great! Well, it took a long time to get the land, line up the money, obtain all the legal authority needed, etc. In the meantime, the design had been changed from a rather ho-hum plan that looked a lot like the Williamsburg Bridge in Noo Yawk to the stylish and orange-colored beauty we know today. One thing should be mentioned. The bridge was completed under budget and ahead of schedule. Of course, it was built during the Depression, when work of almost any kind was very tough to get, so maybe that helped. But I wonder what has happened in the decades since. When was the last time you heard about a project that completed in satisfactory fashion, (i.e., ‘worked’) was done on time, and cost LESS than the amount budgeted? Me neither. Something has gone ‘terribly wrong’, as they say.
Wired News has a feature This Day In Tech. As is often the case, the people involved are often very interesting dudes and dudesses themselves.
“Everybody wants to get into the Act!” That was Jimmy Durante’s signature line, and he used it at least once in every show. Over a long ShoBiz career, that added up to a lot of shows. That line popped into my head today, quite unbidden as they say. I was paging through The Wall Street Journal and on the front page of the last section there was a story about ACER, the Taiwanese electronics biggie, and its new tablet. Oh, no! Not another tablet! It really does seem as though everybody wants to get into the tablet act. And we’re not through yet, since Amazon too is said to have a tablet/reader standing in the wings. The newest machine is named ICONIA Tab A500. It runs on Android, plays Flash and seems rather capable according to the specs provided in the WSJ piece. The base model has a price of about $449, so this little guy could be a real competitor to the Ipad, aiming at those who want to save some dough, a lot in fact, and and still get a good machine.
B&N is launching another reading gadget called “Simple Touch”. It is supposed to be an advance on its predecessor in that it has a very, very good screen with the newest E-Ink technology and a superior touch screen. Touch screens were rather common way back when the whole personal computer thing was getting off the ground. A lot of people didn’t like them because they felt strange, and often they didn’t register the command or function you were trying to initiate. So them went into decline, but bounced back very hard with the newer generations of cell phones, or whatever you call those things people lug around and very occasionally use to make or receive phone calls. So, the Simple Touch is in the pack, scrambling with the other readers for the customer dollar. The new reader is a follow-on to the Nook, which is still being sold and which has achieved a certain market penetration. Simple Touch readers will come in at several price levels, depending on the wireless and gigabyte limit the buyer wants to spend for. The Kindle and the Ipad are still out in front, with also-rans like the SONY Book Reader, the Nook, the Samsung thing straggling along behind
You can read the specs on the new thing in the article linked to below. One nice feature of the Simple Touch is its lightness. And B&N touts the fact that you can read it comfortably outside in bright light
The portion of unused bandwidth lying between TV images is called whitespace. Depending on the standard being used, there can be quite a bit of it, and over the years different people have pondered how to get it to do something useful. Way back when broadcast technologies were just getting started, nobody worried about ‘wasting’ space. There seemed to be plenty of it. But as more gadgets came along which required a portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, it became clear that, yes, you could run out of spectrum, or at least, the usable portion. So the efficient use of spectrum frequencies took on an urgency it had not had previously. It wasn’t long before engineers started looking at whitespace as a resource. If I have my memories in order, I think there was some talk about power transmission via TV whitespace. Is that possible? I don’t think many of these schemes turned into real products or services, for various reasons beyond my ability to explain. But the idea of doing something with whitespace never went away and right now it has a new and rather powerful advocate: Microsoft. The Sleeping Giant of Redmond has been getting hammered in the nerd press for so-so and ho-hum products which seem a day late and a dollar short. Too much attention was allegedly being devoted to nourishing the company’s cash cow: Windows. Too little attention and talent were going toward innovation. Well, maybe and maybe not. Right now though MS is out front in the line of geeks pushing this whitespace thing. While I am definitely not a techno type, and while I’m even poorer at spotting business winners, I still think MS may be on to something with this one. Of course, that’s probably the kiss of death, but anyway: read the story.
