Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Brady Forrest| @brady | comments: 1
An API! SMS! Foursquare! An iPhone app! They are all coming to Burning Man this year. Will the festival be the same?
The annual tech-art festival in the Nevada desert, starts on Sunday. Normally the attendees leave their phones and laptop behind, but this year that may not be the case. As I ride from Seattle to Black Rock City, NV I am getting SMS from friends on the playa. In anticipation of wifi and possible data connections Foursquare has rolled out Black Rock City as a city (@sfslim is already the Mayor of The Man). If AT&T's service doesn't work then attendees may be able to take advantage of OpenBTS's local SMS project. Most of the attendees aren't there, but the tech is already making its presence known.
Burning Man is dismissed as a party by many people (attendees and non-attendees alike), but for many it is a unique opportunity to try out new software. Geohackers in particular find it to be a great playground. Black Rock City is a full city complete with a fire department, stores (where you can buy coffee, tea or ice bags), a Main drag and 40,000+ residents. However, since it is only around for a week each year (and is always in a new location) there is not time (or profit) for commercial companies to map it. The process falls to the community and they take advantage of the opportunity (and sites like Flickr use the resulting commercial-grade data).
This year the Burning Man organization is assisting with the launch of an API. With the API you get access to descriptions and locations of the Streets, Art, Camps and Events. When combined with a map this is everything you need for a local city guide. And that is exactly what the iPhone app does (it's not available in the app store; if you want it head to the Burning Man Earth Camp next to Media Mecca -- be nice). It maps all of those entities, will geolocate you and let you mark favorites (see the screenshot from my iPhone). You can learn more about the API project here. Burning Man still has its Virtual Playa project online.
There is also a move to take advantage of Flickr's machine tags. For example if you take a picture of Area 47 (with the online directory entry: http://earth.burningman.com/brc/2009/themecamp/2234/) then use burningman:camp=2234. The photo will appear on that locations page. We will see how many photos end up using these machine tags. I suspect that V2 of the iPhone app will add a camera that can apply those tags automatically and that we'll see more uptake then.
Burning Earth team member, Tom Longson, sent me the following.Burning Man's theme this year is evolution which is fitting as Burning Man Earth launches an online directory, API, and a beta iPhone App. The group of artists, geo-wankers, and software developers are rapidly deploying systems, both off and on the Black Rock Desert playa to help participants find each other, schedule events, find theme camps, and artwork. It is a digital project aimed at providing better maps, and an online space to describe the community and art.
The open source webapp, named "Earth", builds upon Open Street Map, GeoDjango, and Pinax to create an easy to use, mapping interface for the event. Coupled with Jeffrey Johnson's prior work with aerial photography, and Andrew Johnstone's virtual playa 3D modeling, the platform is rapidly evolving to become an important part of the organization of the event.
Burning Man's API now opens the door for developers and artists alike to remix and reuse data about the event. For example, you could plot all the events in the next hour, build an Arduino belt that vibrated in the direction of the closest piece of artwork, or a web service for rating theme camps.
In addition, Mikel Maron is championing machine-tags to allow the project to couple Earth's database with other websites, such as Flickr. By integrating machine tags, people can say on Flickr what art installation their photo is of, and Earth will automatically pull up that photo. Likewise, Flickr will provide a link to the page describing the artwork itself.
Beyonds enabling mashups, the APIs are the foundation for the new beta iPhone app, which serves as both a directory and enhanced GPS designed for Burning Man. A small number of participants will get to try out the app, which will be in full production next year.
While it may sound like fun and games, the harsh conditions of the Black Rock Desert make the system a perfect testbed for mapping temporary places, people, and things. In this same way, these tools may just be the next best thing for helping disaster hit regions react and respond. Burning Man Earth is more than just an attempt at radical self-expression, self-reliance, and community building. It may just be a tool for tomorrow.
This is Burning Man at its best. Letting people create something just for the festival and its attendees. The question becomes how will the larger Burning Man community, expecting a cellphone free vacation, react to intrusions from the real-world?
BTW, If you are on the playa you may be able to find me at my group art project Steve the Robot H.E.A.i.D.
Monday, August 24, 2009
There's something magical about getting an email forward you actually enjoy. That's why we had to post this list that just landed in my inbox. These 35 truths just hit the mark, though some -- like when cars line up to block someone from passing on the shoulder or leaving the house looking hot but not seeing your crush -- more so than others. We've seen a few of these items floating around the Web over the last few days, but we have no idea who wrote it. If you know where it came from, let us know!
