Minor Thoughts from me to you

Archives for Good News (page 1 / 3)

The world isn’t getting worse — our information is getting better

Ray Kurzweil explained how it is that the headlines can be continually worse even if the world is getting better: our information is getting better.

People think the world’s getting worse, and we see that on the left and the right, and we see that in other countries. People think the world is getting worse. … That’s the perception. What’s actually happening is our information about what’s wrong in the world is getting better. A century ago, there would be a battle that wiped out the next village, you’d never even hear about it. Now there’s an incident halfway around the globe and we not only hear about it, we experience it.

We know more than we've ever known before about what's going on around the world. Things aren't getting worse every day, we're just better informed about how things really are. Tragedies are no longer local news, they're now national news. Instead of rarely getting bad news about our local area, we now get daily bad news from everywhere. Even if there's less bad happening overall, there's still enough of it for one depressing headline a day. The upshot is that everything's getting better and everyone's convinced that everything's getting worse.

How Polluting is Your Car, On a Scale of 1 to Horse Manure?

It's fashionable to decry the horrid pollution of gas guzzling, emission belching, fossil fuel cars. But how do they compare to life in late nineteenth century urban America? (I'll re-use this quote from my last reading idea.)

Even the wastes of horses were commodified.  The collection of urban manure had old, even ancient roots.  Again, the process is most easily documented in New York City.  Before 1878, individuals roamed the street and picked up manure.  In that year the Common Council supposedly sold an exclusive license to a William Hitchcock, who sold the street sweepings to farmers for fertilizer.  Street sweepings varied in quality and were worth more if from an asphalt street than if from a gravel street or a dirty alley.  They were always worth less than stable manure, a purer product.  The older pattern of individuals collecting street manure for urban gardens never fully went away, and as late as the first half of the twentieth century neighborhood children in the Italian American neighborhood of East Harlem did a thriving business collecting horse manure from the streets for backyard gardens in the area.

Say what you will about my Toyota Sienna minivan, but no one will ever have to step in, smell, or sweep up any poop from it. Modern life is far cleaner, healthier, and more hygienic thanks to the widespread adoption of the internal combustion engine. It's not the sexiest technology, but I'm very happy to have it.

This entry was tagged. Cars Good News

Peru cop who Tased Alzheimer's patient won't get his job back

This closes the loop on a story that I first noted back in July 2012.

According to police reports, Officers Gregory Martin and Jeremy Brindle entered Howard’s room in the locked-down Alzheimer’s unit and told him to enter the ambulance.

When Howard did not respond to commands, Martin unholstered his Taser and told him he would be Tased if he didn’t comply.

Brindle attempted to gain control of Howard’s arms to restrain him, and a struggle ensued. When Howard turned towards Brindle, Martin then Tased him, which caused Howard to drop to the floor.

Howard was then Tased by Martin two more times while on the ground after ordering him multiple times to roll onto his stomach. Police said Howard resisted constraint and attempted to fight them while on the floor.

Brindle then handcuffed Howard, which left a large, bloody gash on his wrist and escorted him to Duke’s Memorial Hospital. Officers said he was combative in the ambulance until his wife arrived at the hospital and calmed him down.

Howard’s wife, Virginia, ... said her husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s 13 years ago and doesn’t understand the simplest directions or commands like “sit down or pick up a book.”

In August 2012, the Peru, IN police department fired Gregory Martin. Martin immediately appealed his firing and the case went to court. On September 5 2013---more than a year later---the appeals court denied Martin's appeal. It's now official that Martin won't be going back to the Peru, IN police force.

I'm glad this case is finally over and that justice ultimately was served. But this case illustrates why I believe that police unions are a bad idea. In a normal business, you could fire an employee for this kind of overreaction and walk away, confident that the firing would stick. The city of Peru fired Martin and then had to fight multiple battles to ensure that the firing would stick.

This kind of long drawn process gives too much power to the police department, to our civil "servants". It mights it too costly to get rid of bad actors and makes it more likely that the bad actors stick around, causing more problems down the road.

Union defenders claim that the government unions are necessary, to protect employees against abusive employers and managers. But the city of Peru is ultimately responsible to its citizens. Police who think they are wrongly treated can make their case at the ballot box. They shouldn't be able to use the coercive power of unionization to dictate terms to the citizens who ultimately pay their salaries and employ them.

The Girl Who Turned to Bone

The Girl Who Turned to Bone →

Carl Zimmer, writing for The Atlantic.

