God Bless Lileks:

"My point? Simple: we live in an era of non-contiguous information streams. I believe one thing; someone else believes another – and the bedrock assumptions are utterly contradictory. This is what drives me nuts about discussing current events with some people. It’s like discussing the Apollo program with people who think it was all faked, or discussing archeology with those who believe the world is six thousand years old. I think the Iraq Campaign was part of a broad war against Islamicist fascism and the states that enable it; others think it’s all about oil and Halliburton jerking the strings of a Jeebus puppet. No. Middle. Ground. "

NCIS = noncontiguous information streams, if you forget. I think there's a show on CBS about this... heh.

I'm a part of this, too, preferentially reading Lileks to Josh Micah Marshall. When it's late and you're tired, you want to read someone you agree with, not someone who introduces uncomfortable facts or opinions that need to be reconciled. Plus, when you DO debate a friend or person at the bar, you want to have your stats and figures and sense of indignation ready, not be a mealy-mouthed equivocationalist.

I'd like to think this situation is unstable and will resolve, but it's been going on for a while. I thought the resolution would take the form of marginalization -- eventually the party that has espoused crazy ideas about Apollo or creationism or Halliburton will fade into bolivian (as Mike Tyson says). But five years ago the Republicans were convinced Clinton killed Vince Foster and bombed Iraq to distract the nation from Monica. They were espousing some kooky ideas then, but they didn't fade away.

My idea is that there's still a market for the Equivocation Channel -- where reporters file back-to-back reports, same facts, but the first is in the tone of shrill victimized liberals, the second in the smug triumphalism of conservatives. Viewers will watch both and just decide which one 'feels true'.

Guts and Brains

Nice article in the Times today about the BCS system for computing college bowl matchups. The writer created an essay-grading algorithm that agrees with humans more than they agree with each other (fits in well with the Gender Genie, see earlier entries). He says, among other things:

1. Playoffs aren't the best determinant of a team's ability -- the best way is to load the stats into the computer and have it play hundreds of simulated games
2. Even so, more work can be done to bring the sportswriter's picks in line with the computer picks

The thing to do is change the computer weighting of 'difficulty of schedule', 'size of the win' etc...

I can use this perspective for my ongoing approach to health stats. Dr. Pf, Ralph Nader and probably countless others continue to marvel that our society freaks out about SARS, about West Nile, and (though it's not the same) Viet Nam or 9/11, yet does very little about the number of traffic deaths each year, the number of people dying of lung cancer, the number of kids who fall out of windows...

One upcoming post should be all stats from the Bill Bryson book I'm reading (especially the numbers on fossilization rates). But right now just remember that 300 million people died of smallpox in the 20th century, more than all the wars and genocides and state-sponsored murders combined (which I think totals 100-150 million, depending on China totals).

Yet the eradication of Smallpox was not celebrated with the gusto of V-E day, say. And of course it couldn't be: Stopping a virus doesn't give the emotional satisfaction of stopping an army. Look at the Iraqis who didn't feel free until Saddam was physically captured, six months after it was clear he could never rule again.

But we have to work toward intellect and evidence-based decision making, over emotional decisions. In medicine it's still a problem -- there are plenty of useless antibiotics prescribed
just to 'do something', plenty of CT scans ordered 'just to see' when in fact there's no indication of anything to see.

But more importantly, as seen in my recent medical errors seminar, it seems like we allow 'a plane crash a day' of deaths due to communication errors, transcription errors, or missed diagnoses. We'd never allow a plane crash a day -- or a month, even -- from the aviation industry.

From this, we must deduce that the emotional impact of a plane crash hurts everyone -- families, airliners, economies, governments -- much more than the impact of diffuse medical errors, which, I guess, primarily hurt the families, but also the doctors, hospitals, insurance industries...

If we weighted the intellectual response to deaths more than the emotional response, we'd overhaul the healthcare delivery system overnight, and maybe lighten up on airline safety standards. We'd stop reporting on the flu outbreak and start reporting on traffic safety and CAD.

What attracts me to this line of thinking is you can apply the BCS-type algorithms to predict the public's (and media's) response. I touched on this in my Station Fire piece in the Herald, with the local vs. foreign angle, and rock fans vs. hip hop fans.

But the biggest factors in reporting deaths seem to be 'can it affect me even if I act responsibly?' (communicibility of SARS, flu, even though falling out of windows or traffic accidents are more widespread) and 'is it the result of cold-blooded intent' (9/11 killed 3000 people, possibly less than 10% of the Iran earthquake deaths (a sudden calamity), and a tiny fraction of those who will die of medical errors this year (a widespread, diffuse calamity)).

I suppose it will be harder for algorithms to predict public awareness of celebrity deaths, the shuttle disaster, etc. Aaron Schatz on the Lycos 50 reports on this regularly, and has some thoughts on which celebrities get the most searches when they die...

Finally, the way to measure public response to tragedy is as simple as counting newspaper column-inches, or minutes in a newscast... or as complicated as looking at new legislation, new money devoted to the problem, new policy changes.

I'd like to think, ultimately, we'll save more lives when, make people happier, etc, when we move toward appropriate quantification and response to these deaths... but there is something to be said for the emotional response. The most obvious example: Maybe the US prevented more 9/11's by going full-tilt against Al Qaida and Iraq, instead of shrugging it off. Maybe the muted response to medical errors or viruses, as opposed to plane crashes, or mass murders, is our society's way of trying to cope with things that can't be changed, and address things that can be... But everything can be changed, if we agree on it and make it a priority.

OnStar is Watching

From today'sNew York Times:
"People's cars have already started turning their owners in. Scott E. Knight, a California man, was convicted last year for the killing of a Merced, Calif., resident in a March 2001 hit-and-run accident; police tracked him down because the OnStar system in his Chevy Tahoe alerted OnStar when the airbag was set off.
Transportation experts say that if these sensor systems can provide crucial information for emergency aid workers and for vehicle research, lives will be saved. The federal government is considering rules that would standardize the information that black boxes provide, along with ways to gather the information."

The article is full of more examples of tracking -- from a stalker putting a transceiver in his ex's car, to tire RFID tags, to that rental car company that fined a customer for speeding (the fine was illegal, but the tracking was not). One expert suggests something Vanessa mentioned -- in the future, we can pay more to 'opt out' of the tracking when buying or renting a car. Higher insurance or higher fees.

OnStar, like cell phones, pays for itself with subscription fees or upfront costs. The potential for spam is low. But the potential to report speeding, loud music, changing lanes without signaling, not properly defrosting the windows before you go to work... that's mighty annoying, too. Maybe they won't call the cops on you, maybe they'll call the insurance company and you'll get more points at the end of the year. That's more annoying than location-spam, methinks.

Stealing Teen Spirit

In one of Instapundit's more insightful pieces, he looks at the uniting, catharctic effect of rock on a generation of down-and-out youth, and compares it to the appeal of Nazi rallies:

"After Elvis, the commercial culture of rock and roll simply occupied the mindspace that totalitarians need, and it out-competed them. "

I'd never considered this before, and I like the idea so much. It puts politics and music on the same spectrum, both competing for the attention of young people. And it makes sense for the 20th century, where the competitive antagonist 'music' progressively became more catchy and less motivating, as it got better and better at occupying 'mindspace'.

You'd predict that American politics would be more histrionic and meaningful, to compete with music, but I don't think that's what's happened.

Need to chew on this.

Shame and Humiliation

Jumping on this bandwagon at least a week too late, but I'm wonder what my Chancellor, Dean Aaron Lazare would think of the reports that Saddam's capture and subsequent medical exam was 'humiliating'.

First, I'd like to think that medical exams, at least the HEENT part, is not intrinsically humiliating for my patients. I'd like to think they're happy to oblige -- as I am -- and that I'm actually doing them a favor. (Some remarked that Saddam can't make eye contact with his examiner, just as many, ah, non-prisoners can't look at their doctors during exams... I must investigate this further, is this healthy?)

Second, it's worth noting that Saddam's prisoners received, shall I say, far worse treatment...

I would say the pictures do not diminish Saddam so much as they elevate the US. I think the army released the video because it wanted to reassure the world that Saddam was not being mistreated, that he had abrasions over his left eye before we got to him, and that all our prisoners are subject to basic entitlements, such as a medical exam.

It would take a lot to look past all that and say Saddam was being publicly mocked. It seems anything short of US forces bowing before him would be humiliating in some critics' eyes.

Scooped by the Globe

Bill Griffith notes in his SporTView column:
"Schilling was testy as he called early in the show to explain his reasons for ''posting'' on message boards and participating in chat rooms. ''I can get my message across the way I want in that forum,'' he said. ''And I'll call talk radio because I can have my say on the air, too.''
Well, what about TV, Curt? ''Too short. They cut your quotes into sound bites. What do they have, a little over two minutes for sports?'' And newspapers? ''They fit your quotes into their stories.''
Saintelus said it was ''pretty satisfying'' to have show co-hosts Tony Massarotti (Boston Herald) and Sean McAdam (Providence Journal) ''cutting me off. How many years have we sat here and had the media write stories as if they were on our behalf? In July, we [website visitors] wrote a letter of support to Kevin Millar. It was signed by 200 of our message board members and the players wound up hanging it on the clubhouse wall.
''We can think for ourselves. The fans now have a forum that owners and players are discovering, and they're coming straight to us.''
''You could feel the groundswell of interest in the topic,'' said McAdam. ''The audience got into the subject and they wouldn't be deterred.''"

