Category: Technology

Tech guy on House Committee Hearing on Healthcare.gov: “it’s like watching my 1-year-old argue with my cat”

Posted by – October 31, 2013

Two Deeper Issues to Consider

So, I’m a little behind the curve on this one, as it happened in the late morning of October 24th and has been blogged and tumbl’d and tweeted about a bajillion times and now is a week old and largely forgotten… but that’s all right, since my blogging is all about providing long-view context and a unique perspective, not about news.

If you missed it last Thursday (10/24/2013) the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on the healthcare.gov glitches so

This political cartoon by The Hill‘s Chris Weyant sums up GOP complaints about healthcare.gov and Obamacare so well!

they could grandstand, bloviate on issues they don’t understand and mug for the cameras.  Congressman Frank Pallone (D – New Jersey’s 6th Congressional district) did some counter-trolling to the GOP trolling over the web site and privacy, saying “No, I will not yield to this monkey court or whatever this thing is,” which quickly went viral and was clipped on every news site and inspired a flood of tweets with the hashtag #monkeycourt.  Trolling against your opponents’ trolling…it’s pretty much the most we can expect from our Congress right now.  That’s the surface of the story, though I admit I found committee chairman Joe Barton’s hasty response “this is not a monkey court”—in a tone not entirely convinced himself—to be hiiiilarious (judge for yourself) but…

what’s the deeper context most news media isn’t giving you?

1) The content of this House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing consisted of questions not grounded in facts about web sites and internet tech, followed by answers just as unmoored from web reality.  This spectacle of a hearing/monkeycourt was every bit as indicative of Congress’ tech ignorance as then-Senator Ted Stevens’ infamous the internet is “a series of tubes remark, and it ought to be seen in that light.

Web entrepreneur Clay Johnson—@cjoh—provided some real substance on the oft-ignored web dev issues at the heart of the healthcare.gov problems when he was interviewed by Democracy Now! the day following the hearing.  Johnson pointed out that a core problem is Congress’ cluelessness around the subject matter at issue:

…so, you have these bizarre exchanges where, you know, a member of Congress is asking the vice president of CGI Federal about code inside of the website that isn’t even being displayed and isn’t even relevant to the user, and CG—and the VP of CGI Federal not even recognizing that it’s not displayed and not even relevant to the user. It was this really baffling set of exchanges. It’s like watching my one-year-old argue with my cat.

He also revealed that “Congress lobotomized itself” on technological issues when—under the direction of Speaker Gingrich—it canceled the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), zeroing it out in the FY 1996 budget, so it had to close September 29th, 1995; significantly, this “defunding” was part of the dramatic budget cuts that triggered the battle over spending and government shutdown of 1995-96.  Because of the OTA’s absence, Johnson explains, Congress doesn’t have the kind of consistent advice it needs to understand the myriad of technology needs and requirements that crop up in the legislation that’s voted on each session.  Clearly, our members of Congress are left to rely on the advice of their staffers, which obviously can be uneven and/or skewed.  Read or listen to the rambling “series of tubes” remarks, spoken by the late Ted Stevens—then-Senate president pro-tem—and it’s apparent he was clumsily repeating parts of the party line on net neutrality, but interpreting it through his own very unique imagery, “…again, the Internet is not something that you just dump something on. It’s not a big truck. It’s a series of tubes. And if you don’t understand, those tubes can be filled….” etc., and lots of the substance is getting “lost in translation.” See and/or hear the comments Clay Johnson gave to Democracy Now! in full below:

 

2) the power, sweeping purview and deep-seated corruption of these House committees deserves coverage.  The House Energy and Commerce Committee oversees the health care industry along with Medicaid and Medicare and the implementation of the ACA, the energy sector—oil, coal, natural gas, etc., plus renewables—and other, enormously important, broad swaths of our socio-economic existence, including trade policy and the numerous ways that federal law regulates markets.  Run by the GOP Majority via committee chairman Joe Barton (representing mostly rural parts of Texas with more cows than voters) this committee has been accumulating power since 1795.  In 1885, Woodrow Wilson wrote about the out-of-control power and corruption of these long-standing House committees:

[the House of Representatives]…divided up, as it were, into forty-seven seignories, in each of which a Standing Committee is the court-baron and its chairman lord-proprietor. These petty barons, some of them not a little powerful, but none of them within reach [of] the full powers of rule, may at will exercise an almost despotic sway within their own shires, and may sometimes threaten to convulse even the realm itself.