1. There is a great need for sarcasm font.2. I can't remember the last time I wasn't at least kind of tired.3. Bad decisions make good stories.4. How the hell are you supposed to fold a fitted sheet?5. I would rather try to carry 10 plastic grocery bags in each hand than take 2 trips to bring my groceries in.6. The only time I look forward to a red light is when I'm trying to finish a text.7. The letters T and G are very close to each other on a keyboard. This recently became all too apparent to me and consequently I will never be ending a work email with the phrase "Regards" again8. A recent study has shown that playing beer pong contributes to the spread of mono and the flu. Yeah, if you suck at it.9. Was learning cursive really necessary?10. I have a hard time deciphering the fine line between boredom and hunger.
Click here to read the rest of the list.11. Answering the same letter three times or more in a row on a Scantron test is absolutely petrifying. 12. Whenever someone says "I'm not book smart, but I'm street smart", all I hear is "I'm not real smart, but I'm imaginary smart". 13. I love the sense of camaraderie when an entire line of cars teams up to prevent a dick from cutting in at the front. Stay strong, brothers! 14. Every time I have to spell a word over the phone using 'as in' examples, I will undoubtedly draw a blank and sound like a complete idiot. Today I had to spell my boss's last name to an attorney and said "Yes that's G as in...(10 second lapse)..ummm...Goonies" 15. What would happen if I hired two private investigators to follow each other? 16. While driving yesterday I saw a banana peel in the road and instinctively swerved to avoid it...thanks Mario Kart. 17. MapQuest really needs to start their directions on #5. Pretty sure I know how to get out of my neighborhood. 18. Obituaries would be a lot more interesting if they told you how the person died. 19. I find it hard to believe there are actually people who get in the shower first and THEN turn on the water. 20. Whenever I'm Facebook stalking someone and I find out that their profile is public I feel like a kid on Christmas morning who just got the Red Ryder BB gun that I always wanted. 546 pictures? Don't mind if I do! 21. If Carmen San Diego and Waldo ever got together, their offspring would probably just be completely invisible. 22. Why is it that during an ice-breaker, when the whole room has to go around and say their name and where they are from, I get so incredibly nervous? I know my name, I know where I'm from, this shouldn't be a problem.... 23. You never know when it will strike, but there comes a moment at work when you've made up your mind that you just aren't doing anything productive for the rest of the day. 24. Can we all just agree to ignore whatever comes after DVDs? I don't want to have to restart my collection. 25. There's no worse feeling than that millisecond you're sure you are going to die after leaning your chair back a little too far. 26. 'm always slightly terrified when I exit out of Word and it asks me if I want to save any changes to my ten page research paper that I swear I did not make any changes to. 27. "Do not machine wash or tumble dry" means I will never wash this ever. 28. I hate leaving my house confident and looking good and then not seeing anyone of importance the entire day. What a waste. 29. I like all of the music in my iTunes, except when it's on shuffle, then I like about one in every fifteen songs in my iTunes. 30. Why is a school zone 15 mph? That seems like the optimal cruising speed for pedophiles... 31. As a driver I hate pedestrians, and as a pedestrian I hate drivers, but no matter what the mode of transportation, I always hate cyclists. 32. Sometimes I'll look down at my watch 3 consecutive times and still not know what time it is.33. It should probably be called Unplanned Parenthood. 34. I keep some people's phone numbers in my phone just so I know not to answer when they call. 35. I think that if, years down the road when I'm trying to have a kid, I find out that I'm sterile, most of my disappointment will stem from the fact that I was not aware of my condition in college.
Throughout the 2008 campaign, Barack Obama’s most loyal constituencies were the national press corps and the left wing of the Democratic Party.
Readers' CommentsReaders shared their thoughts on this article.
Those on the left loved him because they thought he was one of them. They tolerated all the happy talk about bipartisanship because they were sure that deep in his community-organizing heart Obama shared their premises, their passions and their goals.
The media loved him because he was a great story and a great campaigner. The press favors dreamy liberals, but it worships success, and Obama was the best of both worlds — a soaring rhetorician with a ruthlessly competent political machine.
But now both groups are turning on him. As the health care debate enters its decisive weeks, the left doubts President Obama’s commitment, and the press doubts his competence.
