Hot on the heels of the Gettysburg Address, some guy has come up with the The Power Point Anthology of Literature.

The first slide, summarizing Hamlet, is the funniest.

It's safe concluding that great literature does NOT do well when translated to the powerpoint format, because the beauty of the language is lost and the bullet-list cannot capture the impact of the ideas expressed. Why do science or business talks do better? Simpler, more easily-expressed ideas benefit from a flow chart or bullets, sure... But then again, a lot of clarity and subtlety is lost by powerpoint as well. And if you organize your thoughts according to powerpoint outlines, the good-ideas-per-minute ratio takes a hit, I think...

Peter Norvig, naturally, has some good additional thoughts, including links to Tufte and a bunch of other oration and presentation tips.

Incidentally, related to the google-bomb post earlier, if you search for Gettysburg Address, Norvig's powerpoint presentation is #3. Unbelievable.

The Fox Puck Strikes Back

Gizmodo reports:

Researchers in soccer-obssesed Germany are working on putting RFID tags actually into soccer balls themselves and into players' clothes:

A prototype has been developed in cooperation with the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits, Erlangen. Once the system is fully functional, it could not only be of help to referees, but also deliver all kinds of interesting data for TV and useful information to the coach since every player could also be equipped with a broadcasting chip. This way, all players' paths, accelarations and speeds could be tracked in real time and converted into graphics.

This info might be more useful to coaches and opponents than to fans -- if it's really useful at all to know that Becks slows his approach by 18% in the final 10 minutes of a match, unless being pursued by a halfback if the ball is past midfield...

Still, it's damn cool that 1) RFID (and Wifi!) are not just used for communications and product tracking but for new applications and 2) it's not all GPS anymore (which was kind of limited for this kind of thing -- domed stadiums, slow locks...)

Other sporting ideas off the top of my head:
Baseball -- end speculation about how far that ball went, find out how fast your favorite slugger swings...
Football -- did the ball really cross the plane of the endzone?
NASCAR -- more stats about driving in circles

But the real advantage may be metrics not yet dreamt up. Footballoutsiders.com tries to take new stats about teams to predict victories, but RFID might open up new stats like "percent of players who run faster than 14 mph on more than 50% of plays" or "team with greatest linebacker kinetic energy".

Stupid Google Tricks

Fun Google Bombings already out there (the number one site returned by google for the given search entry):

French Military Victories
Miserable Failure (also can be searched as a news story -- currently it's Michael Moore, used to be GWB)
More Evil Than Satan Himself (links to a CNN story from 1999!)
weapons of mass destruction
organized crime (libertarians trying to google bomb the IRS... not yet #1)

From the NYTimes:
Unlike Web politicking by other means, like hacking into sites to deface or alter their message, Google bombing is a group sport, taking advantage of the Web-indexing innovation that led Google to search-engine supremacy.

The perpetrators succeed by recruiting a small group of accomplices to link from their Web sites to a target site using specific anchor text (the clickable words in a link). The more high-traffic sites that link a Web page to a particular phrase, the more Google tends to associate that page with the phrase - even if, as in the case of the president's official biography, the term does not occur on the destination site.

"I'm actually surprised how easy it was to do," said the mastermind of the Bush effort, George Johnston, 46...

But it's not just a matter of getting 20 webmasters to link to your desired target with your desired phrase. You've got to pick an obscure search term (you'll never get the search term "computer" to divert to anything but Apple or Dell). And you'll never get any results unless your 20 webmaster friends run some popular sites (Google prioritizes somewhat based on popularity -- but pageRank is complex). Either that, or get 500 unpopular sites and you may make headway.

Google says this is just a novelty, a fad, but I can imagine a few dozen CS classes trying this, every semester. They have the knowhow, the connections, and the perpetual mischievousness. Right now a few terms out of Google's 200 million daily are corrupted. Will it ever reach 1%?

Yeah, probably not. But I do believe we'll see a huge coordinated campaign to corrupt a popular search term before long. Not "miserable failure" but something ... from the Lycos Top 50?

Why not google bomb 'sex' away from thousands of pr0n sites and toward Disney? That's the kind of prank everyone can enjoy.

Space: For the People, By the People...

Good article in today's NYTimes by op-ed contributor Klerkx:

The appeal of space travel has always been twofold. It is not merely about exploration; it's also about experience. Ever since the dawn of the Apollo program, NASA has done an admirable job of promoting the scientific excitement of space flight. Now it must do more to engage Americans directly. To fulfill the promise of the space age, everyone should have a chance to go into space.