—Woodrow Wilson, Congressional Government, p. 76

Congressional Government (1885), Woodrow Wilson’s John Hopkins University doctoral dissertation, became popular in the study of U.S. government and politics and has been published in many different editions.  Wilson’s scholarship aimed to Having long-since lapsed into the public domain, Congressional Government is available in full online: wikisource hosts its 15th (1900) edition

Obviously many aspects of Wilson’s presidency were problematic to say the least, but that doesn’t zero-out the insights from Wilson’s writings and scholarly works.  On his study of the federal government and its flaws, he aimed to be descriptive not prescriptive: “I am pointing out facts—diagnosing, not prescribing remedies.” His diagnosis of the House committee system was that its “barons” are out of control, exercising enormous power nationally without any national or in-House accountability, without checks and balances at all aside from the dude’s constituents’ power to reelect, and without competitive pressure as the chair is given on the basis of seniority not merit. This empowers said dukes and duchesses to act in the shadows, wield power in so corrupt a fashion it’d even make Lucifer blush, all because of the absence of mechanisms to impose repercussions.

The structural defects Wilson described in 1885 continue today, only more so, as the committees’ respective scopes of operations has continually expanded, including more and more of the economy (and more industries to shake down for campaign contributions). Joe Barton himself is the epitome of the corrupt committee chairman, just turn over the log and ewwww….

The questions need to be asked, loudly and repeatedly: should the committee system stay as-is in the 21st century? Should their fiefdoms include like half the economy? and if they are to have such a vast, national scope, can we—the people—vote for the chairs nationally on a quadrennial basis like the presidents?  or at least subject the chairs to a competitive vote of the Congressmen like the way that the Speaker of the House is elected?  Unlike the role of Speaker of the House, however, the committees are not in the U.S. Constitution, just look in Article One.  That makes reforming the committees more like the ongoing debate over filibuster reform, it’s about modernizing arcane rules and traditions that are increasingly prone to abuse.

We desperately need to address the flaws in the underpinning governing structure of our system.  Unfortunately the two parties don’t typically invite discussion of root and branch reforms that may remove some of the ill-gotten gains from the top of the heap they trade off controlling.

I’ll conclude on another quote from Wilson: “We know that the machines of both parties are subsidised by the same persons, and therefore it is useless to turn in either direction.” -from p. 27 of Wilson’s The New Freedom (1912) full text available online.

 

Nick

Four Recent Discoveries Show the “Theoretically Impossible” May Be Possible!

Posted by – October 12, 2011

Anyone noticed the flurry of theoretically impossible discoveries scientists have recently made? Science seems to be increasingly uncovering the impossible is, in fact, very possible!

It’s clear to me that the sum of human knowledge is like a thimble in a sea of what we don’t know, and we’re finding more new questions than answers.  However, if science can find the answers to these amazing questions, it will revolutionize everything.

Below, I’ve assembled a list of these recent new theoretically impossible discoveries, and while some impossibilities are more easily explained than others, and indeed, some are far more revolutionary than others, I think you’ll find *all of them* fascinating.

1. Three Huge Planets Share an Orbit! 

Source: io9.com: Bizarre solar system crams three giant planets into fraction of Mercury’s orbit

This discovery is the least impossible on the list, but still incredibly bizarre, especially when you consider the model of “clearing the neighborhood” planets follow right after their formation, securing an exclusive, uncontested orbit for themselves by knocking all other objects out of their path. Since the International Astronomical Union’s new 2006 definition of a planet requires that an astronomical object “clears its neighborhood” to be defined as a planet, this discovery raises serious questions about the IAU’s definition.

The Kepler spacecraft observed these three planets, two Neptune-like gas giants and one rocky, terrestrial planet twice the size of Earth, orbiting weirdly close to their sun, the newly-discovered Kepler-18 star which is eerily similar to our Sun.  The three planets are so close together that they’re constantly pushing and pulling each other out of their natural orbits, the substantial gravitational fields of each preventing cataclysmic collisions. Since the rocky planet is even closer to its sun than the planet Mercury is to our Sun, it would be even hotter than Mercury (442 Kelvin) and not even microbial life could call it home.

But, if you imagine Earth sharing its orbit with others, getting yanked around by the gravitational pull of two gas giants, it would cause VERY WEIRD climate fluctuations.

We don’t know why these three didn’t clear “their neighborhood.”  The situation they’re in isn’t supposed to be possible really.

To learn more about the Kepler spacecraft and its planet finding mission, click here.

 

2. The Pulsar in the Crab Nebula is Impossibly Powerful

Source: io9.com: One of the most intensively studied objects in space has been identified as an impossibly powerful neutron star

Astrophysicists have observed the often studied pulsar (also known as a neutron star) in the center of the Crab Nebula pumping out radiation at energies far greater than current astrophysical models can explain.  There’s currently no theory to give us any possible answers to why this pulsar is emitting gamma rays exceeding 100 GeV. 100 GeV! That’s 100-billion electron-volts, or 100-billion times more energetic than visible light.  That’s supposed to be impossible.

