Thursday, March 30, 2017

Pictures from the Phoenix trip

More from the Phoenix trip. 

Phoenix's mountains are fossilized Sorting Hats. 

The aquarium has some nice jellyfish, among other things. (I went to the zoo too, but didn't take any photos.)

The Trump billboard went up the day I arrived and generated a lot of buzz. What the articles didn't show is the billboard is in an artist's community, not over a main highway. 

 The back of the billboard.

The billboard has since been vandalized, hey, it's the libs who always cause the property damage, son, the right wing people always respect property. 

A screen in Taliesin West. I assume the decoration is a representation of the property. I forgot to ask.

The legendary Sa Gyu Ro cactus of the S'Morean dessert.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Reduced Power Research

The Washington Post recently changed its motto to "Democracy Dies in Darkness". It's hard to tell whether that's a claim or a prophecy. The government is trying to make it literal, by reducing HHS grants for light.  Statnews reports that HHS Sec Tom Price wishes to reduce support for "indirect expenses" or "overheads" in research.

Price repeatedly suggested reducing the amount the NIH pays universities to cover “overhead” costs, like lab equipment and utilities. That would let the agency direct more of its funds to actual research, even if the overall budget were reduced, he said.
“I was struck by one thing at NIH,” Price said, “and that is that about 30 percent of the grant money that goes out is used for indirect expenses, which as you know means that that money goes for something other than the research that’s being done.”

"Indirect expenses" has a specific meaning to a businessman. They're things that cannot be directly linked to the product being manufactured. For example, they include electricity, rent, and telephone costs. His accountant will treat them differently from direct costs - for example, what accounting period the incurred cost hits the books, which affects spreadsheets and the bottom line. There are tax implications. I think indirect costs (unlike direct) are tax deductible. Usually a business will develop a costs rate. If indirect costs are normally say 30% of overall costs, then a change to 35% may need investigation to see if there is impending trouble.

If a researcher writes a paper, it's trivially true that institutional electricity and telephone costs can't be linked directly to the conclusion of the paper. However, it's also fucking trivially true that without them, the research can't be conducted and the paper can't be written. Every businessman knows this - that's why they keep an eye on the rate, not suddenly decide to defund indirect costs. What the hell are universities going to do if they lose support for rent because it's 'indirect'?

These people are as crazy as junebugs.

Never mind, we can all start using this: 

Drug costs, another one of my bugbears.

One of the reasons cited for high drug costs is the cost of developing a new drug. I've seen figures of up to $1.52.6 billion per marketed drug.  (Article here at Forbes.)

The New York Times reports on a new treatment for eczema, which costs $37,000 per year.

However, a paper by the London School of Economics provides ample evidence that this high cost of R&D is as they say, a "myth".  Or rather, creative accounting.  Warning: PDF. I'm not going to try to summarize it but if drug costs are of concern to you, it's worth reading in full. 

Book learnin', 45 style

A couple of presidential tweets that show it is possible for him to learn - if he's forced to read something out loud. 

Fungicidal mania

So I have a toenail...condition. To cure it you have to use a special nail polish with fungicide in it that you have to paint on every day for a year. It has a 17% cure rate. (No, I didn't mistype that. After a year, one in five or so people are cured.) I'm on month 7 (nothing so far!) and got a refill today.
The pharmacist handed it over to me and said, "That'll be $63.99." 

I gasped. "Didn't the insurance cover it? They've always covered it before."

He looked at it wonderingly and said, "It didn't go through insurance. That's the cash price." He then pressed the various buttons to get it to go through insurance. "Okay, that'll be five bucks."

"Ah, that's better," I said, paying up.

But that's not the whole story. Because he handed me the "cash price" invoice at first, it had different information on it to the Full Price/Copay slip I usually get. The cash price invoice said,

**Congratulations! By using a generic you've saved $1563.97! Cash price $63.99**

I take that to mean I gasped at the sixty dollar price of Cic******, the generic drug, but the brand name drug, Pe****, had been priced at $1627.96. Since they last about two months, a year's worth is $9767.76.

You have a 17% chance of curing toenail fungus if you spend ten thousand bucks. This is why generic drug manufacturers can jack up their prices - they know brand name drugs are even more expensive. (Though this manufacturer is asking a fair price at around $60.)

I may have missed out a couple of swears in my transcript of the conversation up there.

Stonehenge tunnel still a bad idea

Stonehenge tunnel: UNESCO doesn't like it either.

BBC News link.

Dumbo Octopus swimming

I think this may be a dumbo octopus. Aren't they cute?

Lyme Disease vaccines

I used to work with Lyme testing and it's a pleasure to read something in the news about Dr. Alan Steere again. it's less of a pleasure to read that his expertise has gone to waste in one area because people are easily led.

Why your dog can get vaccinated against Lyme Disease and you can't

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Phoenix, Arizona part II

Continued from part I

The other school mentioned in Alma Mater (the School's Out album track) is of course Cortez.

I always go to the really highbrow cultural places when I'm on me hols. 

The song lyrics say, "We got no principals", but Cortez nowadays has a principal, and a psychologist (probably necessary). 