It's a subtle but important distinction. Lots of documentaries talk about the daring, the dreaming, the inspiration of the moon shot... but when people get starry-eyed about how "we could go to the moon", they mean "we" as in anyone, not "we" as in highly skilled careerist astronauts.

This suggests the new attempt to recapture that spirit of the 60's, with a moon base and trip to Mars, will fail. The timetable is 16 years, not 6. The work is less unique and less revolutionary, but technically harder and longer. And what's more -- the public has had over thirty years of mainstream sci-fi to drum the idea into our collective consciousness.

Will people really tune in, day after day, during a 6-month trip to Mars, just to see the hatch on the lander open and watch a skilled pro step on the red soil? People know what to expect. They've seen this kind of thing before.

The big money, and big interest, is in getting ordinary people out there. Failing that, it might be worth revising my idea from last February, for an American Idol- style astronaut selection process. If people can't go into space, maybe identifying more with those who do will heighten interest. Lileks notes that the first person on Mars will probably be an American, and thus the most representative human (could be man or woman, black or white or Asian or Latino...) But putting someone on Mars selected by the viewers... that's democracy...

Religious Fanaticism about Science

Sometimes James Taranto brings politics down to the adolescent they're so lame mentality, with his clever one-liners and reassurances that if you're reading him, you're much brighter and cooler then them. Even in the midst of that, he can still make a good point:

"What Gore means to say is that no one may doubt that man is causing the earth to heat up. But this is completely at odds with the scientific method, which is founded on doubt. What Gore is offering is a form of religious fanaticism without God, in which infallible 'scientists' promulgate dogmas and politicians browbeat us into making drastic changes in our lives in order to conform to them."

I remember talking about a variation of this in high school, with Adam (hint: we were so lame). I wanted to replace God's role in society with the Quest for Truth, or something. Morality would revolve around the need for objectivity, and fairness. People's efforts would go toward increasing the understanding of the world, of people, between people... instead of towards what I cynically imagined were faith-based cliques and wars and extravagant, useless churches.

I haven't thought about it much since then, if only because Adam and others made me concede that people aren't ready, scientists aren't ready, and the Truth is not secure enough. Taranto's quotation above really captures the problem -- a cadre of 'esteemed scientists' come up with a position, crush dissent, and try to force political change. It's really no different than the worst aspects of religion, except instead of a bible we have computer modeling of climate change. Instead of suffering for personal growth and redemption, we have suffering for potential gains in saved forests. And, as Crichton suggests, when have great truths even come from committee? One person, working alone, will figure out the deal with global warming -- it will involve the wobbles, the magnetosphere, the Greenland ice core samples, the algae, the forests, the volcanoes... and the factories. It will explain the little-ice-ages of the last millenia, the big ones of the last eras, and will not be based on computer modeling.

I have a headache, and don't feel I'm making much sense, but must confess that I wrote a Vonnegut-style short story about how conservatives and the big-industry polluters and their lobbyists crushed the environmental movement, stopped the science, and masked all the foul-smelling chemicals with strawberry scent. It was the spring of 1991, I was 15 and a half, and have never before or since been more confident in my abilities or righteousness.

Next time I'll have the truth on my side.

Space Race

Here's my idea, to sooth the masses of nattering nabobs on the web who Bush continuously seems to disappoint:

A space race, not between the US and China to set up a base on the moon, but rather between NASA and private enterprise. There are several companies trying to get cheap reusable ships into LEO for touristry purposes. Well, NASA was just ordered to scratch plans for the OSP, scrap the shuttle by 2010, and get it done some other way. Why not race? Why not spy, share notes, get it done however possible?

There's a precedent: the human genome project. It was begun by the NIH because it seemed so monumental, so time-consuming and tedious and yet necessary. It was expected to take decades. But then Craig Venter showed up, with his novel approach and his for-profit company, and the genome was decoded in a matter of years, not decades.

There are lots of reasons why this moonshot attempt doesn't really apply. But it's too attractive to NOT try, because I agree with a lot of those 'space-libertarians', that NASA is too bureaucracy-driven, and not innovative enough, to pull this off.

Someone, think of something.

Afflicted By Comfort (washingtonpost.com)

George Will just wrotea book report. The only original thought on Easterbrook's new book (which I am reading and pondering too much, it would seem):

"His book arrives as the nation enters an election year, when the opposition, like all parties out of power, will try to sow despondency by pointing to lead linings on all silver clouds. His timely warning is that Americans are becoming colorblind, if only to the color silver. "

The truth is, Will is a skillful paraphraser. Maybe he's got me there. But it's comforting to know that someday, I'll be able to coast with the best of them.