For MSNBC-watching, Huffington Post-devouring liberals, the administration’s fancy footwork on a public health care plan (maybe it’s out, maybe it’s in, but either way it’s negotiable) is just the latest example of the president’s unseemly unwillingness to steamroll the opposition. He has been too solicitous to Republicans, too hands-off with Democrats, too detached and technocratic — even as a once-in-a-generation opportunity is passing liberalism by.
Where the left sees betrayal, the press sees ham-fistedness. The White House’s messages have been mixed — fiscal hawkery one day, moralism the next. The administration has allowed distractions like the Skip Gates affair to crowd out his agenda. It has overlearned the lessons of the Clinton-care debacle and given Congress too much leeway. It has underlearned the lessons of the Bush-era Social Security debacle and gone to war before there’s an actual piece of legislation on the table.
Some of this is true — but some of it is overstated. And at its worst, it’s an example of the bipartisan derangement that Gene Healy of the Cato Institute has dubbed “the cult of the presidency.”
To the disciples of this cult, the president is the government. “He is a soul nourisher,” Healy writes, “a hope giver, a living American talisman against hurricanes, terrorism, economic downturns and spiritual malaise.” Anything that happens on his watch happens because of him. And just as important, anything that doesn’t happen can be pinned entirely on his mistakes.
President Obama has been turning these quasi-messianic expectations to his advantage since he first entered national politics. But that doesn’t make them any less unrealistic.
To listen to the chatter about where his administration has gone wrong, you would think that the rest of the Democratic Party had no agency — that Democratic office-holders are slaves to poll numbers that only the White House can control, and that the way a Max Baucus, a Ben Nelson or a Blanche Lincoln votes is entirely determined by whether the president of the United States twists the right arms and hits the right rhetorical notes.
In reality, the health care wrestling match is less a test of Mr. Obama’s political genius than it is a test of the Democratic Party’s ability to govern. This is not the Reagan era, when power in Washington was divided, and every important vote required the president to leverage his popularity to build trans-party coalitions. Fox News and Sarah Palin have soapboxes, but they don’t have veto power. Mr. Obama could be a cipher, a nonentity, a Millard Fillmore or a Franklin Pierce, and his party would still have the power to pass sweeping legislation without a single Republican vote.
What’s more, health care reform is the Democratic Party’s signature issue. Its wonks have thought longer and harder about it than any other topic. Its politicians are vastly better at talking about the subject than Republicans: if an election is fought over health care, bet on the Democrat every time. And for all the complexity involved, it’s arguably easier to tackle than other liberal priorities. It’s more popular than cap and trade, it’s less likely to split the party than immigration and it’s more amenable to technocratic interventions than income inequality.
If the Congressional Democrats can’t get a health care package through, it won’t prove that President Obama is a sellout or an incompetent. It will prove that Congress’s liberal leaders are lousy tacticians, and that its centrist deal-makers are deal-makers first, poll watchers second and loyal Democrats a distant third. And it will prove that the Democratic Party is institutionally incapable of delivering on its most significant promises.
You have to assume that on some level Congress understands this — which is why you also have to assume that some kind of legislation will eventually pass.
If it doesn’t, President Obama will have been defeated. But it’s the party, not the president, that will have failed.
Friday, August 21, 2009
Thursday, August 20, 2009
WASHINGTON — Infant deaths in the United States declined 2 percent in 2006, government researchers reported Wednesday, but the rate still remains well above that of most other industrialized countries and is one of many indicators suggesting that Americans pay more but get less from their health care system.
Infant mortality has long been considered one of the most important indicators of the health of a nation and the quality of its medical system. In 1960, the United States ranked 12th lowest in the world, but by 2004, the latest year for which comparisons were issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that ranking had dropped to 29th lowest.
This international gap has widened even though the United States devotes a far greater share of its national wealth to health care than other countries. In 2006, Americans spent $6,714 per capita on health — more than twice the average of other industrialized countries.
Some blame cultural issues like obesity and drug use. Others say that the nation’s decentralized health care system is failing, and some researchers point to troubling trends in preterm births and Caesarean deliveries.
Many agree, however, that the data are a major national concern. More than 28,000 infants under the age of 1 die each year in the United States.
“Infant mortality and our comparison with the rest of the world continue to be an embarrassment to the United States,” said Grace-Marie Turner, president of the Galen Institute, a conservative research organization. “How can we get better outcomes?”
The data, collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, indicate that the nation’s infant mortality rate has been static for years despite enormous advances in the care given to preterm infants. Two-thirds of the infant deaths are in preterm babies.