After that, perhaps tiring of the hurly-burly of high culture, we went to Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West, the winter home of his architectural school. (Which, on contemplating some of the things the tour guide said, was as close to a cult as you could come and still be respected.) It's still a school and the students still spend summers in Wisconsin and then pick up and spend winters in Phoenix, in a house they design and build themselves as part of the course, which seems admirably grounded. 

Looking out of the front door of Taliesin West, you can see Camelback (the hump is behind the sa gyu ro cactus, head towards the right), where Alice Cooper's famous school lies. 

And facing the opposite way, the main building of Taliesin West. Among hundreds of other facts, the tour guide said that the stone and concrete foundations and translucent-blind covered roofs were put down first but it was years before the glass was put in. I find it really hard to imagine working with large pieces of architectural paper with the desert wind (and rain) howling through the four or five foot gap between the wall and roof, but that's what she said. 

It also took years to get a well drilled and get this pool filled. And don't even think about the students digging latrines for the first couple decades. 

The tour is completely fascinating and to be recommended. 

And last but not least, STB taking his oath of citizenship in Phoenix. Due to the odd logistics, I wasn't very close to him, but he's in there somewhere. 

Phoenix, Arizona

I spent the weekend of 17 March in Phoenix. I traveled to witness STB take his oath as an American citizen.

A bird's nest in a cactus in Phoenix. 


Disappointingly, Phoenix's mountains are mostly piles of decomposed granite with pebbles in. What gives?

The mighty Sa Gyu Ro. I first came to Phoenix in the nineties, when a Grateful Dead fan convinced me to come to Tempe to see the band.  At that point I'd lived in the states for about ten years (and of course had heard of some aspects before then), but she was in a good mood and wanted to point out all the authentically American things around.  "This," she said, pointing at one of these in the photo, "Is the Sonoran SA GYU RO cactus." Dead heads turned. One said, loudly, "SA HWA RO cactus."

It's a Saguaro. I knew it and vaguely how to pronounce it before then, but this really rubbed it in. 

Important stop in Phoenix. This is Camelback High School, made famous in Alice Cooper's songs. It's one of the two schools that were *out* in School's Out, and namechecked in another song on the album, Alma Mater. The mountain just visible behind it is...guess...Camelback Mountain. 

Bye, United Kingdom

It's beyond breathtaking to me to realize that British politicians still have no idea - none at all - what they've got themselves into with Brexit. 40 years of mutuality and common law-making to undo in two years, based on the passing wishes of 52% of the voting public (who were not informed of the technicalities beforehand.)

I guess it's irreversible now as Article 50 is to be invoked within hours, but shit, what a terrible way for a country to die. 

According to Alan Ferrier (@alanferrier)David Davis said on March 16th: 

I has walked a trail

I spent the March 11 weekend exploring a trail in Casper's Park, Orange County. I used to work there - yes, inside the park, as it wasn't always a park and canny businesses bought land while it was permitted.

It's been raining quite a bit, and so the creek needed a bit of creative jumping from rock to rock but once up the hill, there's an excellent view. 

My workplace was the glass building just under the two water storage units, in the center of this picture. Can't ask for a more peaceful and contemplative place to work. 

Always with the wild cucumber on these walks. Though this is the first time I've seen an actual cucumber on the vine. 

Gattaca, anyone?

A new bill in town, H.R.1313 - Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act. These 'wellness' programs already let employers do "voluntary" health testing on employees or charge a penalty fee. With the new law, they would be allowed to test for genetic issues.
According to Stat,

“What this bill would do is completely take away the protections of existing laws,” said Jennifer Mathis, director of policy and legal advocacy at the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, a civil rights group. In particular, privacy and other protections for genetic and health information in GINA and the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act “would be pretty much eviscerated,” she said.

Recite the names of the Wi Fi

Via Simon Coffey (@urbanautomaton) who said:

someone at the British Library is doing fine work 

The Kills: Impossible Tracks (Video Late Show February 2017)

Internet of shit

The internet of things.  All fun until the kid three doors down kills you with your garage door opener.

I stayed in a hotel with Android lightswitches and it was just as bad as you'd imagine

Trump tyke

See the kid apparently flash a "white power" sign (fingers making a W and a P) in front of the president towards his (all white) tour group. At 38 seconds in in this NYT video.

Alien organism injected into the body politic

Never heard a Right Winger use the alien/germ metaphor in a positive way before. Suspect a paradigm shift in memes is coming up. Chilling ten second video at link. 

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Video: The Kills,Eurockéennes, 2016.

The Kills play the Eurockéennes de Belfort in France, 2016.

One and three quarter hours of prime Kills.

You owe it to yourselves to listen to the Kills.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Peromyscus, not as cuddly as it sounds

This blog is named for the mice that carry Lyme disease, because I used to work in Lyme disease detection, from 1989 to 1995 or so. At the time, Lyme was quite mysterious and largely confined to a small area of the eastern US. Since then, it's exploded. Detection and treatment haven't gotten much better but the mouse that carries it - Peromyscus - has done very well for itself.

NPR just published an article on Lyme, its expansion, and how to protect yourself here.  (Photo by Stephen Reiss, from the article.)


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