Hang ups about subscriptions

"Pacific Digital is trying to resurrect the market for LCD picture frames, which can display digital photos without being connected to a PC. Their new MemoryFrame doesn't require a subscription to upload and display your pictures, and comes in two models, an 8'x10' (that stores 80 images) and a 5'x7' model (that stores 55 images)."

I almost bought one of these a few years ago as a Christmas gift for my folks. I was turned off by the required subscription and phone connection, though it was cool to imagine dialing in and changing the pictures at my parents' house. Now with WiFi it's not an issue.

I think people are ok with subcriptions to magazines, cable, utilities, their car (a lease) and a few other items. Once you start getting them to subscribe to streamed music or appliances or their frickin' picture frames, they balk. And they should. Some things are just conceived of as permanent and shouldn't come with strings attached. Pictures of your family is one of those things.

Risk Averse

Good article in the Atlantic this month (SOTU issue) in which Cullen Murphy ponders David Ropiek's book about Risk assessment (Ropiek and Gray are the Harvard analysts profiled in the Boston Globe recently, the book is Risk: A practical guide for deciding what's really safe and blah blah blah)

Murphy is not used to scientific thought, I would venture -- otherwise she would have seen the absurdity of the "hell-gorithm." And she doesn't seem to grasp the difference between correlation and causation, or how things that correlate in one population may not correlate in another.

I have a feeling Ropiek's book is going to talk about Quality Life Years, and the cost of each, and maximizing the number of QLY (I forget the proper acronym) per dollar. One example I read about (forget where) talks about billions of dollars needed to remove the last trace of arsenic from water, which would only save a few lives and hurt quality in a few others. Hence, the ratio QLY saved or generated, to dollars spent, is comically low. In contrast, seatbelts or child-proof locks or lipitor or fluoride have excellent ratios.

This sounds like a good way to allocate funding and policy priorities. Yet as Easterbrook notes, the media continue to harp on plane crashes and murders (one of his many stats I plan to catologue is that more serial killings occur in hollywood movies than have occured in real life). Yeah, Hollywood is not the media, but you get the point (and Easterbrook has more stats).

But what I hope Ropiek addresses -- and if he doesn't, I have a column -- is that harping on staircase and window accidents may make sense in terms of reducing ER visits, but danger-proofing such everyday items runs so counter to 'our way of life' that it jeapordizes the whole public perception of risk-guided policy decisions.

What I mean to say is -- if the end product of risk-analysis is to have people shun cars, eat wheat germ, avoid sex, and shave every day (there's a correlation between not shaving and getting a stroke) -- well, then people aren't going to pay attention to risk analysis.

We should use risk analysis to make incremental improvements, or, when an opportunity is at hand, to help guide either-or decisions... Otherwise you end up like Ralph Nader, who, if I recall the story correctly, blamed a senator for his wife's traffic death because the senator questioned airbag legislation.

People can tell when you're passionate about saving lives vs. passionate about messing with them. Nader and his ilk aren't so much anti 'personal misery', the pain of burying loved ones or suffering alongside them -- they're often pro-'corporate misery'. Another angle: Naderites have either studied the actuary tables for so long that they decided revolution was necessary to save people, or they had preconceived notions about what people should do, and find data to support it.

In math terms (because I can't get my head around this): we're not just talking about allocating dollars to maximize some $/QLY ratio, we're talking about minimizing changes to some kind of national Quality measurement. Q can't just be for one person's Q, but must factor in the Q of everyone around him. Otherwise, ripping up your street and dismantling your and putting you on lipitor might increase your Q, for very little money, but would hurt everyone else...

Rumblings & grumblings

Blogborymgi is a pun on "borborygmi" -- the sound doctors listen for when they put the stethoscope to a patient's abdomen.

UPDATE: Doc Shazam explains it best:

For those of you who don't know what the title means, it's a play on the medical term "borborygmi" which is a fancy term for the noise your stomach makes when it grumbles. A blog for grumblings about medicine. Cool.

Blogborygmi is a digest of developments in medicine, technology, and society. Get it? Oh, I've got more like that. Just wait.

Pats on the back (burner)

The Patriots are apparently a little miffed that attention swirled, and continues to swirl, around the Red Sox and A-Rod trade.

In a way, you can't blame them.

But in another way, you can.

Sure, the Pats have put together a monumental streak, despite injuries and a lack of star power. It is said that businesses and high school teams study the Pats, because they are such a selfless team wholly dedicated to winning. Every player knows his place, and if asked to switch or sit out, will do so quietly. Remember Bethel Johnson was showboating after a big game, and taking practice light the following week? Well, he was benched. And he took his medicine, and learned from his mistakes, and didn't take his wounded ego to the media. Could Randy Moss do the same? Does this happen on other teams?