All I can add is the comparison to Sci-Fi fans, and politics junkies. So far the political blogs have had the most impact on events (Trent Lott, etc) and the sci-fi fans have been around the longest... but the Sports fans seem to have the most interactivity with their stars (ie, William Shatner and Bill Clinton aren't posting to message boards, as far as I know)..

Scooped by the Times

From the timesTech section:
"Until recently, one of the main civilian uses of G.P.S. was in devices issued by the criminal justice system to track offenders as a condition of their parole or probation. The new generation of tracking devices has moved well beyond that population and now takes many forms, from plastic bracelets that can be locked onto children to small boxes with tiny antennae that can be placed unobtrusively in cars.
'We are moving into a world where your location is going to be known at all times by some electronic device,' said Larry Smarr, director of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology. 'It's inevitable. So we should be talking about its consequences before it's too late.'
Some of those consequences have not been spelled out. Will federal investigators be allowed to retrieve information on your recent whereabouts from a private service like uLocate, or your cellular carrier? Can the local Starbucks store send advertisements to your phone when it knows you are nearby, without your explicit permission? "
But it is not just the unnerving effect of uncovering small lies that has some users of the technology worried. Like caller I.D., location devices lift the curtain on a zone of privacy that many Americans value, even if they rarely have anything serious to hide.

"Think back to when you were a teenager and your mom or dad said, `I don't want you to do this,' and you said, `yeah, yeah, yeah,' because you knew you could do it and they wouldn't know," said Graham Clarke, president of National Scientific, which makes several G.P.S. tracking devices. "Those days are gone now, because they actually can know."

Mr. Clarke recently installed a tracking device called Followit in the Jeep Wrangler of his 17-year-old son, Gordon. It alerts him if Gordon has exceeded 60 m.p.h. or traveled beyond preset boundaries.

Many more examples of tracking in the article -- tracking employees, tracking Alzheimer's patients, etc. This just gives me confidence in my idea -- that number portability will help companies develop long-term records of user movements, spanning years, and that phones won't be left on as often as they are now... Another unintended consequence of goverment mandates...


Quoting Kaus:

Everett Ehrlich notes that decreasing information costs --i.e. the Internet-- now enable outside groups to do what only big political parties used to be able to do--i.e. organize effective national campaigns. And that's before you consider the effects of the McCain-Feingold law, which Ehrlich doesn't mention but which makes circumventing the parties not only possible but imperative. (See, e.g. Edsall's article on the "shadow" Democrats in the same edition of WaPo.)

Ehrlich draws some pithy conclusions from the parties' obsolescence:

For all Dean's talk about wanting to represent the truly "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party," the paradox is that he is essentially a third-party candidate using modern technology to achieve a takeover of the Democratic Party. Other candidates -- John Kerry, John Edwards, Wesley Clark -- are competing to take control of the party's fundraising, organizational and media operations. But Dean is not interested in taking control of those depreciating assets. He is creating his own party, his own lists, his own money, his own organization. What he wants are the Democratic brand name and legacy, the party's last remaining assets of value, as part of his marketing strategy.

Regarding the Kaus / Feiler Faster Theory on political trends, momentum, news cycles, Kaus says:

In short, political trends that used to last for weeks now last for hours. It's like watching the 1984 campaign on fast forward, except that the calendar still drags on into early June, meaning there's room for plot twists we could only dream of in 1984. To be commensurate with the speeded-up news cycle, the calendar would probably have to be compressed even more. Maybe we could have had the whole thing wrapped up by St. Patrick's Day!

Of course, voters may not entirely be keeping pace with Trends 1 and 2. Are they really as well-informed and conscientious as before--swooning, having second thoughts, rebelling, coming "back home," and so forth, just as they used to, only more rapidly? Can you keep dividing time into smaller and smaller bits without bumping up against the limitations of the human brain?

I would read James Gleick's book Faster and come up with some conclusions on that question. But I've got to get this up on the Web quickly before somebody beats me.

I did read Gleick's book. But I sped-read it and didn't retain much. Ha. No. It was ok. I think the big flaw in Kaus' thinking -- and most pundits are guilty -- is that everyone is paying attention to everything. Even folks like my dad, who watch the nightly news every 'cycle', don't know that Bush's turkey was plastic or Lieberman is moving pro-war to distinguish himself from Dean.

The news cycle is sped up, there is more maneuvering and counter-maneuvering, but the vast nation of voters is only half-paying attention, maybe catching bits here and there, and in general not hanging on every soundbite. I think there may be some kind of fluid dynamics analogy: if you have two kids having a waterfight in the ocean, the further out you go the less the tide is affected.

For those scoring at home: Politicians and handlers = waterfight kids, Voters = tide / waves

Aimless ramblings

According to NOVA, TMQ and a discussion board , the earth's magnetic field is weakening. At its current rate it will be 0-20% of current strength in 1000 years. It might stay that way for a while and bounce back, or it may flip, which it seems do to with some regularity (avg = 1/200,000 years, currently 580,000 years overdue).

Some of the consequences:

Less protection from solar flare
Aurora borealis will be visible across a much greater expanse of earth
Havok for boy scouts, compasses

That last item is worth dwelling on. I actually don't know how long compasses have been in general use -- my talks with Dr. V about sailing and astral navagation suggest at least 200 years... NASA has it... but certainly compasses were one of the indespensible tools of navigation, commerce, warfare, and progress in the past century.

It is fortunate now that we have GPS technology and have progressed beyond the reliance of earth's magnetic field. So consider: our civilization needed a 100+ year period of reliance on earth's magnetic field -- which is not available ~ 1000 years out of every 200k... Would we have progressed to GPS without a magnetic field? How would aerospace tech have advanced to that point without it? Put another way, the GPS network was launched and administered by the Air Force, and the air force wouldn't exist without compasses.

Would Oersted have discovered electromagnetism without having a compass near his electricity demo? Would engineers and scientists have detected a much weaker and less reliable magnetic field, and just found a way to work around it? Would we look at old magnetic rocks of various orientations and wonder, why did they solidify that way? I don't know, but I'm ready to add "functioning magnetosphere" to the list of physical properties of the world that needed to break our way for civilization to progress the way it did. Other things on the list: water, wood, coal, a preponderance of domesticable animals in Europe, etc.

In the past few decades it's become clear that meteors wreak havok with much of life on earth on a regular basis (on the scale of hundreds of millions of years, and getting rarer). It's also clear we're advancing to the point where meteors will no longer be a mortal threat (see "Armageddon", 1998). But it's worth considering a less catastrophic, more melancholy fate: world civilizations stuck in place, unable to easily explore and reliably travel long distances, all the while dazzled by the nightly not-so-northern lights...

Also worth thinking about is if we're not already stuck due to some cosmic coincidence -- ie, the raw materials for cold fusion used to be lying around everywhere but dried up a few hundred years ago.

Slamma Jamma

Gizmodo reports:
"Everytime we write about cellphone jammers we get at least one piece of hate mail, usually some bizarre, long-winded rant about how I'll be the one going to jail if a doctor isn't able to receive an important phone call, etc. At the risk of inspiring those person or persons to launch yet another angry missive, there's an article over at Slate about cellphone jammers (like the handset-shaped SHO66P, pictured at right) that argues that in the era of cameraphones they might be the only way to get a modicum of privacy back."

Maybe docs and VIPs can get Jammer jammers! Or, personal jammers will be outlawed, and wide-area jammers in movie theaters and lockerrooms will be allowed, if signs are posted. But jammers will stop incoming and outgoing calls, but not the actual photograph-taking. Once you're out of range of the jammer, you can still broadcast your pics. Really, the South Korean requirement for loud clicks upon snapping a pic is the only way to prevent unauthorized photos.

The Dark Side of Interactivity

Within a week of Curt Schilling turning to fans online for career advice, this quote from the Boston Globe that shows there's another side to internet geeks who think they should have a say in things:

"Chris Feehan, co-president of the Battlestar Fan Club at, said he's 'shocked' that the fans have not prevailed. 'Deep down,' he said, 'I'm hoping this is a flop so we can have a proper revival.'"

My guess is that sports hyperfans are intrinsically more reasonable than these sci-fi hyperfans. The sports fans who log on and listen to sports radio debate calls, debate managerial decisions, debate player merits, but appreciate that athletes are doing something that the fans themselves cannot do. Furthermore, sports is unscripted and there is at least some home-town loyalty and kinship.

The sci-fi hyperfans are different. They think the shows are for them alone, that they know more than the writers, more than the producers, more than the actors, and if the reigns were handed to them they would make a top-notch show or movie. Unlike sports, with hollywood you have script leaks, previews, and early reviews. Hence you have ridiculous quotes from fan clubs of long-defunct TV shows (which were never popular to begin with) about how they hope a remake of a show they've never seen fails, so a better remake can be made. As if there's enough interest and money to go around making multiple versions of Battlestar Galactica, all to please an intense but puny fan base that can't number more than a few thousand.

Steal This Book

InstaPundit.Com: "According to Danny Goldberg, CEO of Artemis Records and the author of 'Dispatches From the Culture Wars: How the Left Lost Teen Spirit,' stars tend to alienate their fans 'if they become preachy, didactic, too predictable.' Despite the artists' best efforts, this seems to be what happened, at least at times, during Tell Us the Truth."

Schilling on the new Media

The new Red Sox ace (two aces? Full house?) was up late Thansgiving night, the night before the contract talks deadline, and decided to log into a chat room on Apparently he proved his identity (to some) and made some predictions about the talks (that an extension would be filed to continue talks until Saturday).

Just amazing stuff. What guided him to the chat room was a desire to feel out the Boston fans, to clear up some distortions foisted and amplified by the media, and to just air his thoughts, unfiltered. He gives really long interviews, and watches them get chopped into soundbites.