In 2006, 6.71 infants died in the United States for every 1,000 live births, a rate little different from the 6.89 rate reported in 2000 or the 6.86 rate of 2005. Twenty-two countries had infant mortality rates in 2004 below 5.0 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, with many Scandinavian and East Asian countries posting rates below 3.5. While there are some differences in the way countries collect these data, those differences cannot explain the relatively low international ranking of the United States, according to researchers at the disease control agency.
Preterm birth is a significant risk factor for infant death. From 2000 to 2005, the percentage of preterm births in the United States jumped 9 percent, to 12.7 percent of all births. The most rapid increase has been among late preterm births, or babies born at 34 to 36 weeks of gestation. Some 92 percent of these increased premature births are by Caesarean section, according to a recent study.
Dr. Alan Fleischman, medical director of the March of Dimes Foundation, said that a growing number of these late preterm births might be induced for reasons of convenience. “Women have always been concerned about the last few weeks of pregnancy as being onerous,” Dr. Fleischman said, “but what we hadn’t realized before is that the risks to the babies of early induction are quite substantial.”
Dr. Mary D’Alton, chairwoman of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University, said doctors should not induce labor before 39 weeks of gestation unless there was an urgent medical or obstetrical need. For unknown reasons, the number of preterm births is far higher among African-American women even when those women have access to good medical care, Dr. D’Alton said.
There is some evidence, she said, that steroids given to mothers at risk of giving birth early may help. A trial to test this theory is about to start.
Some economists argue that the disappointing infant mortality figure is one of many health indicators demonstrating that the health care system in the United States, despite its enormous cost, is failing.
Although the United States has relatively good numbers for cancer screening and survival, the nation compares poorly with other countries in many other statistical categories, including life expectancy and preventable deaths from diseases like diabetes, circulatory problems and respiratory issues like asthma.
Ms. Turner blamed socioeconomic factors like obesity, high drug use, violence with guns and car accidents — factors that she said could not be addressed by health reform. Karen Davis, president of the Commonwealth Fund, a nonprofit research organization, agreed that socioeconomic factors played a role but said that the nation’s heavy reliance on the private delivery of care was also to blame.
“We’re spending twice what other countries do,” Ms. Davis said, “and we’re falling further and further behind them in important measures like infant mortality.”
In light of recent hoopla about the US health care system, here's some interesting stats - the US' mortality rate is 29th in the world, tied with Slovakia and Poland.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Monday, August 17, 2009
Everyone who is trashing Obama's healthcare plan should be required to answer the following multiple choice question:
Pick A or B:
A. I don't want any changes to our healthcare system. I'm cool with the fact that 50 million Americans don't have coverage.
B. I agree that our system needs to be reformed, but I think there's a better option than the one Obama's proposing.
If your answer is B, pick from the following three options, described by Paul Krugman. (Krugman notes that "every wealthy country other than the United States guarantees essential care to all its citizens"--except us. Which is why Obama's pressing for change).
Nationalized healthcare. "In Britain, the government itself runs the hospitals and employs the doctors. We’ve all heard scare stories about how that works in practice; these stories are false. Like every system, the National Health Service has problems, but over all it appears to provide quite good care while spending only about 40 percent as much per person as we do. By the way, our own Veterans Health Administration, which is run somewhat like the British health service, also manages to combine quality care with low costs."
Nationalized health insurance. "The second route to universal coverage leaves the actual delivery of health care in private hands, but the government pays most of the bills. That’s how Canada and, in a more complex fashion, France do it. It’s also a system familiar to most Americans, since even those of us not yet on Medicare have parents and relatives who are. Again, you hear a lot of horror stories about such systems, most of them false. French health care is excellent. Canadians with chronic conditions are more satisfied with their system than their U.S. counterparts. And Medicare is highly popular, as evidenced by the tendency of town-hall protesters to demand that the government keep its hands off the program."
Private insurance with strict rules to make sure that everyone's covered. "Finally, the third route to universal coverage relies on private insurance companies, using a combination of regulation and subsidies to ensure that everyone is covered. Switzerland offers the clearest example: everyone is required to buy insurance, insurers can’t discriminate based on medical history or pre-existing conditions, and lower-income citizens get government help in paying for their policies."
Obama is essentially proposing that we move from our system to the Swiss system: Private insurance with rules that make sure that everyone's covered.
So which is it, Obamacare-trashers?
(A). The status quo, in which we remain the only wealthy country in the world in which basic healthcare isn't guaranteed, or
(B), one of the other options above?