So, yay for the selfless, dedicated Pats, right? If the bottom line is wins, this is the system. You won't find ego starpower here. You won't find people resting on their laurels. Forget about getting ahead of yourself. Forget about focusing on anything but the next game. There is no cockiness in this team, no relishing the victory, no flaunting it in their opponent's face. Instead, there's 'institutionalized paranoia' -- constant fear of losing the edge, losing the lead, losing sight.

You know what other well-studied business espouses institutionalized paranoia? You know who coined the term? Microsoft. And while it's true that Microsoft is successful, and has made a lot of investors happy, you can't say they've inspired loyalty. People love Apple, but no one roots for Microsoft.

I'm from Boston. I'm not used to rooting for juggernaut win machines. And though it sure beats losing, it doesn't 'beat' the wins achieved with a hint uncertainty, some pride, and emotional release.

Elective Day

Gotta wonder if I can spend some time fourth year doing medical journalism. Why not? I probably couldn't sub it for ICU or toxicology, but hey. Do it in addition. Or just use one of your free months to spend a few weeks volunteering for Lester Strong's HealthBeat. Sounds corny, but it beats emailing Rush lyrics to the editor of the WSJ op-ed page.

BU's Knight program in medical journalism (3 semesters)
Clegg Scholarship to study med journalism 8 weeks at the BMJ

There are 3 sponsored ads when you search google: books on Amazon, medical writing references from the AMA and others, and "join our news team" -- TheOtherNews.com... There seem to be formal programs in Australia, the UK, and BU. Maybe I can talk to BU about setting up a 4th year elective...

the AMA has a page mentioning medical journalism scholarship winners for medical students... the editor of msJAMA got it... which really suggests I should submit my Hussein / humiliation / Dean piece to them.

Brooks on cliques

David Brooks says it better than I do:

The proliferation of media outlets and the segmentation of society have meant that it's much easier for people to hive themselves off into like-minded cliques. Some people live in towns where nobody likes President Bush. Others listen to radio networks where nobody likes Bill Clinton.

In these communities, half-truths get circulated and exaggerated. Dark accusations are believed because it is delicious to believe them. Vince Foster was murdered. The Saudis warned the Bush administration before Sept. 11.

You get to choose your own reality. You get to believe what makes you feel good. You can ignore inconvenient facts so rigorously that your picture of the world is one big distortion.

And if you can give your foes a collective name — liberals, fundamentalists or neocons — you can rob them of their individual humanity. All inhibitions are removed. You can say anything about them. You get to feed off their villainy and luxuriate in your own contrasting virtue. You will find books, blowhards and candidates playing to your delusions, and you can emigrate to your own version of Planet Chomsky. You can live there unburdened by ambiguity.

Improvements in information technology have not made public debate more realistic. On the contrary, anti-Semitism is resurgent. Conspiracy theories are prevalent. Partisanship has left many people unhinged.

I would only add that information tech makes it harder, not easier, to bridge the gap between groups and ideas. And, as Lileks noted recently, when you talk to someone from a different camp, it's like talking about creationism or something. There's no common ground, no common set of facts that are agreed upon.

Though I keep harping on information tech and that lazy impulse to seek the like-minded, it's not the only contributor to this problem. People are agents now, if you believe in something you work for it, join a group, work in the clinic, get out the vote. And once you put your time and effort into it you're that much more likely to identify with the group, make it a part of you, make it that less likely to change. And you accept the common ground of the group...

Back to class...

Dean is like Bad Medicine

from wapo writer (ant patient) marjorie williams :

The man is a doctor. This is the least-examined chapter of his career. But suddenly it all makes sense: Where else but in medicine do you find men and women who never admit a mistake? Who talk more than they listen, and feel entitled to withhold crucial information? Whose lack of tact in matters of life and death might disqualify them for any other field?

As it happens, I've spent almost two decades observing politicians, whom on balance I quite like, and more recent years observing doctors, who . . . . Well, let's just say that mine is a grudge tenderly nurtured over two and a half years of illness, encompassing roughly 32 doctors in six hospitals, plus scores of the medical students, fellows, interns and residents in whom we can see the doctor in larval form.

A doctor who has told you one thing at Appointment A might propose an entirely different course of action at Meeting B. Fair enough -- except for the pretense that nothing has changed. It is the very rare doctor who will say, "I've changed my mind," or, "Sorry, I was wrong when I said X at our last meeting." Usually, what he said last time has simply become . . . inoperative.

Hey! And you know, Andrew Sullivan agrees with this assessment. He says compassionate, human doctors are few and far between. Well, I really hope some extra knowledge and some added responsibilities don't change me into a grouchy little dictator like Dean -- the patients seem to like me well enough, now.

