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Journal: Continuation on education 13

Journal by jd

Ok, I need to expand a bit on my excessively long post on education some time back.

The first thing I am going to clarify is streaming. This is not merely distinction by speed, which is the normal (and therefore wrong) approach. You have to distinguish by the nature of the flows. In practice, this means distinguishing by creativity (since creative people learn differently than uncreative people).

It is also not sufficient to divide by fast/medium/slow. The idea is that differences in mind create turbulence (a very useful thing to have in contexts other than the classroom). For speed, this is easy - normal +/- 0.25 standard deviations for the central band (ie: everyone essentially average), plus two additional bands on either side, making five in total.

Classes should hold around 10 students, so you have lots of different classes for average, fewer for the band's either side, and perhaps only one for the outer bands. This solves a lot of timetabling issues, as classes in the same band are going to be interchangeable as far as subject matter is concerned. (This means you can weave in and out of the creative streams as needed.)

Creativity can be ranked, but not quantified. I'd simply create three pools of students, with the most creative in one pool and the least in a second. It's about the best you can do. The size of the pools? Well, you can't obtain zero gradient, and variations in thinking style can be very useful in the classroom. 50% in the middle group, 25% in each of the outliers.

So you've 15 different streams in total. Assume creativity and speed are normally distributed and that the outermost speed streams contain one class of 10 each. Start with speed for simplicity I'll forgo the calculations and guess that the upper/lower middle bands would then have nine classes of 10 each and that the central band will hold 180 classes of 10.

That means you've 2000 students, of whom the assumption is 1000 are averagely creative, 500 are exceptional and 500 are, well, not really. Ok, because creativity and speed are independent variables, we have to have more classes in the outermost band - in fact, we'd need four of them, which means we have to go to 8000 students.

These students get placed in one of 808 possible classes per subject per year. Yes, 808 distinct classes. Assuming 6 teaching hours per day x 5 days, making 30 available hours, which means you can have no fewer than 27 simultaneous classes per year. That's 513 classrooms in total, fully occupied in every timeslot, and we're looking at just one subject. Assuming 8 subjects per year on average, that goes up to 4104. Rooms need maintenance and you also need spares in case of problems. So, triple it, giving 12312 rooms required. We're now looking at serious real estate, but there are larger schools than that today. This isn't impossible.

The 8000 students is per year, as noted earlier. And since years won't align, you're going to need to go from first year of pre/playschool to final year of an undergraduate degree. That's a whole lotta years. 19 of them, including industrial placement. 152,000 students in total. About a quarter of the total student population in the Greater Manchester area.

The design would be a nightmare with a layout from hell to minimize conflict due to intellectual peers not always being age peers, and neither necessarily being perceptual peers, and yet the layout also has to minimize the distance walked. Due to the lack of wormholes and non-simply-connected topologies, this isn't trivial. A person at one extreme corner of the two dimensional spectrum in one subject might be at the other extreme corner in another. From each class, there will be 15 vectors to the next one.

But you can't minimize per journey. Because there will be multiple interchangeable classes, each of which will produce 15 further vectors, you have to minimize per day, per student. Certain changes impact other vectors, certain vector values will be impossible, and so on. Multivariable systems with permutation constraints. That is hellish optimization, but it is possible.

It might actually be necessary to make the university a full research/teaching university of the sort found a lot in England. There is no possible way such a school could finance itself off fees, but research/development, publishing and other long-term income might help. Ideally, the productivity would pay for the school. The bigger multinationals post profits in excess of 2 billion a year, which is how much this school would cost.

Pumping all the profits into a school in the hope that the 10 uber creative geniuses you produce each year, every year, can produce enough new products and enough new patents to guarantee the system can be sustained... It would be a huge gamble, it would probably fail, but what a wild ride it would be!

Books

Journal: History books can be fun (but usually aren't and this is a Bad Thing) 2

Journal by jd

Most people have read "1066 and all that: a memorable history of England, comprising all the parts you can remember, including 103 good things, 5 bad kings and 2 genuine dates" (one of the longest book titles I have ever encountered) and some may have encountered "The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody", but these are the exceptions and not the rule. What interesting - but accurateish - takes on history have other Slashdotters encountered?

User Journal

Journal: A Cure Worse than the Disease: Amending the Constitution vs. Citizens United

Journal by einhverfr

Recently a set of six senators have proposed a Constitutional Amendment to overturn the controversial Supreme Court case of Citizens United v. FEC which held that corporations were allowed to make unlimited expenditures with regard to elections provided that those were independent expenditures, not coordinated with candidates.

The Citizens United case overturned two previous Supreme Court cases, McConnel v. FEC (which was a case the court evidently had trouble drawing lines over given the fact that 9 justices produced 8 opinions, and pieces of four of the opinions commanded a majority of the court), and Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce. Some First Amendment scholars from across the political spectrum have hailed the decision. For example Eugene Volokh, a Republican, has generally felt this was an important protection of Constitutional liberties, and the ACLU played an important role in filing amicus briefs in favor of Citizens United, and has been very much in favor of the decision. Others have seen it as an open invitation to Corporations to meddle in politics.