 

3. Impossibly Large Planet Discovered

Source: Space.com: Largest Known Exoplanet Discovered

An exoplanet (from the Greek prefix exo- “external” or “outside”) is a planet outside our Solar System. In 2007, the Trans-Atlantic Exoplanet Survey coordinated out of the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona (the first observatory to photograph the then-unnamed Pluto in spring 1915, then the observatory where Clyde Tombaugh officially confirmed and discovered Pluto) also known as the TrES Project, discovered the largest-ever exoplanet to date. It’s a gas giant, 1,400 light-years away, nestled closely to its star in the constellation Hercules, but it’s SO giant it theoretically shouldn’t exist.

There are currently no models to explain why TrES-4b, one of the first “puffy planets” observed, is so puffy, not to mention why it exists. Data obtained from precise measurements of the starlight blocked when the planet crosses in front of its star (the transit method) indicates TrES-4b is 70% larger than Jupiter, but only 3/4 of its mass. Not only is it the largest planet ever seen (as of 2007) it’s also the least dense planet discovered; it’s roughly the density of cork! According to current models, we don’t know why it exists, the mass is so little that the upper atmosphere would be escaping in a comet-like tail! Why the entire gas giant doesn’t similarly escape into space is so baffling that the TrES Project team and shook their heads and had no other avenue than sent the problem to astrophysics theoreticians. Leading theories speculate that the planet’s inexplicable existence has to do with the intense heating given TrES-4b’s close proximity to its sun, and/or an alien greenhouse effect, with hydrogen in the atmosphere trapping the other gases inside and keeping the gas giant cohesive.

The questions themselves have revolutionized what we know is possible for exoplanets.

For more information: National Geographic: Largest Known Planet Found, Has Density of Cork

 

4. Did Neutrinos Break The Unbreakable Speed of Light??

Source: io9.com: Faster-than-light neutrinos could be proof of extra dimensions

This last item is by far the most impossible, as exceeding the speed of light is one of physics’ brick walls. Einstein’s theory of general relativity explains the speed of light as an immutable cosmic speed limit, and in the near-century since Einstein first presented the theory of general relativity, no one has been able to disprove it. In fact, data continues to mount supporting the theory; for example, recent measurements near the Sun taken by the Cassini spacecraft prove that Einstein’s predictions about the heavenly bodies’ (stars, planets, etc.) gravity bending space-time are true. More on that in a moment. So far, everything we observe about nature and physics, has been unfailingly consistent with Einstein’s elegant theory, and the theory of general relativity has stood the test of time like a stone lighthouse, unperturbed by the tides of history and the vicissitudes of science and its constant discoveries.

Until now (possibly). The recent neutrino speeds recorded in CERN’s OPERA neutrino experiment (CERN is the European Organization for Nuclear Research, well-known for its gigantic particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider) rocked particle physics last month. If the clocks prove correct, and that’s a big IF, and it’s true that neutrinos moved from CERN in Switzerland to Italy 60 nanoseconds faster than the speed of light, meaning FTL (faster than light) travel isn’t impossible, then that’s an unexplained hole in Einstein’s theory of relativity, and a big one! (Wondering what a neutrino is? Click here.) Not only would FTL travel come into play, but a pandora’s box of impossibilities would open up, everything from time travel to brain-twisty weirdalities like future you sending current you an email from the future with a faster-than-light internet (FTernet!)

It could mean evidence of a fifth or more dimensions, and thus the first observable evidence of string theory. String theory is an attempt at a “theory of everything” that would elegantly reconcile/combine Einstein’s theory of general relativity (addressing the big, cosmological, astrophysics and planetary mechanics problems) with what we’ve learned of quantum mechanics (atomic, sub-atomic, and now, sub-sub-atomic and lower, scale) in the intervening decades, the big astronomical, and small, quantum, questions answered in one string. String theory’s calculations have pointed to possible extra dimensions to explain where dark matter is, and how Earth’s gravity is so light considering the enormous mass of the planet. To answer fundamental physics problems like these, some suggest that gravity (and dark matter—watch Dr. Michio Kaku explain that dark matter may just be the gravitational pull of regular matter from a parallel dimension) are leaking into other dimensions, and they have produced compelling math to back up their ideas. Unfortunately, if string theory isn’t falsifiable, meaning it’s impossible that some observation or experiment will produce a reproducible result that conflicts (or doesn’t conflict) with the theory (because we don’t have the knowledge nor the technology to run experiments that test whether or not it works) then string theory isn’t really scientific, just pure mathematics, and it will wither on the vine. However, if CERN’s FTL neutrinos accidentally uncovered an extra dimension, it would move string theory to frontrunner while keeping general relativity intact, because the 60 nanoseconds FTL incident could be accounted for by the neutrinos cutting across a dimensional shortcut, proving Einstein’s cosmic speed limit is still impossible to get past within normal, four-dimensional space-time.