Now, think about it like this: a good fraction of sports fans are 'rabid', ie very informed, very opinionated, and can essentially go on reading about small facets of sports for days and days. Kind of the same with politics, with music, with movies. To these rabid fans, even ESPN isn't good enough -- SportsCenter can only give so many minutes to covering Boston pitching deals. When they do cover it, there's too many soundbites, it's too glib, and there's too much missed. Basically, if Theo spends 20 hours talking to Schilling, there are fans who need about 20 hours of coverage.

So, Schilling bypasses the media and talks directly to the rabid fans (at the only place they can congregate -- online), at least for a few hours. Tells them what he thinks, gets their ideas, gets their attitude... The rabid fans win, and Schilling wins. The media look slow, bloated, self-important, and even unnecessary, except to serve The Nonrabid Fans... (like me, I guess...)

Give credit to big media to making it part of the way -- Sports coverage, politics coverage, entertainment coverage is all 20x what it was 20 years ago, both in magazines and on cable. For the casual fan, that's plenty. But the rabid fan wants more, far more than can be profitable for a major network to provide. Fortunately, the internet has the infrastructure to accomodate the rabid fans, and now the stars themselves are tuning in. Sure, there have been AOL-sponsored celebrity chats, etc, and artists have been using the web to reach out to fans, but Curt Schilling has, to my knowledge, performed the first Big Media Bypass in breaking real news ... at least, that I can recall.

Will the politicians be far behind? Will Dean's blog release campaign news to Dean fans, and let them inform the media (and by extension, the casual politics followers)? Why not? The Dean followers care the most, contribute the most, and will accurately propagate the news (probably..) Reward them by telling them first, and in the most detail -- let the media break it into soundbites later, for the casual fans...

Sit tight

Just browsing though the Ideas.doc from May and June. Sheesh, when the thesis writing was slow-going, the article ideas knew no limits. There must be a dozen columns in there. And the basis for those columns should find its way onto this site.

Remember shazam. That will rule. Witty ticcy Ray, Police distributions, cameraphone implications, stubborness vs. intelligence... it's all there, baby.

No articles in November, so make it two in December? You have between Christmas and New Year's -- and many columnists will be away, many editors with deadlines...

Just the concepts, ma'am

Sure, the web is a place where ideas percolate, people network, knowledge is shared, blah blah blah. Is there a single site where all that really happens? Where you don't have to sift through layers of intro and setup -- where it's all just idea after idea, and a place for your feedback?

There is. And, I guess, halfbakery has been around doing sort of the same thing.

It seems, though, that you could pick up the Tuesday Times and a half-dozen or so innovative new ideas on science and technology. Maybe it's too slow to read a 2000 word article, sift through the descriptions and whatnot... So this site just has one-line ideas: "Have the third brake light indicate degree of deceleration" or "put a GPS-stamp in a camera" (both ideas which have been pursued elsewhere...).

Is it progress towards Open Source Everywhere (there's a manifesto out there you can link to)? Or is it more, I suspect, the slimming down of extraneous content, down to the meat. My thesis abstract is boiled down from 200 pages to a few paragraphs, essentially with a footnote saying "I've got some proof." Those interested can read further... Those ready to comment and opine and adapt, however, can go right ahead on

The Politics of Laughing

It struck me when SNL started making fun of the "let inspections work" movement... And sure, they make fun of Bush, and Daily show is a solid left wing comedy factory, but the right making people laugh too, and not just by their actions. Some call it South Park Republicans, or attribute it to the Howard Stern following...

The bottom line is, it's become a lot easier to make fun of liberal excess, especially as they get shrill in their hatred of Bush. Also, as they get shrill, it becomes harder for them to laugh about stuff. Dark sarcasm doesn't count; too bitter. Maybe it's a function of being out of power (the right was pretty shrill during the clinton years), getting angry and desparate about the direction of things.

But the left could laugh in the past, even when they were out of power (the Nixon and Reagan years). But today, I'm hearing mostly venom. A party that can't laugh can't bring in new members.

Here's what I said in the old journal:
5/21 Is it me or is liberal humor just not funny? The most cutting edge comics -- Tom D'Bug, Waylay, and others, are just seeming mean-spirited and nihilistic.

And the left was supposed to be funny -- subversive, anti-establishment, etc. So why is Naomi Wolf blocking the Ali G segment?

Moreover, SNL seems to have switched -- with pieces ridiculing the UN as self-absorbed obstructionists, and Powell as a Cassandra.

But right-wingers aren’t funny either, they just don’t have a sophisticated sense of humor. They laugh at stooges, broad caricatures. No subtlety.

The Tryptophan Meme

Tryptophan gets a ton of off-hand mentions around Thanksgiving. Like the Y2K bug and several other memes, has filtered its way down to the masses over the last 10 years. "turkey has tryptophan, makes you sleepy. FX network has Awesome-o-phan!" I'm not making that up, I saw it on TV. Maybe people are interested in hearing how Tryptophan gets broken down and how the pineal gland makes melatonin, seratonin, etc. I don't know much about it myself, yet...

This is tailor-made for your MD/PhD background, the only time I would consider tacking it onto my pen name. I hope you write it up and submit this around thanksgiving 2004, along with some election jokes. If you go on to explain melatonin, the link, etc, say "The literature on this topic is somewhat dry, not unlike many turkeys today will be."Bring a clip to your interviews.


The Atlantic Monthly is reporting that 37% of all political news coverage is about strategy, while only 25% is about actual policy details (one assumes the rest of the political news is about polls...)

I suspect this is even more biased towards strategy than the numbers indicate, since stories about policy often include coverage of how it "plays" among constituents, who's lining up to oppose it, etc.

Some of this is because, for the audience, policy is dry and measuring the impact of various proposals in real terms is difficult and contentious. Furthermore, political strategy is fun and engrossing in a gossipy sort of way. But it's also easier for the journalists to report on intangibles like "the mood of the electorate" and "responding to attacks" and "appealing to the middle" and whatnot. Actually a lot of these pieces report as fact that which can only be described as opinions on motivation. Nowhere in the language of an FCC ruling is a phrase like "we're caving to powerful communications lobbies" and yet, it is often reported as such. Strategy and maneuvering and style trumping substance.

This fits with that princeton economist who said this is the first White House he's seen that has no independent policy team -- instead, policy is guided by politics at every level. Ideas aren't proposed by wonks and economists only to be massaged and spun by Rove -- instead, they are proposed by pundits based on what will win, wedge, and energize the base. Only later do the policy wonks chime in about feasibility, worth, usefulness, etc.

Coin the Phrase

The Atlantic runs a contest every few months called Word Fugitives -- find a phrase that fits the given scenario. This summer it was: "what do you call it when you're driving on the highway and you come across a police car and a bunch of slow cars clustered, afraid to pass?"

I came up with "cruiser control" which was apparently quite a popular entry. The winner was "Halo effect" because everyone's acting like angels, but also surrounding the cop. Whatever. I like mine better.

But more importantly, I generated "Cruiser control" by listing all the synonyms and slang and associated words for cops, and for driving, and for traffic, and just mixed and matched. It kind of worked.

Let's do the same for location-based cell-phone ads! I could coin the next "spam".

Here are the categories:

JUNK MAIL: spam, bulk, mass-market, targeted ads, demographics, ad blitz, campaign, commercial, unsolicited, privacy, brand, image, telemarket, promo

GPS: global positioning, satellite, location-based, geocache, triangulation, search, track, stalk, signal, message, orbit, earth, home in

Mobile phones: cell, talk, charge, minutes, flip phone, dial, text, call, connect, busy signal, ring, tones, answer, message, voicemail, hangup, memo

my predictable, uncreative picks include "location-spam" or "GP-Spam" or "telespam"

my early favorites include "hard cell" and "stalkmail" and, though this makes almost no sense, "promoto"

will keep mulling...

Remote Possibilities

Clive Robertson in the New York Times magazine writes: "Pundits have fretted for years that mobile phones are making us ruder. In June, Nokia released some evidence that may actually prove it. A survey found that 71 percent of mobile-phone users admit they are now consistently late for social events. Why? Because they can send a flurry of text-messages explaining where they are, how fast they're moving and precisely when they'll arrive, down to the minute. ''You sort of feel you've got more play, because you're in this incredibly close contact,'' says Robbie Blinkoff, the principal anthropologist at Context-Based Research Group, which has found similar trends in its studies. "


Indeed, the next generation of phones is slated to become even more sophisticated. Phone companies have begun offering ''location based'' services with handsets that let other people know where you're walking, all day long. Next year, the French telecommunications equipment company Alcatel will offer Guardian Angel, which will let people track the movements of their children (or their Alzheimer's-ridden elderly parents) via their phones. We won't need to send out those ''where are you?'' queries anymore; instead, we'll have a nearly psychic level of knowledge about one another. New forms of play will arise: in Sweden and Finland, teenagers already play BotFighters war games -- one phone attacks another if they get physically close enough, like two Game Boys sensing each other's presence. Nokia's N-Gage phone, designed specifically to run games, lets players go head to head in a racing or fighting game with anyone nearby. Beyond this ''whoa'' potential, though, the privacy implications of location-based capabilities are hair-raising, says Roger Entener, a mobile-phone analyst at the Yankee Group. ''Your spouse will say she's on a business trip in Kansas City, but you'll notice that her phone is actually down in Chelsea. So you'll go, Hmm, what's happening there?''