Peeper’s diagnosis meant that, over her lifetime, she would essentially develop a second skeleton. Within a few years, she would begin to grow new bones that would stretch across her body, some fusing to her original skeleton. Bone by bone, the disease would lock her into stillness. The Mayo doctors didn’t tell Peeper’s parents that. All they did say was that Peeper would not live long.

... “Your muscle isn’t turning to bone,” says Shore. “It’s being replaced by bone.”

Strange disease. Incredible story.

This entry was tagged. Good News Medicine

Science Fiction Comes Alive as Researchers Grow Organs in Lab

Science Fiction Comes Alive as Researchers Grow Organs in Lab →

Gautam Naik, writing for the Wall Street Journal:

Inside a warren of rooms buried in the basement of Gregorio Marañón hospital here, Dr. Aviles and his team are at the sharpest edge of the bioengineering revolution that has turned the science-fiction dream of building replacement parts for the human body into a reality.

Now, with the quest to build a heart, researchers are tackling the most complex organ yet. The payoff could be huge, both medically and financially, because so many people around the world are afflicted with heart disease. Researchers see a multi-billion-dollar market developing for heart parts that could repair diseased hearts and clogged arteries.

Lab grown replacement organs using adult stem cells. Awesome. I see no reason to back down from my prediction that my generation will have a substantially longer lifespan than my grandparents' generation.

Domestic Drones Are Coming Your Way

Domestic Drones Are Coming Your Way →

Reason argues, very persuasively I think, that commercial drones could be immensely useful and innovative. The argument against hasty changes to law is even, dare I say it, a conservative one.

Six hours into his epic filibuster last week, Sen. Rand Paul had to settle for Mike & Ike’s from the Senate candy drawer to quell his hunger. But is there any question he would have much rather had some delicious carnitas delivered by quadrocopter?

...

Restrictions on private drones may indeed be necessary some day, as the impending explosion of drone activity will no doubt disrupt our current social patterns. But before deciding on these restrictions, shouldn’t legislators and regulators wait until we have flying around more than a tiny fraction of the thousands of domestic drones the FAA estimates will be active this decade?

If officials don’t wait, they are bound to set the wrong rules since they will have no real data and only their imaginations to go on. It’s quite possible that existing privacy and liability laws will adequately handle most future conflicts. It’s also likely social norms will evolve and adapt to a world replete with robots.

By legislating hastily out of fear we would be forgoing the learning that comes from trial and error, trading progress for illusory security. And there is no clearer sign of human progress than tacos from the sky.

Krugman and Inequality of Free Time

Krugman and Inequality of Free Time →

Krugman is correct that women spend more time in paid jobs than before. But women also spend much less time doing unpaid household work. Overall, men and women enjoy three to six hours a week more free time than in the 1960s — Americans have more leisure today than a generation ago.

In fact, lower income Americans have more free time today than upper income Americans do. It seems that people face a trade-off between higher incomes with less free time or lower incomes with more free time.

Speaking personally, I know I could probably earn more if I put in more time at work. But I'm happy to forgo that extra income in favor of spending more time at home, with my family.

US may soon become world's top oil producer

US may soon become world's top oil producer →

This is exciting news.

U.S. oil output is surging so fast that the United States could soon overtake Saudi Arabia as the world's biggest producer.

Driven by high prices and new drilling methods, U.S. production of crude and other liquid hydrocarbons is on track to rise 7 percent this year to an average of 10.9 million barrels per day. This will be the fourth straight year of crude increases and the biggest single-year gain since 1951.

The boom has surprised even the experts.

"Five years ago, if I or anyone had predicted today's production growth, people would have thought we were crazy," says Jim Burkhard, head of oil markets research at IHS CERA, an energy consulting firm.

The Energy Department forecasts that U.S. production of crude and other liquid hydrocarbons, which includes biofuels, will average 11.4 million barrels per day next year. That would be a record for the U.S. and just below Saudi Arabia's output of 11.6 million barrels. Citibank forecasts U.S. production could reach 13 million to 15 million barrels per day by 2020, helping to make North America "the new Middle East."

An Honest Accounting of the Benefits of Genetically Modified Crops

An Honest Accounting of the Benefits of Genetically Modified Crops →

Take it away, Matt Ridley.