But a far more likely solution to the 60 nanosecond mystery is a weirdness with CERN’s clocks caused by the curvature of spacetime. As mentioned above, the heavenly bodies, Earth included, by virtue of their mass and gravity, curve spacetime, meaning that gravity is very slightly heavier at the CERN site near Geneva than in central Italy, and thus the clock on the beginning side of the neutrinos’ trip could be tens of nanoseconds slower than the clock at the finish line in Gran Sasso, Italy, and the clocks would have to be precisely synced to compensate. That gravity effects time is nothing unknown or new, but we don’t know whether or not the clocks on both ends were possibly out of sync, not exactly calibrated down to one nanosecond correctly. If such a clock synchronization problem is confirmed, it could shave up to 30 nanoseconds off the speedy neutrinos’ journey, reducing them to a much less-significant and much more easily explained 20 nanosecond over-FTL speed. Source: Faster-than-Light neutrinos face time trial : Nature

"Two-dimensional analogy of spacetime distortion. Matter changes the geometry of spacetime, this (curved) geometry being interpreted as gravity. "

Source: Spacetime – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Me, and lots of space fans like me, are hoping that scientists find a way to prove the FTL barrier really was broken, or discover more about the dimensions the mathematics implies. No one wants this explained away as a clock synchronization anomaly.

For more information: Discovery.com: Faster-than-light neutrino research “Almost Certainly Wrong”

New Scientist: Faster-than-light neutrinos? New answers flood in

OPERA neutrino anomaly – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Advanced Respiratory Inservice: The LP10 Ventilator

Posted by – August 10, 2009

I’ve been on this ventilator for over 14 years. Some of the topics discussed may be advanced for you, so feel free to ask me any questions you have in the comments (whether about PEEP, low pressure, high pressure, anything)

Eighth “Nick’s Crusade” Video Blog: Have Humidifier, Will Travel

Posted by – June 13, 2009

Eighth “Nick’s Crusade” Video Blog from Alejandra Ospina on Vimeo.

No, You CAN Mount A Humidifier On A Wheelchair. Have humidifier, will travel.

Featuring photos with my mom from our 1999 visit to NYC (I was 17) and cameos from the O RLY and YA RLY owls!

Happy 50th Birthday NASA!

Posted by – July 29, 2008

Wow.

NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, turned 50 today!

Happy Birthday, NASA!

Dear NASA: develop a working shuttle pls, and harvest Helium 3 from the Moon for nuclear fusion power to save humanity from the energy crisis, kthx.

I can haz moonwalk.

My Virtual Seminar

Posted by – February 22, 2008

Last Saturday I gave my advocacy seminar I’ve given all over the country, in Second Life (SL).

You can view the PowerPoint and read the full transcript of the event here:
Grassroots Advocacy in Second Life: Namav Abramovic (Nick Dupree)

Also check out Aldon’s blog, where he juxtaposes my speech with a recent Obama speech. It is powerful stuff.

Nick

Helping People in the Virtual World

Posted by – January 29, 2008

In Second Life, my “avatar” is Namav Abramovic.

I’m involved in several projects. Heron Sanctuary (and Namav) are already getting some ink in the Second Life blogosphere.

Medicaid reform activist Namav Abramovic read about people with disabilities using Second Life in the Washington Post, and logged in for the first time on October 20, 2007. Because he has muscular dystrophy, he uses a ventilator to breathe. Namav can’t use a keyboard, or lift his hands at all. As he told Gentle, “I type with my thumb on a trackball mouse and click out text by hitting letters on onscreen keyboard software. I had run a support group online in the past, and am interested in using virtual community to support people with disabilities. I joined The Heron Sanctuary in November, and now have founded Open Gates, a THS project to provide 24/7 peer support in Second Life.”


Read the full article:

The Story of The Heron Sanctuary


This is the notecard I hand out about my Open Gates project in Second Life:

Open Gates Peer Support community is a group for Second Life residents with disabilities -ANY disability– to turn for support.

Living with a disability can be difficult (understatement) and our goal is to be a desperately-needed 24/7 support channel. for people with disabilities in SL. The gates are always open.