Yet even then, observers say, people will probably never be willing to rein in their mobile lives. Bell tells a story that illustrates just how central phones now are. In Malaysia, she recently attended a ''feast of the hungry ghosts,'' where Chinese Malays burn paper replicas of food. ''They do it to ensure that their ancestors are well fed,'' Bell notes. But in recent years, they've also begun burning paper versions of mobile phones -- and even paper versions of prepaid phone cards, to make sure the phones will work beyond the grave. ''They can't imagine their dead relatives existing without the latest models,'' Bell says. ''And they wouldn't want their ancestors to be lonely.'' Even in death, no one wants to be cut off.


If I'm going to pull this together for an article this week, here's the format I imagine:

1: Cell phone portability is here! Now we can keep our numbers forever.
2: Is this really good news? How many people want to keep their email forever? I don't.
3a: Email addressess eventually get discovered and spammed. Relentlessly. Now I know better than to buy stuff or register with my regular email address -- I should use a throwaway spam yahoo account.
3b: email spam is so bad that it may force borderline users away from email, and keep kids off altogether. the long march towards universal interactivity has hit a snag with spam.
4: The same thing may happen with cell phones
4a: text spam is already a problem in the UK
4b: the new location-tracking GPS phones could take it to a new level
5. Unlike junkmail or telemarketers, Spam is a parasite, draining internet resources and helping no one but the spammers (and a tiny number of customers).
6. GPS-spam would be made possible via the FCC mandate for GPS, but also by a significant investment by the phone companies themselves, and others. They can charge what they want, do what they want with their network. Virgin already announced they've been tracking users for years, just with tower data alone.

7? Cell phone companies were against number portability, because it would lead to higher customer turnover. They might have been shortsighted -- in the future, keeping your number might mean keeping your tracklog of all the places you've been, all the stores you've shopped in... They could sell that to advertisers and corporations, recouping any losses from turnover.

Tracking will make people conscious of where they shop, who they visit. Yet they won't stop shopping or sneaking around. But they will turn off their phones when they're doing it.


In the early days of email, the entire process seemed so benevolent and efficient and progressive and I would have never imagined the current situation, where 75% of email is repulsive, tedious junk. I would have never believed email could be too risky for kids to use; too bothersome for regular / recreational folks.

The same thing may happen to mobile phones. What seems like inexorable progress toward universal reachability might suddenly stop with GPS-enabled tracking and ads. People will be powering down, leaving the phone behind, or only using it in emergencies. One step forward, one step back.

JJ on AS on blogs

Jeff Jarvis on quotes Andrew Sullivan on blogging. I'm just going to leave this up, peruse them later for potential future jumping-off points:

: Andrew Sullivan is speaking to the Online News Association. I'm just putting up quotes now... Will clean up and comment later (I have to be on a panel next).... Talk about instant analysis....

: He is doing a superb job lecturing this audience on how to blog, explaining to them that they must consider themselves part of a community who will correct them and contribute to them.

: Best gag: "Will there be blogs that are purely fictional -- and I don't mean Eric Alterman?"

: "Whenever I wonder why I have not written a book lately [because he is blogging instead].... I say this happens once in a lifetime: You don't stumble across a new medium every day."

: "I think of blogging as the first genuine innovation that came out of the Internet itself."

: What sets apart weblogs, he says, is economics: He talks about the economics of thoughtful journalism: The New Republic has never made money and loses more. The Nation doesn't make money.
"And then I experienced blogging as an alterantive. It staggers me to realize that last week, is now reaching more people online than the magazine I used to edit, which is still losing... hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. That's a big deal... We haven't just made the economics of journalism cheaper.... We haven't just lowered the barriers to entry to journalism, we've completely revolutionized it."

: "The overhead is minimal and the reach is almost infinite."

: Journalists have longed for this day, he says -- a world without editors. He told about having to rewrite a piece for the London Times -- and now he can put his original online.

: "I think it's going to get more revolutionary. We're going to see self-publishing of books... and taking power away from editors and publishers and media magnates."

: In the news media now, he says, the public "knows there is a man behind the curtain."

: He says that the trend toward anonymity is dying. Tina Brown killed it a bit when she said that no one cared what The New Yorker says; they know there's an individual there. Blogs extend that individual identity.

: "People trust [blogs]. Not because they are authorities but because they are subjected to scrutiny day in and day out and people decide whether they like them or not."

: Andrew waxes wonderfully on the ability and necessity of bloggers being able to change their minds, being transparent and honest; that is the essence of their (read: our) appeal.

: "They introduce back into the public discourse provisional thinking." We can change our minds. We can miss things. Others can have better ideas. "It recognizes the fallibility of the human mind and opens up to the wisdom of the communal mind." That's a whole new media dynamic, he says. Columnists and magazines have to wait to correct so they work to get it right now. Blogs, he says, don't make that commitment... "Let's continue that conversation onwards."

: "It's a much more modest mode of discourse... That modesty strikes a chord with people."

: "It's very, very modern. It's postmodern.... It's a combination of trends in modern thought and trends in technology."

: "Interactive... this is not a monologue, it's not even a dialogue, it is a conversation."
Amen! I'll say it again: News is a conversation.

" I'm just the recipient of a collective brain. I'm just a portal for the thoughts of other minds." He says he spends 40 percent of his blogging time reading email from contributors to that conversation.

: "It's more transparent than anything in journalism before." He says that when you make an error, there is no shame in that. "In mainstream journalism," he adds, "you have to climb down from your pedestal to correct an error and then climb back up again."

: He says a blog must be read long-term. "It accumulates a voice... traditions... in-jokes... its own vocabulary."

: He says he invented a t-shirt slogan: "Go ahead, fisk my blog." Three people in the audience got it.

: "I feel like an old brick wall covered with ivy and I can't cut it off... I used to take the weekends off but they wont' let you."

: If he were to start a new magazine, he'd find five of the smartest bloggers and put them on a web site "and tell them to go at it."

: "The ultimate and most successful news blog in the business is Drudgereport."
Andrew said he goes to Miami once a year for what he calls a "summit." He says he studies Drudge because "it is by far the most successful blog in history.... He's incredibly powerful."

: Unlike talk radio, he says, weblogs try to talk to people who disagree with us.

: Talking about the ability to use blogs to challenge authority and using Iran as an example, he says: "I'd much rather live in a country where the most we have to worry about is Howell Raines rather than live under the thumb of Saddam Hussein."

: Asked a good question about whether writing a blog affects his style and ability to write other things, Sullivan says yes. "It's like the cuckoo in the nest. It crowds out other genres... I'm supposed to be writing this book and I can't seem to get started."

: Should blogging be taught in journalism schools? "Absolutely... That's one sure way to kill it off."

Cruiser Control

By way of gizmodo, the Detroit Free Press reports:

Now anyone can breeze through congested intersections just like the police, thanks to a $300 dashboard device that changes traffic lights from red to green, making nasty commutes a thing of the past and leaving other drivers open-mouthed at your ability to manipulate traffic.

But what if everyone had one?

That's the fear of traffic control officials, who believe chaos would take over the roads. That's also the potential facing communities from Troy to Washington Township as Internet-marketed knockoffs of the device -- originally intended only for police and fire vehicles -- have become available to the public.

The knockoffs have traffic engineers investigating whether lockout measures will work against the copycats and whether hundreds of thousands of dollars in traffic technology investments will become obsolete.

Police are worried about the possibility of intersection chaos if people
duel over control for lights. But even more fundamentally, the dashboard device may be impossible to detect even from a police car right next to it, and it may be perfectly legal anyway.

"The potential for chaos is enormous," Macomb County Sheriff Mark Hackel said.

The traffic light changer, called the MIRT for mobile infrared transmitter, emits a beam with a 1,500-foot range to a receiver installed at the intersection, which changes the light immediately, allowing an intersection to clear before a fire or rescue truck approaches.

Neat! Doctors, of course, should have this. Actually since the government owns the streets and the lights it can do whatever it wants. But I think this should be like insurance -- if you behave, you get rewarded. Reeeeally good drivers should get this priviledge, for those late night empty street drives, and if they abuse it they lose it.

Or we could approach the ultimate in traffic control -- intersections that tabulate votes from the idling cars. It might be more efficient, if everyone had one and the software was properly written. It has to be better than the intersections in Worcester, timed for rush hour at 10 PM and timed for Senior Citizen's Crosswalk Day every morning at 8 AM.

Or, if it was pricey, it could showcase and simultaneously widen the gap between the haves vs. have-nots. Fastlane doesn't do this because it's so cheap. But I bet people heading to work in South Natick, waiting for the lights to change on 27, would start to resent the Lexuses on Rte 9 heading to their office park, with their traffic control modules and their urgent lifestyle.

Enough rambling! Can tech like this even be stopped when it's for sale already? Like radar detectors, it will become something you use with some benefit and some risk.

UPDATE: On May 3, 2004, I coined the term "grapeshit" -- when occurrances are apeshit in a great way. Spread the word.


... do they oppose the federal do-not-con list?

they just get worse, I tell you.

60 Minutes ran a report on 10/26 about these urban buzz generators, hired by companies not to sell products but just to increase recognition and word-of-mouth. People on the street asking you to take their picture with a glitzy new cameraphone. Or people at starbucks playing a videogame with a new VR controller.

The company gets the word out, the buzzer gets paid, the public sees a cool demo and has a pleasant interaction. What's not to like?

Well, the public's pleasant interaction is a sham. It's like getting hit on by a hot babe, only to find she needs $50 to make you holler. Which is kind of what happened to Spector and me with the Lithuanian vodka buzzer.

The Tipping Point's Malcolm Gladwell thinks once people find out they've been duped, backlash will kill the customer-product relationship. I wonder, though, if people blame the gizmo or the agent?