At various times in these lines, I’ve posted stories about the problems involved in dealing with the increasing amount of data yielded by scientific experiments, such as those in astronomy or particle physics. I have also, sniffingly and with no little condescension, regarded similar problems arising in areas of huckstering, or what’s commonly called “commerce”. Here the amount of ‘data’ that is, mostly useless and unimportant facts, such as that Joe Blouwe likes red things, visits the Amazon Buy Tools section a lot and has a 10 shoe size, is very large also. Many smart people are being paid a lot of money to transform these observations into ever more precisely tailored persuasive messages, often called ads, that will influence the said Blouwe to buy certain kinds of stuff, or visit certain resorts or cities or whatnot. It is one of the great tragedies of modern life, and a sure sign that our civilization is in terminal decline, that all this brain power is being devoted to such a silly end. But there it is. Enormous quantities of data are coming from these efforts. Storing and managing this material is driving current database management methods to the outer limits of their capability. To the rescue ride some guys from MIT and UWiSMadison and other places. The plan is to rewrite completely the entire management scheme that undergirds relational databases. These have been around since the 80s or so, and are the foundation on which data management is built. If they are being overwhelmed, thatâ€™s bad news. So, maybe the cavalry is arriving just in time to save the wagon train. Or maybe it’s too late. Some big services, Face book for instance, are supposed to be close to the breaking point.
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The venerable Guardian of the UK recently ran a piece by one of its science journalism team, and it might easily be called The 25 Commandments. Our author sets down some rules…dos and donts…which, if observed, will bring the writer to Felicity Eternal. The prescriptions are the results of many years in harness, plus observation about what other scribblers have done and are doing. All of us who write things and try to write them well, could take a look at the article and see if and how badly we have strayed from the thorny path of journalistic virtue.
Thor Hyderdahl was an interesting man. He was a Norwegian by birth, and that nation has a sea-faring tradition and a large merchant marine. TH got interested in what we might call nautical archaeology. He wanted to know if the ancient voyages referred to in oral traditions and in some written sources really could have been made. The general feeling at the time was that shipbuilding had not advanced past the point of floating down rivers or skipping along a coastline. Some of the stories were relations of what seemed impossible voyages: from South America to Polynesia or from Africa to South America. And we’re not talking about accidents or wrecks, but rather about deliberate, planned voyages in watercraft designed and built to do the job. In many of the places from which the voyages were supposed to have started, the only plentiful material was wood and, well, grass of some kind. It was really hard to imaging anybody going a long distance on a boat made of wood and grass. Hyerdahl said, “let’s see”. His first voyage was from Peru to Polynesia on a craft he named Kon-Tiki in 1947. The crew drifted for 101 days and wound up, just as TH had predicited on one of the islands in the Polynesian chain. They had food and water and were in radio contact, just in case. But still the Pacific is big, and can be stormy, and a raft is a raft. Hyerdahl wrote a book Kon-Tiki, which sold very, very well. There was also a movie, which I remember seeing, sitting there rapt at the immensity of the ocean, and the mightiness of the swells. I was a kid then, and ship-crazy so I would have payed twice the ticket price, gladly. The book is a good read. TH was a serious person and the voyage was not just a stunt. He made other trips; across the Atlantic from Africa to Barbados, and in the Middle East. It’s too much to say he convinced everybody, but it’s clear that trips such as those were at least possible for ancient societies, and may have been rather frequent. The people of the Pacific Islands came from somplace. How did they get there? At least, Hyerdahl got some scientitis thinking. Read Kon-TIki; it’s good.
In a kind of Silicon Valley dog-bites-man story, readers everywhere were shocked, shocked to learn that Facebook, the Mother Church of online friendliness, camaraderie and tell-all laid backery had engaged a PR firm to spread nasty stories about its rival, Google. Burson-Marstellar is the name of the smearer FB hired, and the theme of the first attempts was Google’s alleged lack of concern for, and get this, user privacy! No, I’m not kidding. Facebook actually was prepared to lay out real dough, since hit men don’t come cheap, to tell a breathless audience that Google plays fast and loose with private information. Well, one of the tech journalists wouldn’t play ball and broke the story. So the stealth attack was exposed when this guy turned the rock over and in the ensuing chorus of complaint, mixed with laughter at FB’s shamelessness in talking about privacy, B-M decided that it was all a big mistake, an error of judgment and the firm should not have taken the job. Considering that PR firms take on some pretty odious clients and do it without wearing those latex gloves the TV detectives seem to be sporting, or even face masks, an admission like that is really something. But I think it really means that the company is embarrassed at having been caught spreading lies, not that spreading lies is, like, a bad thing. They should have been more judicious in which lies they spread. The link below goes to the story. There were write-ups about it in the non-tech press as well.
Today is the anniversary of the laser, unless it isn’t. The history of the device’s invention, and of who thought of what when, and who filed for patent protection on exactly what and when it was filed all make for a very convoluted story and one full of twists. The court rooms were the scene of many mind-numbing battles between the claimants and of lawyerly distinctions about what exactly could be called the laser and about what you mean by ‘first’. It’s a gadget that has really changed modern life and the applications of it are far from played out. Here’s the backstory.