I think what works well for me is I'm happy to admit I'm low on the totem pole and don't know much more than the layman. I get into trouble with people who want authority. And I get into trouble when I pretend to have it. For now.


Been doing the blog now for almost 6 months, and revived Ideas.doc six months before that. As expected, the ideas.doc was richer, more interesting, with briefer and underdeveloped notes. The blog has been better at forcing some instapunditry, though I find it tends to calcify my thoughts on subjects, it tends to be hurt spontaneity, and I don't take advantage of the search features as often as I should. Then again, this med school thing is really the priority, and the blog will prove its usefulness down the road.

In the near future I would like to take all the good stats and stories from the Bryson book and put them up on here for future reference, each one could be the basis of an article, almost.

Also I'd like to think a little more about time-trials, banging out a column in a set timeframe. I'm semi-pleased with the piece I just wrote on cell-spam, but never sent it out because I wasn't happy with the tone, or on my expertise (didn't have time or inclination to study spam laws and FCC rulings). Still, it took too long to write, and the product isn't pretty to read.

It's an open question about careers, skills, trades -- how much can you do, and how fast? The rest of my medical education is essentially devoted to treating patients more effeciently, without missing stuff (I could SOAP a few patients a day at this point with close to 100% success, and the goal is to get up to 30 patients a day with the same rate).

I could write a column or two a month, and they would probably be very good but take several days a piece to prepare. But Lileks can churn out 3 a week, plus a very readable blog. As for DJing, no doubt I could do what they do on WXRV, or even the more polished, soulless WBMX. But it would probably take all kinds of crazy preparation just for one show, just like my best wedding gigs were the ones where I pre-searched for the music.

Jump over to David Brown, a polymath if there ever was one. He built a pro-quality bed, but it took him ages. He could fix a car, but it would probably take longer and cost as much or more.

What I'm getting at is that expertise is not so much doing something well, but doing it quickly and frequently. With medicine, the school and the state are throwing all kinds of resources at me to make me proficient. Will I get the same break with writing? Must talk to John Lock.

Crichton Talks the Talk

A few speeches Michael Crichton has made are up on his website. I read his autobiography many years ago, was aware of his HMS background and some research, but didn't know he was actively thinking and speaking on the relationship between science and the media. Good stuff. I'm glad he doesn't talk about his desert walks, though.

Some threads that run though several speeches: science and the scientific method is powerful, but its impact is eroding. Something like SETI, which is based on equations with indeterminate variables, breeds excessive modeling, leading to predictions of nuclear winter and global warming, both of which are dependent on so many factors as to be essentially unpredictable (as Bill Bryson's book attests). Some science is now done by consensus and by media campaigns, which hurts the people and hurts science in the long run. And since when has consensus ever been good for science? Worth remembering.

Still, it's important to have real scientists getting the word out, explaining results, not letting popularizers dumb it down, and not letting people leap to conclusions. There's plenty to analyze and put into perspective without getting speculative and prospective.

Some lines worth quoting:
"And much of what politicians say is not so much a prediction as an attempt to make it come true. It's argument disguised as analysis. But it doesn't really persuade anybody. Because most people can see through it. "

From another speech:
Of course, we can always count on a good word from Nova—but that's only reaching 8.5 million, or 3.3%. Internet, you say? Only 18% of homes wired. And how they use the net is hard to assess. Even huge media events—ER on television, or Jurassic Park at the movies—will only be seen by twenty to forty million people, or eight to fifteen percent of the domestic audience. That means five out of six Americans never see it. The perception of an all-pervasive media that reaches everybody is simply not accurate. No media speaks directly to the majority of Americans.

Let's be clear: this is a change. In 1985, 60 Minutes gave a misleading report on Audi's braking system, and Audi lost 80% of its American business. Although Audi subsequently won the relevant lawsuit, its business took a decade to rebuild. But no television report would have that impact today. Nobody'd believe it. They'd think the cars were rigged, the interviews paid for, the reporters biased, the story one-sided. Every major network has had scandals and fraud and firings and embarrassment.

In this matter of personal dealings with the press, science is far behind the times. Thirty years ago, when I published The Andromeda Strain, authors didn't talk to the press. That would be selling. It undermined our dignity as intellectuals. Back then, the major figures of business, finance, and the universities behaved similarly. And so did scientists. Even movie directors didn't give interviews; that was a job for actors.
Finally, I would rethink the advancement of science. Too often, the advancement of science has meant the advancement of scientists. More money for research, more spending for big projects. The public correctly perceives this as lobbying.