People who need someone to talk to can simply IM the group and type in the Open Gates channel, and chat there, or use it to ask to IM or meet privately.
Your hosts are Namav Abramovic and Kat Klata; IM one of us to join the group or just for someone to lean on. Remember that once you join the group, you’ll see calls on the Open Gates channel 24/7.

Though only for peer support (and not intended as a substitute for professional advice) we hope we can help people.

Open Gates Peer Support is a project of The Heron Sanctuary, a support community for people with disabilities.
To learn more, please click http://www.theheronsanctuary.info/wiki/

Where have I been?

Posted by – January 20, 2008


Well, I’ve been alive, just distracted from blogging.

In October, my computer died, and I spent nearly three weeks on mom’s old PC unable to run applications heavier than Firefox. I made the best of the situation and did a lot of reading, especially about Second Life, a 3d virtual community. What especially caught my eye was this article in the Washington Post about people with disabilities using Second Life (SL):

Brown, Salvatierra and Dawley are just a few examples of an increasing number of sick, disabled and troubled people who say virtual worlds are helping them fight their diseases, live with their disabilities and sometimes even begin to recover. Researchers say they are only starting to appreciate the impact of this phenomenon.

“We’re at a major technical and social transition with this technology. It has very recently started to become a very big deal, and we haven’t by any means digested what the implications are,” said William Sims Bainbridge, a social scientist at the National Science Foundation.

In addition to helping individual patients, virtual worlds are being used for a host of other health-related purposes. Medical schools are using them to train doctors. Health departments are using them to test first responders. Researchers are using them to gain insights into how epidemics spread. Health groups are using them to educate the public and raise money.

These increasingly sophisticated online worlds enable people to create rich virtual lives through “avatars” — identities they can tailor to their desires: Old people become young. Infirm people become vibrant. Paralyzed people become agile.


Read the full article:
Real Hope in a Virtual World
: Online Identities Leave Limitations Behind

As soon as I got my computer back, I jumped into SL with both feet. It can be a great thing for people who, due to disability and associated barriers, are unable to do much in real life, and people lonely and seeking interaction. It can do a lot of good. It’s head and shoulders above past alternatives. And it’s free.

This is the next frontier for disability culture, as well as a way to support others, socialize, and even a source of income (one woman makes $250,000 annually selling dresses in SL).

So far I am doing several things in SL:

1) I work with The Heron Sanctuary, a group to help disabled users arrive in and integrate into SL. I founded the Open Gates Peer Support Community, so that anyone with disabilities in SL who needs to talk has someone to talk to in group chat, 24/7.

2) I’m one of the members of Second Life Synagogue. Read about us here in the Jerusalem Post. We do symbolic lightings prior to Shabbas, and we have an SL yeshiva as well, where we meet to study the Torah portion on Tuesdays and study Rambam on Wednesdays.

3) I like hanging out in historical settings (like 1001 Arabian Nights, or Deadwood). With SL you can step into the past anywhere in the world.

In the future I plan to give my PowerPoint presentation I gave as a keynote speech in Chicago, Minneapolis, DC, etc., in SL.

I’m making a real effort to shake my past failures in 2008 and accomplish new stuff, learn new things.
For ’08, I’m planning to get back to blogging, learn DJing in SL, and I have plans for a small business in SL selling camels.

Stay tuned!

Nick

Why You Should Boycott Microsoft Vista

Posted by – January 23, 2007

Why You Should Boycott Microsoft Vista

Slate.com just put out a review of Microsoft’s new Operating System: Hey, Windows Vista Is Pretty Good.

But from my good friend Y-Love, I bring you the reason everyone should boycott this newfangled software:

Microsoft is doing evil $#!t to ppl. Especially IT ppl and tech employed ppl.

So my company needs a whole bunch of licenses for software for company xpansion.

So it doesn’t pay to just buy a whole bunch of software.

But, in order to upgrade to the 2003 version you have to buy the full (unstable) 2007 version, and then buy the media for the 2003 version (at a v. small cost comparably).

Then you upgrade to 2003, then to 2007 whenever you want, at a fraction of the cost of buying the 2007 software. Gravy, no?

No.

B/c you have to buy upgrade protection (Software Assurance) which insures that in case of new software, you don’t have to upgrade, it’s included in your license.

This has to be purchased PER user and is good for 2 years.

2 years from the version you buy.

SO if you install 2007, then DOWNGRADE to 2003, your assurance is good until…….

……..2005, i.e., only good for the 2007 version you had to buy anyway.

I f**king hate these ppl’s actions.

Microsoft is so powerful they can essentially extract crushing protection money from small businesses and leave them no recourse. It’s so morally wrong.

Boycott Vista!

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