I think if the buzzer is good enough, and works some honesty in at the end, it might work. Obviously a lot of people hate telemarketers, or mall-salesmen, etc. But if the caller/seller/buzzer is actually fun or entertaining, the sell can turn into a cocktail-party story. It's hard to find actors good enough.

It all comes back to the Lithuanian vodka lady at the bar -- very cute, very seductive, and she gave me a coupon. What's not to like? Yeah, I was out with my friends, but now we had a topic of conversation.

Like all new forms of ads, I guess when the novelty wears off, it's another story. One or two of these subtle sells is an experience -- a dozen a day is a nightmare of false pretenses that could drive civilization to schizophrenia.

I remember thinking spam was quite benign.


... do they oppose the federal do-not-scan list?


I can make more puns, I'm sure.

There was a great article in the 10/26/03 New York Times Magazine that introduced the term, and really showed how far MRI research has come. I knew researchers had moved into the realm of identifying areas of increased brain blood flow during meditation or thinking about romance, but I had no idea the forces of business were pushing MRI into recognizing brand awareness and self-identification.

I guess the truth is that marketing, economics, and politics are all deeply interested in how people make decisions, and so any light that neuroscientists and MRI machines can shed on this process will be pursued. Maybe this isn't NIH-fundable, but if Madison Avenue is picking up the tab, and the results are peer-reviewed, who cares?

Here are some key quotes from the article:

Montague tried to gauge the appeal of Coke's image, its ''brand influence,'' by repeating the experiment with a small variation: this time, he announced which of the sample tastes were Coke. The outcome was remarkable: almost all the subjects said they preferred Coke. What's more, the brain activity of the subjects was now different. There was also activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain that scientists say governs high-level cognitive powers. Apparently, the subjects were meditating in a more sophisticated way on the taste of Coke, allowing memories and other impressions of the drink -- in a word, its brand -- to shape their preference.
Pepsi, crucially, couldn't achieve the same effect. When Montague reversed the situation, announcing which tastes were of Pepsi, far fewer of the subjects said they preferred Pepsi. Montague was impressed: he had demonstrated, with a fair degree of neuroscientific precision, the special power of Coke's brand to override our taste buds...

...Joey Reiman is the C.E.O. of BrightHouse, an Atlanta marketing firm, and a founding partner in the BrightHouse Institute; over years of producing marketing concepts for companies like Coca-Cola and Red Lobster, he has come to the conclusion that focus groups are ultimately less about gathering hard data and more about pretending to have concrete justifications for a hugely expensive ad campaign. ''The sad fact is, people tell you what you want to hear, not what they really think,'' he says. ''Sometimes there's a focus-group bully, a loudmouth who's so insistent about his opinion that it influences everyone else. This is not a science; it's a circus.''

Kilts plans to publish the BrightHouse research in an accredited academic journal. He insisted to me that his primary allegiance is to science; BrightHouse's techniques are ''business done in the science method,'' he said, ''not science done in the business method.'' And as he sat at his computer, calling up a 3-D picture of a brain, it was hard not to be struck, at the very least, by the seriousness of his passion. There, on the screen, was the medial prefrontal cortex, juggling our conscious thinking. There was the amygdala, governing our fears, buried deep in the brain. These are sights that he said still inspire in him feelings of wonder. ''When you sit down and you're watching -- for the first time in the history of mankind -- how we process complex primary emotions like anger, it's amazing,'' he said. ''You're like, there, look at that: that's anger, that's pleasure. When you see that roll off the workstation, you never look back.'' You just keep going, it seems, until you hit Madison Avenue.

It's just neat that we're getting better and better at characterizing the physical manifestations of thought. It's been a long time coming. I remember wondering about this when I was in grade school -- could emotions have physical effects? This was before I knew about palpitations, fight-or-flight, anorexia, lie detectors, etc.

Is an MRI lie detector far off? Or MRI psychology? We might build up a library of images to show people in the machine -- how they respond (which brain centers light up) can go on to classify their personality type, their coping mechanisms, etc. Meyers-Briggs and multiple-choice questions look primitive in comparison. Anything that requires people to think and respond is inherently less trustworthy.

How about future school quizzes? You could be shown an image of the Krebs cycle, and if you self-identify with it, that means you've studied biochem long enough and you pass.

The Red Sox Relationship

I think how your view the 2003 Red Sox says a lot about how you view relationships. There were highs and lows, it was a good ride, it didn't have to end like it did, and it would have been great to go all the way.

David Prior says as much on "There was a lot that was good about this year, this series, and this game. It was a lot of fun. My heart was broken yet again but in the end it has been an autumn I will remember fondly for the rest of my life. I'll remember leaping 5 feet in the air as Trot Nixon's homerun cleared the center field wall in game three in the ALDS. I'll remember the ups and downs; how every time it seemed like the Sox were out of it, they came storming back. I'll remember the nightly debates about which bar we were going to watch the game from. And yes, I will remember where I was when Aaron "f-ing" Boone broke my heart... Go ahead and be miserable. As for me, I enjoyed the ride."

But there are people who are devastated, like the Sports Guy's friend Hench, who remarked "I guess I have to think about the good things in my life to get through a time like this."

Obviously, I was shocked when the Sox managed to blow it. And the worst part is knowing, now that the Pats have shown us, just how happy the town would have been if we had beaten the Yankees and won the championship. There will be no spring in my step for a few days, but c'mon people, get over it.

It's like, I'm viewing it as a fling that ended prematurely. Others, I guess, thought this was the One. But maybe my depressed friends are right. After all, they tend to be married, and I tend to be 28 and single.

Disney vs. Thinking

Gregg Easterbrook just got fired from, for some poorly-phrased comments he made in a movie review for the New Republic.

Go figure.

Easterbrook is a Brookings Scholar and a wonderful writer. His wit and clarity of thought on politics, space policy, and football has been of great value to many. Better yet, he's not shilling for any agenda that I can identify, other than the truth. He is persuasive because he approaches topics like a true scholar, and reports on the facts that persuaded him.

You can get more on the circumstances of his dismissal at or his own blog at

He joins Bill Maher as independent thinkers fired by Disney/ABC/ESPN in recent years. Both had a witty, incisive and uncommonly independent voice. Both were actually fired for views that, with a little bit of polish on the delivery, were actually not controversial and quite defensible.

People will quickly compare Easterbrook to ESPN's recent Limbaugh firing, but the better comparison is to Maher. Limbaugh
was out of line, bringing his one-note social commentary into a sports show. Easterbrook's only error was to post an awkwardly-phrased indictment of Miramax and Disney leaders for the violence of Kill Bill, on TNR's website. Not ESPN.

It seems like an overreaction from ESPN, but they're probably conscious of the Limbaugh firing. Still, they're losing a great writer for what even the aggrieved parties are calling a minor gaffe. The principle guiding Disney here seems to be avoid controversy at all costs, even if, in the case of Maher and Easterbrook, there is no bigotry or malevolence behind the comments.

Intelligent, nuanced commentary cannot survive when your boss has one finger on the trap-door button, and another finger looking to see which way the wind is blowing.

Actions like this push blog writers to be more polished and more simplistic in their posts. They may have to take on editors (like Daniel Weintraub at the Sacramento Bee). The immediacy and intimacy of the writing will be replaced with more canned, party-line commentary -- noncontroversial but not particularly insightful. The readers lose.

Passive Radar

Gizmodo reports: "Fascinating article in BusinessWeek about Celldar, a 'passive' radar system that sort of piggybacks on the whole cellphone network to track almost any moving object anywhere. It works by using complex signal-processing software to interpret how signals from cellular base stations bounce off of and interact with boats, planes, cars, and maybe even people, and costs considerably less than traditional radar systems. "

This is news to me. Just making a note of it. More from Business Week:
Celldar's implications are exciting -- but also troubling to some. Even though the technology can't be used to identify cell-phone users, since it "sees" only radio waves echoing off hard surfaces, it and similar approaches are evolving quickly. In addition to Celldar, which is sopping up $1.5 million a year for development, a dozen other passive-radar projects are under way in the U.S., Europe, and Asia. As the technology bears fruit, it should give the world's police and homeland security agencies new tools for monitoring shipments of illegal weapons and drug smuggling operations. Highway officials could gain a detailed window on traffic flows, helping them to minimize congestion. But because passive-radar systems could be cheap enough for hobbyists to buy -- or cobble together themselves -- the technology could also become the next fad among people who own police-radio scanners or who enjoy snooping on their neighbors' comings and goings. late October, radar researchers from around the world will gather in Seattle to discuss recent advances, including passive systems that use FM radio or TV broadcasts instead of cell-phone signals. The invitation-only meeting will be hosted by John D. Sahr, a University of Washington electrical engineer. Since 1997 he has operated a passive-radar system unshrouded by military secrecy. It harnesses an FM station's signals to study particles in the ionosphere -- the top layer of the atmosphere, over 300 miles up. Sahr decided to go with passive radar, he says, "because it's incredibly cheap" -- $20,000 vs. $25 million for a comparable active system. "You could probably do an amateur system for under $5,000," Sahr adds. A system for small airports might cost as little as $15,000. That's important because of the 5,280 public airports in the U.S., only about 300 currently have radar.