Generally, technologies are judged on their net benefits, not on the claim that they are harmless: The good effects of, say, the automobile and aspirin outweigh their dangers. Today, arguably, adopting certain new technologies is harder not just because of a policy of precaution but because of a bias in much of the media against reporting the benefits.

So to redress the balance, I thought I'd look up the estimated benefits of genetically modified crops. After 15 years of GM planting, there's ample opportunity—with 17 million farmers on almost 400 million acres in 29 countries on six continents—to count the gains from genetic modification of crop plants. A recent comprehensive report by Graham Brookes and Peter Barfoot for a British firm, PG Economics, gives some rough numbers. (The study was funded by Monsanto, which has major operations in biotech, but the authors say the research was independent of the company and published in two peer-reviewed journals.)

The most obvious benefit is yield increase. In 2010, the report estimates, the world's corn crop was 31 million tons larger and the soybean crop 14 million tons larger than it would have been without the use of biotech crops. The direct effect on farm incomes was an increase of $14 billion, more than half of which went to farmers in developing countries (especially those growing insect-resistant cotton).

In addition, a range of non-pecuniary benefits have been recorded, from savings in fuel, time and machinery to a better health and safety record on the farm (since less pesticide is needed), shorter growing cycles and better quality of product. In India—where the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications says 88% of cotton is now genetically modified to resist pests and insecticide use has halved—bee keepers are losing fewer bees.

As this illustrates, the most striking benefits are environmental. The report calculates that a cumulative total of 965 million pounds of pesticide have not been used because of the adoption of GM crops. The biggest impacts are from insect-resistant cotton and herbicide-tolerant maize, both of which need fewer sprayings than their conventional equivalents.

The use of less fuel in farming GM crops results in less carbon-dioxide emission. In addition, herbicide-tolerant GM crops can often be grown with little or no plowing in stubble fields that are sprayed with herbicides. The result is to allow more carbon to remain in the soil, since plowing releases carbon as microbial exhalation. Taken together, Messrs. Brookes and Barfoot estimate, this means that the GM crops grown in 2010 had an effect on carbon-dioxide emissions equivalent to taking 8.6 million cars off the road.

There is a rich irony here. The rapidly growing use of shale gas in the U.S. has also driven down carbon-dioxide emissions by replacing coal in the generation of electricity. U.S. carbon emissions are falling so fast they are now back to levels last seen in the 1990s. So the two technologies most reliably and stridently opposed by the environmental movement—genetic modification and fracking—have been the two technologies that most reliably cut carbon emissions.

Vegetative state patients can respond to questions

Vegetative state patients can respond to questions →

More ways to communicate with patients that we used to think were brain dead.

Scientists have been able to reach into the mind of a brain-damaged man and communicate with his thoughts.

The research, carried out in the UK and Belgium, involved a new brain scanning method.

Awareness was detected in three other patients previously diagnosed as being in a vegetative state.

The study in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that scans can detect signs of awareness in patients thought to be closed off from the world.

This entry was tagged. Good News Innovation

Consciousness scanner giving hope to brain trauma patients | CTV News

Consciousness scanner giving hope to brain trauma patients | CTV News →

It may turn out that fewer patients are actually in a vegetative state than we think.

Researchers are currently testing the Halifax Consciousness Scanner, a device that uses words and tones to measure brain function in patients that have suffered severe trauma or stroke-induced brain injuries.

... In developing the scanner, doctors first measure brain-wave patterns to create a picture of a healthy individual’s brain, which is then compared to the picture that is produced by an impaired brain.

Doctors are then able to determine the extent of the injuries and a long-term outlook for a patient’s recovery.

The team behind the Halifax Consciousness Scanner is hoping to test the device on more brain trauma patients and eventually have units in ambulances and emergency rooms to gain accurate brain status readings of unconscious and semi-conscious patients.

Researchers are also teaming with engineers to develop a hand-held consciousness scanner and headset.

This entry was tagged. Good News Innovation

Global warming stopped 16 years ago

Global warming stopped 16 years ago →

The world stopped getting warmer almost 16 years ago, according to new data released last week.

The figures, which have triggered debate among climate scientists, reveal that from the beginning of 1997 until August 2012, there was no discernible rise in aggregate global temperatures.

This means that the ‘plateau’ or ‘pause’ in global warming has now lasted for about the same time as the previous period when temperatures rose, 1980 to 1996. Before that, temperatures had been stable or declining for about 40 years.

Interesting.

