Salute Senator Kirk

I want to take the opportunity to take note that, on April 2nd, Senator Kirk (R-Ill) announced his support for gay marriage.

IMO, he got it just right,

“Our time on this earth is limited, I know that better than most. Life comes down to who you love and who loves you back…”

Well said.

This was obviously sincere, there was no political calculation or spin here. Simply a man who has learned what is important, and is trying to be the best human being he can, in the few years he may have left.

Goodness knows I disagree with him on many issues.  But on this we are one, and, I believe, for the best reasons of all.

For this week I am extremely proud to have Mark Kirk as my Senator.

I salute you, Senator Kirk, and wish you the best.

Obama Statement Draws Controversy (Satire)

In a speech today, President Obama (D) surprised supporters and critics by apparently endorsing the position that tomorrow will, in fact, be Friday.  “I’ll see you all tomorrow. I think we’ll all be glad that it is Friday, my favorite day of the week.”, he said at the end of a 40 minute speech.

This endorsement of Friday initiated a firestorm of criticism.  Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), commented “This is another example of the irresponsible, extremist agenda of the Democrat party. We wouldn’t be having Friday if the President would exercise leadership.

In a party line vote, the House of Representatives immediately passed a bill to repeal Friday, referred to as the “freedom week restoration act”.  The Senate is not expected to take up the bill.

Representative Stone Monarch (R-NY) said that “Friday is the first step to socialism.” Representative Anna Johansdottir (R-MN) asserted that “The holocaust started on Friday.”

Stu Likely, head of the North Texas Independent Tea Party Alliance decried the president’s endorsement of “the Muslim Sabbath day”, and called for “calendar reform” to make everyday be called Sunday. Former Senator Nick Dantorum (R) blasted the President’s support for “gay weekdays”, which undermine the moral fabric of society.

Speaking on the Vole News Network, blogger Ron Globmeister report the shocking story that elementary schools across the country were teaching “the president’s party line” through calendars that reflect the “radical-socialist-nazi-muslim agenda” weekday on it.  He decried the “war on Sunday” perpetrated by the liberal media, which seeks to give “equal time” to every day of the week.

The Indiana state legislature passed a bill prohibiting the “teaching, advocating, or celebrating  Friday”, and officially renaming it “Freedomday”.

Later in the day, asked about the controversy, a senior White House official commented that “the President believes the majority of the American people stand with him.”  He rejected the notion that the President’s position has changed, asserting that, “the President has always respected and enjoyed all the days of the week, including Friday.”

Regulating Mobile Apps for Health and Wellness

I heard on the news that the US Food and Drug Administration is approaching issuing regulations for Health apps on mobile devices.

The issue here is that there are a variety of clever apps being developed for mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets. Generally, these use the sensors to monitor the user’s health, providing feedback and in some cases calling for help.

Proponents are happy to list the potential benefits, including cheaper and better monitoring of health, and promotion of healthy behaviors.

These apps pose challenges for the FDA and the legal system. Some apps overlap with uses that are currently done through regulated medical devices. So, does the app need to be licensed by the FDA?  Is the app provider legally liable for medical harm that might happen if the app makes an error, fails to work at the wrong moment, or is misused?

These issues have probably been a bit of shock for some app developers, used to the free wheeling world of software development.  Suddenly, they need to deal with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of legal costs to get permission to release their widget.  And it is not even clear what needs to be approved and what the rules are.

There are numerous difficult questions that need to be worked through. The FDA published draft rules a while ago.  These rules are approaching final release.

Much of the press coverage has come from the business and software developer’s perspective, with plenty of arguments about how beneficial these apps would be, and how it would be terrible to impose full blown regulation on them.

Myself, I would want this stuff regulated just like all other medical devices. The reason is simple:  a bad app looks the same as a good app.  And it is so much easier and cheaper to create a fraud that pretends to sense your vital signs, but just fakes it.  And I guarantee you, the market will be flooded with cheap clones that do no good and may harm you.

This story will become even more complex, because there are endless grey areas, just as in the case of food supplements and astrology. There will be endless apps that claim to improve “wellness” through various magical means.  These will need to be regulated just as food supplements need to be.  This is probably in the court of the US FTC, not the FDA.

For those who imagine that the “market” will regulate these apps, I will point to the history of medical device and medicines, and why it was necessary to create regulatory systems.