STRONG SIGNALS. Lockheed-Martin Corp. (LMT ) is perhaps the best-known passive-radar champion, but others include Avtec Systems, Dynetics, and ONERA, the French counterpart of NASA. Lockheed-Martin's system is dubbed Silent Sentry. Last fall, in a demo for the U.S. Air Force, a third-generation Silent Sentry radar tracked all the air traffic over Washington, D.C., by picking up FM and TV echoes. Because FM and TV transmissions are more powerful than their cell-phone cousins, Silent Sentry can detect planes as far away as 135 miles, roughly 10 times the reach of an individual cell-phone tower.

However, because cell-phone towers are scattered far and wide in many countries, an airborn Celldar system "could covertly monitor a whole country" by flying along its borders, says Lloyd...

Despite Celldar's military potential, Lloyd predicts the first applications will come in the civilian sector. He says transportation officials are eager to use Celldar to monitor road traffic because it would avoid the expense of installing either sensors in roads or TV cameras overhead. And police cars equipped with Celldar could follow a car driven by a suspected crook or terrorist from a safe distance, without danger of being seen.

TRACKING MADE CHEAP. Celldar might also provide an alternative to the global positioning satellite (GPS) systems now being explored by insurance companies and governments for monitoring vehicles. Their goal is to set premiums individually, based on how much and how fast each car or truck is driven -- or to levy a road-use toll determined by the distance a vehicle travels, over which types of roads, and at what times of day. In Ireland, AXA Insurance is testing a GPS gadget called Traksure. It continuously checks a car's speed and location, then compares that data with the local speed limit, obtained from digital maps. But Celldar might do the job more cheaply.

And it might support schemes by Oregon and other states regarding "pay-for-use" road taxes. Many transportation experts assert that taxing actual driving distances would be a more equitable way of funding highway upkeep than today's tax on gasoline and diesel fuels. That's why the European Commission wants every vehicle in Europe to be fitted by 2010 with a black-box device that can be tracked by satellite. Germany is now testing such a system on trucks, and Britain plans to require it on trucks by 2006...

An Ounce of Prevention, a Pound of Nanny-State

Just got back from a WDMS meeting in which the idea of medical errors was expressed commonly as a "can't-happen-to-me" type of problem; the kind of willful ignorance of statistics that so many people use when speeding, when driving unrestrained, unhelmeted...

Trauma really hurts those libertarian notions of freedom uber alles. I choose to speed now, but it's getting harder as the patients keep rolling in. They made the same mistake I do, but statistics caught up with them. Freedom, rah, rah. Risk the family. Risk the insurance. Risk the lifetime of living in a persistent vegetative state.

Bottom line: I could never, ever do it to my family. Getting in an unrestrained accident would pretty much invalidate my parents' existance, rip a hole from here to Sparta, and pretty much guilt-trip any of my surviving brain tissue into ischemia.

Dr. P notes our society is comfortable with a Vietnam-level of trauma casualties EVERY YEAR (50k deaths). Either stop grousing about the youths lost 30 years ago, or start grousing about the lives claimed by the highway lifestyle.

Nader makes so many people crazy because he actually wallows in these numbers and tries to change them. And remember the old pearl that, if you really want to help people, get into preventative medicine... Once you really immerse yourself in that field, can you view the mall, McDonalds, and the roads in between as anything but a toxic affront to your life's mission? Wouldn't you get to be as loopy as Nader?

From Cursors to Arms

The Boston Globe (via WaPo) reports on monkeys moving a robotic arm with their thoughts alone:

The device relies on tiny electrodes, each resembling a wire thinner than a human hair. After removing patches of skull from two monkeys to expose the outer surface of their brains, Nicolelis and his colleagues stuck 96 of those tiny wires about a millimeter deep in one monkey's brain and 320 in the other animal's brain.

...Then came the training, with the monkeys first learning to move the robot arm with a joystick. The arm was kept in a separate room -- "If you put a 50-kilogram robot in front of them, they get very nervous," Nicolelis said -- but the monkeys could track their progress by watching a schematic representation of the arm and its motions on a video screen.

The monkeys quickly learned how to use the joystick to make the arm reach and grasp for objects and how to adjust their grip on the joystick to vary the robotic hand's grip strength. They could see on the monitor when they missed their target or dropped it from having too light a grip, and were rewarded with sips of juice.

While the monkeys trained, a computer tracked the patterns of bioelectrical activity in the animals' brains. The computer figured out that certain patterns amounted to a command to "reach." Others meant "grasp." Gradually, the computer learned to "read" the monkeys' minds.

Then the researchers did something radical: They unplugged the joystick so the robotic arm's movements depended completely on a monkey's brain activity. In effect, the computer that had been studying the animal's neural firing patterns was now serving as an interpreter, decoding the brain signals according to what it had learned from the joystick games and sending the appropriate instructions to the mechanical arm.

At first, Nicolelis said, the monkey kept moving the joystick, not realizing her brain was now solely in charge of the arm's movements. Then, he said, an amazing thing happened.

"We're looking, and she stops moving her arm," he said, "but the cursor keeps playing the game and the robot arm is moving around." The animal was controlling the robot with its thoughts.

..."John P. Donoghue, a neuroscientist at Brown University developing a similar system, said paralyzed patients would be the first to benefit by gaining an ability to type and communicate on the Internet, but the list of potential applications is endless, he said. The devices might allow quadriplegics to move limbs again by sending signals from the brain to various muscles, leaping over the severed nerves that caused their paralysis.
'Once you have an output signal out of the brain that you can interpret, the possibilities of what you can do with those signals are immense,' said Donoghue, who cofounded a Foxborough-based company, Cyberkinetics Inc., to capitalize on the technology."

It really seems that neuro has the most exciting advances right now. Every other field is serving up incremental improvements, next-generation drugs, etc. This neuro stuff -- the TMS, these cyberkinetic implants -- is not just about extending life or even restoring function, but potentially expanding the realm of human ability.

Scary / cool

Gizmodo GPS tracking reports keep coming:
"There's a new service for GPS-enabled cellphones called uLocate that makes it possible to easily keep tabs on your friends and family, allowing you to see their exact location on a map, 24 hours a day; review everywhere they've gone throughout the day; and set up and automatic alert if the person goes outside of a pre-defined area. Right now uLocate only works with a few select Motorola phones and Nextel's Total Connect cellular service, but support for more phones and carriers is in the works."

Yeah, this is every teenager's nightmare. But the thing is, it's also pretty cool. I think I'd let some friends track me, at least while it's still novel. They'd see nothing but trips back and forth from my apartment to the hospital. Every now and then they'd see a late-night dunkin' donuts run.

I guess if you were trying to go somewhere sneaky, you could always turn the phone off to travel unwatched. When I first got my phone, I tried to keep it off most of the time, only using it to originate calls when necessary. This was mostly a $ consideration, but gradually I was impressed with the convenience and connectivity -- now it's always-on. But it might be necessary to return to the days when we weren't always reachable...

Maybe people will start getting two phones, one to turn off when their spouses are tracking them, and one with which to call their secret fling on the side.

Has this happened before? Has a product become so successful, so laden with features, that it actually became an intrusive burden? Maybe television fits this bill.

Besides cells, the other big communication avenues -- landlines and mail, never became so clogged with unsolicited communication that people stopped using them. With email, the jury's still out. I can imagine some kids are forbidden from getting accounts because of x-rated spam, and I imagine many newbie adults are turned off by the whole thing, too.

The Smart Vote

V reminded me about Doogie Howser's end-of-episode musings on his computer (in the MS-DOS editor, if I recall). No, this is not supposed to be like those short, naive-but-wise encapsulations of the episode's events. These are naive-but-uninformed. And not so short, either. With a tendency to ramble.

An example (two, actually) of what I'm going for is below. This isn't much like a personal diary as it is a writer's notebook. Half-baked notions and streams of consciousness that could someday, schedule permitting, make it into a 700-word op-ed. It's an exercise in developing a voice, keeping current, and get faster/better at jotting commentary. It's really not meant for public consumption, which is why it's not advertised on Blogger's directory. But the web address is still accessible from anywhere, so I don't put anything about my friends or family on it.

Andrew Sullivan nails down a phenomenon I had only recently observed:

Fantastic quote from a "feminist" activist at the anti-Arnold rally yesterday. Film producer and Codepink activist Patricia Foulkrod explained why she was so fervently pro-Clinton and so outraged by Arnold:
"The difference is that Clinton was so brilliant... If Arnold was a brilliant pol and had this thing about inappropriate behavior, we'd figure a way of getting around it. I think it's to our detriment to go on too much about the groping. But it's our way in. This is really about the GOP trying to take California in 2004 and our trying to stop it."
Ah. The principles of liberalism today. I'm constantly amazed at how so many of the new class left believe that intelligence is the supreme human virtue. I guess this is because being smart has been their own ticket to power, wealth, etc. If I had a dollar for every liberal friend who couldn't vote for Bush because he's so "dumb", I'd be as rich as Terry McAuliffe. And during the Clark boomlet, I kept hearing, "But he's so smart." As if that were a sufficient argument for electing a president. And then when you ask the same liberals if they approve of intelligence testing or whether people sould get into college on the basis of test scores, they look horrified. Go figure.

I first noticed this over the summer, when a far-left buddy got drunk and privately mused that people who don't read the NYTimes (or at least their local paper) shouldn't be allowed to vote. Or their votes shouldn't count as much. Or they should pass some kind of quiz first.

The point was, he wanted extra power because of something he does in his (ample) free time. It never occurred to him that some people don't need to know the latest CPI numbers to vote their conscience, or may not have the time or money for news commentary. And the hubris of a government-subsidized student, who takes out far more than he puts in, advocating that his vote should count for more than an overworked middle-class taxpayer -- well, that was lost on him.