My Dream School-Information System

My Dream School-Information System →

Reading this blog post, I learned about GreatSchools, a rating site for both public and private schools. It's a very cool resource and illustrates just what would be possible in a truly free educational market. Just imagine if you could search all of the schools in your area and then send each of your children to the one that's the best match for him/her, with complete freedom to choose.

Here's Bill Jackson talking about one of the features that he'd like to be able to add to the site.

3. School program and curriculum

I want to know all about the school's curriculum and programs. We've got this down pretty well in our next-generation school profile launching this month in select cities. For example, check out St. Joan Antida High School, a private girls-only high school in Milwaukee that accepts vouchers. You can see tons of details here.

Another way to get insight: photos and videos that shed light on unique features of schools. For an example, see this video linked from the GreatSchools profile of Amy Beverland Elementary School in Indianapolis.

In the future, I'd like to get parent and student reviews that provide insight into the quality of programs at middle and high schools. In addition to learning whether the school has a band, we could learn about how meaningful that band is to students and families.

This entry was tagged. Good News Innovation

Driverless Cars Would Reshape Automobiles *and* the Transit System

Driverless Cars Would Reshape Automobiles *and* the Transit System →

So, sure. I've been blogging a lot of political stuff lately. But I get really excited about the potential for technological innovation to change our lives for the better. For instance, take driverless cars. (I'd love to!)

Would they just be a more convenient way to get around or would they revolutionize the entire idea of personal transportation? I was talking about this with my wife just last week, so I was excited to see someone else echoing my thoughts. If I'm not alone in my thinking, maybe I'm not crazy to think it.

When I've thought about driverless cars, which if you believe Sergey Brin, will be available within "several years," I've tended to think of them as a drop-in replacement for our current automobiles. So, you'd buy a VW Automaton and it would sit in your driveway until you wanted to go somewhere. Then, you'd hop in, say, "Take me to Lake Merritt," and then just sit back and pop in the latest Animal Collective while the computer drove.

But maybe that's not what would happen at all. Changes in transportation technology have tended to be accompanied by changes to transportation systems, too. Long-time technologist Brad Templeton argues that this will, in fact, be the case. And he's even got an idea of what the big shift might be. We could enter the age of the "whistlecar." If one can hire a cheap specialized 'robotaxi' (or whistlecar) on demand when one has a special automotive need," Templeton writes, "car users can elect to purchase a vehicle only for their most common needs, rather than trying to meet almost all of them -- or to not purchase at all."

This vision is kind of stunning: imagine the Kiva Systems logistics robots that now speed around major warehouses, but for people. Transportation-as-a-service models could really take off in a world of hyperoptimized robotaxis. Not only would the robotaxis be built differently from normal cars, but people's private vehicles (if they had one) would change as they realized how they could use the new system more effectively.

This entry was tagged. Good News Innovation

VeinViewer helps IV needles hit the vein the first time

VeinViewer helps IV needles hit the vein the first time →

Image

This is a super cool piece of technology.

The instrument uses a near-infrared light that penetrates just below the skin and reflects off blood vessels. VeinViewer senses hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying component in blood, which an onboard computer uses to distinguish veins from arteries. It then projects an image of veins on the skin surface in a green light.

It's especially useful on dark-skinned patients, whose blue veins aren't readily visible, and overweight patients, whose veins tend to be deeper. It also highlights the tiny veins of infants.

"It's a great tool to reduce a baby's stress," Ginny Johnson, director of women's services at North Hills, said as she demonstrated the instrument on 1-day-old Zoey White. Helped by a little rubbing of her wrist, VeinViewer traced Zoey's threadlike veins as she awoke from a nap.

It costs $17,000 but the patient satisfaction with these things has to be off the charts. If I was spending my own money on healthcare, this would definitely be something that I'd be looking for in the hospital or doctor's office.

This entry was tagged. Good News Innovation

Printing Muscle

Printing Muscle →

In a small clean room tucked into the back of San Diego–based startup Organovo, Chirag Khatiwala is building a thin layer of human skeletal muscle. He inserts a cartridge of specially prepared muscle cells into a 3-D printer, which then deposits them in uniform, closely spaced lines in a petri dish. This arrangement allows the cells to grow and interact until they form working muscle tissue that is nearly indistinguishable from something removed from a human subject.

The technology could fill a critical need. Many potential drugs that seem promising when tested in cell cultures or animals fail in clinical trials because cultures and animals are very different from human tissue. Because Organovo's product is so similar to human tissue, it could help researchers identify drugs that will fail long before they reach clinical trials, potentially saving drug companies billions of dollars. So far, Organovo has built tissue of several types, including cardiac muscle, lung, and blood vessels.