Bottom line:  we need to support careful regulation of apps that make medical claims.

 

Illinois Supercomputer is online

The National Center for Supercomputing Applications is back in the supercomputing business, with the official public ceremony marking the start of regular use of the Blue Waters supercomputer.

Over the past five years, this system has been carefully designed to be maximally useful for large scale science and engineer problems of interest to the National Science Foundation and many others.  It is likely that a number of important and fundamental results will be created using this system.  For more info, see the press release and the links above.

Aloha from the big island of Hawaii; Ideas for Augmented Reality; and a Modest Proposal

I’m just returned from eight days on Hawaii, mostly at the Hilton resort at Waikoloa Village, the NW side of the big island.

As expected, Hawaii was wonderful: the weather is great, the people are happy and friendly, and I don’t mind missing the last big storm of the winter in Illinois, not at all.

The Waikoloa Village is on the northwest, dry, side of the big island (not a drop of rain while we were there—despite weeks of soaking just over the mountain in Hilo), apparently built on giant lava flows. The development is pretty touristy, with nary a bookstore to be found, but plenty of golf courses and jewelry stores. Not really my scene at all.

The Hilton is a bit more “Disney” than I expected, with considerable amount of “scripting”, and a lot of emphasis on stuff for little kids. The kids don’t bother me too much, and the script is tolerable since the theme is “Hawaii is wonderful”, which requires restraint and respect for heritage and nature. Mercifully, no costumed characters or fake villages.

By far the best part of the visit was the whale watching.  Hundreds of whales were swimming, breaching, and flapping, easily visible from shore. It was quite a show, and didn’t require any extra fee to enjoy.

One or more humpback whales cavorting.
(Phone video from Waikaloa, 28 February, Robert E. McGrath)

I was also happy to find a footpath along the shore which led to Anaeho’omalu Bay beach, where I was happy to find the Lava Lava beach club, a wonderful informal restaurant literally on the beach.  Walking a couple of miles for a good lunch is much more my style.

Thinking about Augmented Reality

After a couple of days recovery from the long flight, I had recovered and started to think again. One thing that occurred to me is that there are a ton of opportunities to deploy Augmented Reality in this kind of setting.

I’ve been thinking, studying, and talking about Augmented Reality for many years now. My colleague Alan Craig and I have written (mostly unsuccessful) proposals as long as 6 years ago. We were fortunate to receive support from the National Science Foundation, and from the National Institute of Health  for some of our work. Alan and I, along with our many collaborators, have mainly been concerned about non-profit sector applications, including science, museums, schools, and so on.

But it occurred to me that AR technology works the same in a resort, and many of the applications we’ve envisioned would be quite cool. And—bonus—there is actually a possibility that they could be funded and sustained.

So here is a three part article…  [Read Article]

Squirrel Meets Chipmunk: What’s the Point?

I just read David Sedaris’s “Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk” (2010).

This is a strange little book (150 pages), a collection of very short “animal stories”, with illustrations by Ian Falconer.

I don’t really know what to make of them.  Naturally, the animals are very people-like, and we’re certainly supposed to identify with the characters and situations.

Unfortunately, the characters are dim-witted and neurotic.  Perhaps this intended to be comical, or perhaps it is intended to be sad or poignant, or something.

Mostly, I found it unpleasant and pointless.  Definitely not funny.

Again, I don’t mind buying the book, it is important to support living authors.  But I really can’t recommend it.

Sedaris, D. (2010). Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary. New York: Little, Brown, and Company.

Tenth of December: unpleasant to read, not worth the trouble

I just finished George Saunders collection, “Tenth of December”.

This book has been highly praised, insanely so, which is why I bought it.

Sigh. I should know better.

This collection of short stories was disappointing, and frankly unpleasant to read.  Perhaps the critics admire the terse, yet complex prose.  Surely, they cannot admire the annoying characters and stupid plots. The author seems obsessed with poverty, disease, and pharmaceuticals with stupid-cute names that have impossibly precise psychological effects.

I didn’t find a single character I liked or identified with.  Not one happy ending. Not even any problems-to-overcome that I cared about.

Pretty much a was of my time.

I don’t mind buying the book, I like to support living authors.  But I won’t be rushing to read anymore GS in the near future.

Bob says don’t bother.

George Saunders, (2013). Tenth of December. New York: Random House.

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