I do wonder, though, if the Left would hate Bush as much if he were articulate or well-read. His advisors -- Rice, Powell, Cheney, Rumsfeld -- are all perceived as extremely smart but tained for serving a jock-type. If any of them had been in charge from the get-go, would their be such vitriol against the war?

Maybe not.

I'm just glad that no one in my clerkships so far has advocated anything less than the standard-of-care (equal treatment) for even the most abusive, self-destructive patients. I know it probably comes up occasionally, but I have yet to observe it.

And Wanda, Doogie's girlfriend -- what a voice she had.

Tracking News

Gizmodo reports: "It's a little disturbing, but next year Coca-Cola is planning to give prizes to people who buy special cans of Coke by tracking them down using GPS tags embedded in the cans and bottles and presenting them with prizes including a Hummer H2 and one million dollars in gold."

And the Las Vegas Sun reports:
TOKYO (AP) - Stunned by the kidnapping of a teenage girl, a rural Japanese city plans to use a satellite-linked tracking system to help parents find their children. The northern city of Murakami has asked two security companies to provide the service for the families of 2,700 elementary and junior high school students, said Kenkichi Kimura, an official on the city's Board of Education.

The abduction of a 15-year-old girl last month prompted the program. A 26-year-old man took the teenager to his home on a nearby island, where she was rescued 11 days later. With the new service, students will carry devices that will send out signals allowing their parents to pinpoint where they are through a Web site on the Internet, Kimura said Thursday.

It will use a combination of technologies provided by mobile phone companies and the Global Positioning System, a U.S. satellite navigation service used by everyone from hikers to ship captains. The device also will be equipped with a button that can be pushed to call for help.

"If you are in a big city, people will come to help if you call for help," Kimura said. "But here, students walk to school in the mountains and rice fields. We need the latest device." The city will pay a small part of the fee for the device. An anti-crime buzzer not linked to a security service will also be offered. Kimura said he believed Murakami would be the first community in Japan to offer a citywide anti-crime service for children. If approved by the city assembly, the service could be in place by year's end.

I guess I should just keep a running tally of these stories. Two things are happening at once: the satellite receivers are getting smaller (now SD sized) and receiver-transmitters are coming out, sending the GPS data over wifi, phone, or radio frequencies.

This tech is more impressive than the current receive-and-log stuff out there now, in which a snoop would have to confiscate and review your GPS location log to know where you've been. The new stuff enables remote monitoring, in short.

What will this change? Maybe not too much. My hospital uses pagers extensively, for instance, and I can't see that proven 10- to 15-year old technology giving way to fancy GPS transceivers (which won't work as well indoors regardless (unless cell signals are used to augment)). I see this new GPS stuff working well for truckers, taxi dispatchers, delivery people, cops... maybe farmers and warehouses. And the military, natch.

Right now people-controllers need to call up their far-flung people, ask where they are, and coordinate movements. GPS s/r will let computers give orders to coordinate more complex movements, and faster. OK, so what else? When they get cheap enough, GPS s/r will let computers track non-human things, like the aforementioned coke bottles and really any product. Would Home Despot like to know if their hardware ends up in a suburban garage or an industrial site? Would LL Bean like to know how many of their backpacks hike the AT?

Eh. Maybe these companies would like that info, but not at great cost. Maybe a decade from now. The real cash cow -- I keep coming back to this -- is tracking people in malls and sending ads to their phones. This can't be more than a few years away, and will pay for itself quickly.

Also -- and there are crude variations on this right now from AT&T and some dating services -- you can subscribe to be notified when you walk by someone with similar interests. Scorpios, say, or Bjork stalkers. You get the signal, look around, and decide if you want to meet the similarly-inclined person within 20 feet. That might be cheaper to implement than the GPSpam concept, but not as lucrative.

Me and my memes

Here's a snippet from the increasingly hypertextual Mickey Kaus: "I don't think the Lehane/Mulholland Arnold-insulted-Arianna-and-all-women meme will go that far, in part because Arianna (unlike Hillary Clinton in the Lazio race) wasn't a major candidate whom viewers were focusing on. The bigger threat to Schwarzenegger, it seems to me, is the Tucker Carlson it-was-a-circus-that-only-helps-Davis meme, propagated also by Phil Bronstein and the S.F. Chronicle. "

Now, I haven't gone and read these Kaus cites. But I wanted to think that my handful of columns weren't reducible to a meme or phrase that I was "propagating." I like to think that every word in the 700-word piece is helping to craft a subtle and complex argument, but often it's not the case. I challenge anyone to sum up my old-man / minuteman piece in less than 10 words, or less than two sentences, without glossing over something major.

And you thought Europeans hated modified food...

Ananova reports on a "power sausage":

"Visitors to Germany's famous October Beer Festival will be kept awake this year with the help of a 'power sausage' stuffed with caffeine.
Inventor, butcher Johann Drexel insists: 'The Breaker sausage picks you up like an espresso.'
The sausage contains just 10% fat, vitamins B1 and B6 as well as caffeine and taurine. Caffeine stimulates circulation, while taurine allows to body to absorb it faster."

Meanwhile, I'm still waiting for my Dilberito.

bye bye baby

I left the wards today with a good feeling, recalling the hard work, happy outcomes, and good relationships. I had an urge to stay on after rounding this evening, just to see what's coming in. Will that urge be stronger or weaker on Emergency, where the variety of patients is so great and potential for calamity more likely?

But I was not that reluctant to go... because I was tired. And it got me thinking of the geneticist, and how Schmee approached college, compared to C.

I was impressed with shadowing the genetics counselor on Tuesday because I saw a kind of medicine (and research) that I had always suspected but had never actually witnessed: looking at a puzzling patient, ordering some labs, and trying to figure out what the kid has. Management is not the issue; there are neurologists and pediatricians working on that. Geneticists are doctors who diagnose, for the purpose of counseling on future pregnancy risks (and to better guide the PCP's management). They live in an interesting realm -- a huge chunk of diseases are readily diagnosable by any doctor, and perinatologists can pick up more in utero. The geneticists have to pore over those remaining malformations triggered either by spontaneous mutations, or extremely rare hereditary diseases.

How rare? OMIM on Jumping Frenchmen of Maine. I thought they were kidding.

So I guess a lot of times, geneticists have got to give up and say, "this collection of bizarre but nonlifethreatening malformations or reflexes are probably unrelated and may not pose much of a risk to future pregnancies beyond the background 3-5%". Other times, they can try to get insurance companies to pay for a $3000 gene test to rule out one possible cause of the child's symptoms.

But sometimes -- and maybe the bulk of a day is spent on these cases -- the doctor collects the observations and labs and experience and starts searching, online or in malformed facebooks -- for the variant of the extremely rare disorder already described. They can find the clues to management and future risk! Or describe all-new syndromes.

How rare is that? I used to think that physicians would be confronted with mystery on a more regular basis. When I was a first-year I wrote up a nice case on a mysterious rash that I concluded must be caused by Nickel allergy. But I understood that that case was one out of a hundred, maybe more. And so far in third year you don't see much that causes you to scratch your head and hit the books. All the decision-trees have been plotted, with percent likelihoods and odds ratios. If it were any other way, docs wouldn't be able to see 30 patients a day (unlike the four I saw on Tuesday. Just four!)

This relates to the contrasting approaches of Schmee and C. Schmee was a perfectionist and would rest up, mentally and physically, before tackling a big project. I do this too, and not just with academics -- housework, letter-writing, you name it. It's like I have to prepare my mind for the task. The bigger the task, the more rest and preparation is required. You can call it procrastination, and it might be that simple, but I think it's more nuanced.

On the other hand is C. C's mother once said if you've got to clean the kitchen, just clean a little of it, and soon you'll be "cleaning the kitchen" and it's easy to progress from there. It sounds ridiculously obvious but upon reflection strikes me as kind of radical. I can't tackle problems like this, or at least, not chores. Reading, studying, sure, maybe a little. But this is why C can study on a bus or while watching the game... while I need a good night's sleep and a full day at the library (and maybe not even then).

Medicine, it seems, is geared toward C's approach. You have to see these patients, because they're coming. You have to write her up, and quickly, because she needs her meds and orders and the next patient is on the way. My notes still often look like crap; I could have done a better job with a bigger template and infinite interview time. I didn't have that time, or that template, so I asked and wrote what I could remember and got it signed and moved on.

Would my old lab have been like this, if we had free coffee and call rooms? Probably not. Medicine wouldn't even be like this, if it wasn't for the onslaught of patients and paperwork. And the free coffee, and call rooms. There's something about working on just a few hours of sleep that forces you out of the Schmee mode and into the C mode. If you're a little tired, and faced with new tasks, you just leap into them, like C's mother advocated.

It was when you were too-rested and had time to think, that's when the perfectionism creeped in. Notes wouldn't be written unless they were perfect. I guess even the geneticist, with her seemingly luxurious one hour per patient, must eventually assess and plan and move on to the next one.

Early Adopters

I used to think "early adopters" -- people who use the latest products ahead of everyone else -- were asking for trouble. They paid more for essentially under-tested products. Sure, it might have seemed cool to own a DVD player before anyone else, but you would have paid less and gotten more features if you waited a year or two. Even worse, not every gizmo catches on (remember laserdiscs?)

But early adopters for email, like me, might look back nostalgically at the good old days of 5 or 10 years ago. It was just as fast. It was easier to read because fewer people sent gussied-up colors and fonts. And it was the days before spam, when every email was from a friend or classmate or professor. (Snail-mail used to be like that, I guess, too -- thirty years ago. Sure, no one looked forward to bills, but more frequent letters and magazines sure beats junk mail).