No Pulse: How Doctors Reinvented The Human Heart

No Pulse: How Doctors Reinvented The Human Heart →

This article was fascinating from beginning to end.

“Rare-earth magnets!” Cohn cried, straining to pull one free. He put it in my hand. It was the size of a pencil eraser, and when I loosened my grip, it shot like a bullet to the file cabinet with a clang. “Extremely powerful.” Cohn has pioneered the use of rare-earth magnets to move catheters into place deep inside the body. He avoids having to cut patients open by threading the magnets, and their tiny loads, up through arteries. He pawed several sheets of paper off the floor and drew diagrams on their unused backs, launching an hour-long discourse on the instruments and procedures he’s built around miniature magnets.

Building a heart that mimics nature's lub-dub may be as comically shortsighted as Leonardo Da Vinci designing a flying machine with flapping wings.On his wall hung four metal serving spoons of the kind you might see on a cafeteria line. One was intact; the other three had intricate slots cut in them. Years ago, Cohn butchered the spoons in his home garage to solve the problem of holding a heart still while operating on it. The standard way, at the time, was to shut off the heart altogether and put the patient on a heart-lung machine. But that was risky. Cohn’s spoons let surgeons hold a heart in place while still giving them access to the parts they needed to slice or stitch. Through the custom-cut slots, the surface of the heart would emerge and hold still for tinkering, even while the rest of the heart thrashed around under the spoon. Cohn refined the idea and sold it to a medical-devices company, which has marketed the tools worldwide.

I love genius/crazy scientists who push forward the state of the art.

This entry was tagged. Good News

Jeff Bezos Is Indulging His 11-Year-Old Self And We Love It

Jeff Bezos Is Indulging His 11-Year-Old Self And We Love It →

If you had asked an 11-year-old Jeff Bezos to let his imagination run wild and think of the stuff that he would most dream to have as an adult, he might have said:

The world's biggest bookstore! Maybe even a bookstore that can beam any book directly to your hand in an instant (and movies and music, too!).

A giant sky computer that can imitate human intelligence

A spaceship.

...And maybe even a robot army

Of course any adult would have smiled slightly condescendingly, patted him on the head and helpfully explained that these things aren't possible. 

This is so great. I love what Jeff Bezos has done for the world.

In Defense Of Kitchen Gadgets (2)

In Defense Of Kitchen Gadgets (2) →

Glenn Reynolds links to Megan McArdle's defense of kitchen gadgets and posts reader email praising a rotating pizza oven.

Reader Paul Curtis writes:

Funny, you recommended the Pizzazz Pizza Oven more than four years ago on the blog. I know because I bought one at the time, and I’ve never tired of it! In fact, this year I bought additional turntables, because I’ve put so much wear on the original.

The device is so convenient, I’ve even started carrying it with me in my car, when I visit friends.

In Defense of Kitchen Gadgets

In Defense of Kitchen Gadgets →

Megan McArdle writes a very nice defense of kitchen gadgets.

If you really think that laborious food prep is that elevating, you should go back to the methods of your grandmother. Buy whole nuts and crack them by hand, picking out the meats and hoping you don't accidentally get a bit of shell. Throw out the powdered gelatin and use calf's foot jelly. Make your own confectioner's sugar with a food grinder or a rolling pin. Pluck your own chickens. Render your own lard.

If you think that doing these things would be ridiculous--which it would--then why is it ridiculous to have a machine chop your onions or make your bechamel? There's no particular reason to assume that we have reached some sort of technological plateau where the things that we happen to do by hand right now represent the best possible methods for accomplishing those tasks.

In other words, the "one knife, one pan", "I don't need kitchen gadgets" snobs aren't a better, purer sort of cook; they're just ignoring most of the contents of their kitchen. How many of them cook over an open fire, rather than using one of those high-faluting fancy stoves with their automatic temperature regulation and their electric lights? Why are they storing all their food in a cold box rather than shopping for each day, the way people do in India? Who needs a special pot for coffee when your great grandparents just boiled it up in a saucepan and settled the grinds by dropping eggshells into the resulting brew? Why own a blender instead of putting the food through a grinder and then a chinois? Wouldn't the dishes get cleaner if you boiled up water and washed them by hand? And hey, what's that toaster doing there?