I wonder if we'll look back on cell phones as nostalgically -- back in 2003, when every call was from family or friends... before movement-tracking and text-spam.

What should we call this, anyway? GPSpam?

Contact Inhibition

October first is when the national do-not-call registry goes into effect, barring telemarketers from calling pretty much anyone who doesn't want to be called (ie, everyone).

Closer to home, UMassMed is employing a spam-blocker, with impressive results thus far.

Another new regulation, taking effect in November, will allow cell-phone users to carry their number to new carriers. The folks at Gizmodo are predicting a melee as thousands of people switch phone companies.

All seem like substantial victories for the little guy in the battle to control communications devices. But bigger battles are looming: location-based monitoring and text-message spam. Virgin Mobile recently revealed it was tracking the locations that customers made their calls from (using cell-antenna triangulation), and new GPS services will be even more precise. Coupled with text-message spam, the day may not be far off when driving past McDonald's triggers a message on your phone, informing you of the $2 for 2 quarter pounder deal (which, I must admit, was quite a deal).

We're already at the point where people say, "I don't want to visit that site or publish my email -- I'll get spammed." In the future, people may not want to walk down Main Street for the same reason. Or they'll leave their phone in the car before they enter the Mall. In short, one of the most powerful modern conveniences -- the mobile phone -- could quickly become less convenient, or even burdensome.

I'm not so convinced regulators will attack the location/spam beast like they've gone after email spam and telemarketers, either. Email spam, aside from annoying 9.999 out of 10 million recipients (the actual response rate for most spam is really 1 in 10 million), actually places a huge burden on servers and backbones, without paying a cent to those providers. Even telemarketers aren't so parasitic, though their intrusiveness is often considered worse.

But location/spam will be bankrolled by huge mobile-phone technology investments, and by the spammers themselves, who would happily pay your carrier for the chance to reach you and study your habits, your movements.

Put it this way, because I'm not feeling particularly articulate: email spam has a response rate of less than one in a million, but that's enough to pay the bills because spammers can abuse the free-ness of the internet to send billions of emails a year.

Telemarketing has a better response rate, but requires bigger staffs and payments to the phone companies, too. And it really, really annoys people, much moreso than email spam.

No one knows what location-spamming response rates will be (I imagine they'll be high at first, until the novelty wears off). If the ads and alerts sent over the system are really well-targeted, or if the special discount offered is great enough, it might work. But if it doesn't, if companies abuse the system and send hundreds of useless bulletins to phones every day (like email spam does now) well, people will want to block the spam. But the spamming companies will already be in cahoots with your carrier. And your carrier will have already invested millions in making the technology work. In short, they'll have little incentive to block the spam. Unless, say, you pay them an extra $5 a month for "protection."

Show of hands

Boston Globe article on new handheld transmitters in UMass-Amherst lecture halls:

"To connect with students in vast auditoriums, professors sprinkle multiple-choice questions through their lectures. Students point and click their transmitters to answer, pushing blue buttons numbered 1 through 9 on their keypads. A bar graph appears on the professor's laptop, showing the number of right and wrong answers; teachers can slow down or backtrack when there are too many wrong answers. Each device is registered and assigned a number, so professors can check who is present, and reach out after class to those who give wrong answers frequently."

"... Students have already started asking friends to carry their transmitters to class for them so they can skip. Professors, in turn, have learned to guard against double-clickers by doing a head count and figuring out whether there are "extra" answers."

I remember how my first real PI would never wear a pager or give out his vacation home number. He would always say, "If we need to talk, I will contact you." In the future, maybe status will be noted by the absence of these transmitters. It reminds me of the dispatchers who can see their truckers dithering via GPS. Whether it's GPS or these PRS education interfaces, employers and profs are collecting more and more data on the individuals under their guidance.

Location, attendance, tardiness, right answers... It used to be that if you knew the right answers on the final, if you filled your quota on your routes, you'd get by. Now, in the name of catching problems early and limiting liability, underlings are going to have to accept more tracking. And more motivation to succeed: maybe, if they're good, they can have a tracking-free holiday or weekend.

When you combine this with Wal-Mart's proposed inventory-tracking RFID system, the possibilities are endless (indulge me for a minute, will you?) A course book or laptop with course-specific software can send a TXT message back to the coordinator, letting those in charge know whether you took your work home with you or accessed materials. Just like Word docs can already time how long each person has spent editing a file, profs will know how long you actually had the books open or read the online materials.

Seems unnecessarily meddlesome, doesn't it? The issue used to be whether you know the material or not, whether you get the job done or not -- so it didn't really matter if you crammed it all in the last week, or got special insight from your roommate instead of your TA. It seems that if they can track attendance, attendance will start to count -- 5 or 10%, maybe. How many times your computer hits the course website will be another 5 or 10%. The points you for actually knowing the material will shrink relative to the points you get for showing up and going through the motions. This might be good for grade-schoolers who need to establish good habits, but seems extravagant and wasteful for college students.

Role Reversal

Andrew Sullivan notes a great email addendum to the Buruma essay: "Some of you may know Albert Hirschman's classic book, 'The Rhetoric of Reaction,' in which he parses the tropes of conservative argumentation in Western culture. A reader reminds me:
Hirschman lays out 3 aspects of this rhetoric:
1. The Perversity Thesis: 'any purposive action to improve some feature of the political, social, or economic order only serves to exacerbate the condition one wishes to remedy.'
Opponents of the war on terror claim that fighting this war will only lead to more terrorism. Toppling Saddam Hussein has only worsened the condition of the Iraqi people, etc. etc.
2. The Futility Thesis: 'attempts at social transformation will be unavailing.'
Iraq can't possibly become a democracy.
3. The Jeopardy Thesis: 'the cost of the proposed change or reform is too high as it endangers some previous, precious accomplishment.'
Fighting the war on terror will lead to the destruction of democracy at home."

Well, this is partly a function of the Left being out of power and hating Bush. A few years ago these same isolationists were fighting to free East Timor and pushing for more in Bosnia and Kosovo. By some crazy circumstances, they've finally got a president who's a huge spender with a cowboy attitude, freeing people from despotism in Central Asia, the Middle East, and Africa (Liberia). But if the guy's got a spotty environmental record and an eye towards his Big Oil buddies, well, the intervention and liberation can't be right, right?

Then again, who would have thought that one's opinions of whether hanging chads count as votes falls exactly in line with faith in tax cuts? It was an amazing coincidence that Republicans, who traditionally despise the activist judiciary, all spontaneously agreed on arcane procedures of vote counting and furthermore agreed that the courts should intervene. It's funny just how deeply political thought can penetrate into the most trivial of matters.

What interests me more is the possibly long-term changes to the social reputations of Left and Right. I grew up thinking Antiwar meant free love, cool drugs and great music. And something about self-determination 'n stuff. The Right was stodgy, afraid and, in a word, Conservative. Since my time at Brown, though, I've seen leftists do nothing but bitch, bitch, bitch. Everything the US does is imperialist, every enemy of the US is misunderstood... They've grown so reactionary and defeatist that I can't imagine many of them will have a good time at the Boston convention next year.

Meanwhile, SNL and the Daily Show, while still doing a number on Bush, have begun to target the lunatic antiwar fringe as well. Were they such an object of ridicule in Vietnam? During the freeze movement of the 80's? I don't know. But it seems to me that a group can't stay so angry, so humorless, so dogmatic -- and expect to remain a force, let alone grow. Especially not if the US makes substantial improvements to Iraq and Afghanistan. Which is why the Antiwar people are so anxiously hoping the US fails.

Maybe someday, the term Young Republican will stop connoting awkward Aryan-appearing preppies in ties. That's when we'll know the pendulum has swung.

There's no "we" in Dean

Michael Wolff in New York Magazine notes the similarities between Dean's blog and McGovern's direct-mail campaign. Both candidates leapt to the forefront after accessing a previously untapped source of funds. Best of the Web paraphrases : "Wolff argues that Dean's campaign may likewise be 'based around people who are too engaged. Too happy to be involved. Too emotionally joined at the hip. Too convinced of their own specialness--in turn imbuing the campaign itself with an exaggerated sense of uniqueness.'"

This is what's so frustrating about following the buzz, whether it's for politics or movies or cars. In recent years it happened to Tsongas, Bradley and McCain -- outspoken, brainy, and unsual candidates capture the interest of the 'media elite' and the few hundred thousand cable- and blog-watchers. Everyone gets excited, the story gets a Newsweek cover, and people wait for middle America to catch on. Except the muscle of the party usually knows the voters best, and endorses a bland but electable politician who can fight for the vital center.

Maybe Dean, like McGovern, will capture enough dollars and win the nomination. But I think Wolff would argue that the angry, "special" followers of Dean will revel in the spotlight, and rub their uniqueness in the face of the centrists. The undecided center, in turn, will lean to a genial W.

Clinton couldn't beat Tsongas on substance, yet won the nomination because he charmed more halls and donors. But if Tsongas' followers in 1992 had the tech-connections of 2003 ( and the Dean staff blogs), could the nomination have gone differently? Maybe -- but it seems unlikely Tsongas would go on to unseat the first President Bush.

It's easy to lose sight of the fact that most Americans aren't cable news junkies or blog readers. So what if Dean was on the cover of Newsweek -- which is read by just 1% of the nation?. So what if he is leading in NH Democrat polls (or trailing only the undecideds?). He's still largely unknown in most states.

Those who do know Dean tend to love him, and throw cash at his campaign. But hey, there's a cult of people willing to shell out thousands for Segways, too. They swear by their Segways, revel in their specialness, and have almost zero chance of turning on average people to their benefits.