Before we get into the Constitutional Amendment and why everyone, on both sides of this issue, should be opposed to it, it's worth noting that the questions of first amendment law in election finance cases seeks to balance two competing interests. The first is to ensure that the people can write and publish on political topics surrounding an election, and the second is to ensure the integrity of the elections. Citizens United draws this line by saying that independent expenditures are different from coordinated expenditures (5-4 holding, but the dissent didn't offer an alternative except to wait for another case), and that disclosure laws were entirely Constitutional (8-1 holding). The fundamental problem is that while money is not speech, regulating how people can spend money in order to express themselves regulates a lot of speech. The court correctly noted that the Constitution didn't differentiate between, say, the New York Times and, say, Merke, and therefore, couldn't grant the government the ability to ban Merke from buying television ads without banning the New York Times' right to print editorials in favor or opposed to candidates.

Indeed the concern over freedom of the press was at the core of Citizens United. Surely when Alito asked S. G. Malcolm Stewart if the government could Constitutionally ban books, he had no idea that the only answer S. G. Stewart could give would be "yes" (an answer repeated by S. G. Kagan at rehearing, see the same link above for all oral argument), and hence a question probably intended to address an issue of statutory interpretation set the stage for a Constitutional showdown. To be fair, both Stewart and Kagan tried very hard to avoid giving that answer but both were unable to come up with any alternative that would save the law as written, because the Supreme Court tends to err more on the side of facial challenges (striking down laws) than as-applied challenges (mandating exceptions) when it comes to freedom of expression. The dissent felt the correct decision was to say, in essence, "we don't have sufficient record to make this decision. Declare it as moot and let them bring another case to us through the courts."

Citizens United was hailed as a major First Amendment victory by the ACLU, and many other organizations which work on First Amendment issues, and by major First Amendment scholars such as Eugene Volokh. However, many others have seen it as a doorway to corporate tampering with our elections.

However, for any controversy, there are solutions that are far worse than the cure. This is one of them. The relevant portion of the proposed Amendment is:

SECTION1. Congress shall have power to regulate the raising and spending of money and in kind equivalents with respect to Federal elections, including through setting limits onâ" ...
(2) the amount of expenditures that may be made by, in support of, or in opposition to such candidates.

The omitted paragraph 1 allows the government to regulate gifts and donations to candidates, something already within the power of the government. Section 2 grants identical powers to the states.

Now, it's important to note what is covered under Section 1 paragraph 2. In essence any money spent communicating a message on an election for or against a candidate in any way falls under government power. Presumably this could include purchasing gas to go to a rally, publishing pamphlets, buying Obama's books to give to undecided friends in 2012..... These are all independent expenditures and could fall under government regulation under such an amendment. And nowhere in the amendment does the word 'corporation' appear.

In essence the proposed amendment is that we trust to Congress the ability to arbitrarily limit the freedom of the press not only by corporations but also by natural persons. Such an amendment would prevent a first amendment challenge to some laws already on the books (say, a foreigner here on a student visa publishes a blog posting on a site that he/she pays for hosting on opposing an anti-immigrant candidate. This is already against the text of campaign finance law, but would probably allow either an as-applied or facial challenge to the law even before Citizens United but that would be taken away).

This proposed Constitutional Amendment then goes well beyond repealing Citizens United in that it takes away Constitutional protections that each of us enjoy.

Now, the subject of independent expenditures is a controversial one. However, given that only defenders of Citizens United have offered any data defending their side, I am forced to at least tentatively conclude that the ACLU is right on this one. However for the purpose of the rest of this post, I will assume that this is a serious problem and offer recommendations for changing this proposed amendment so that it does not strip us all of fundamental Constitutional rights.

If the problem is a concentration of power over spending in our elections, it seems to me unwise to further concentrate that power in the hands of the state. Instead it would seem to me that granting power to Congress to curb the worst abuses only, while preserving the power of the common man would be preferable. In this case, if the problem is specifically corporate spending, then allow Congress to limit Expenditures, not part of profit-making goods and services offered at standard prices, on the parts of for-profit corporations only. This would be sufficiently broad enough to ban Corporate donations to Citizens United and the ACLU, but not sufficiently broad to regulate what fliers and pamphlets you or I can print to distribute. It would allow Congress to prevent Corporations from offering special discounts for such material, but would not prevent them from offering standard discounts (such as volume discounts available to everyone else).

In the end, it's easy to get whipped up into a frenzy and believe that because we must do something that this must be done. This is unfortunately common. We see on the other side of our politics, amendments to state Constitutions which forbid state judges from using foreign laws to inform decisions, forgetting that in international contracts or other cases where conflict of laws issues may come up, these foreign laws are extremely relevant to the cases. Like this present proposal, the problem is with being overbroad, and therefore causing a great deal of harm to our basic freedoms in the name of solving problems.

Every American should be opposed to this amendment. Those who oppose Citizens United and seek to overturn it should insist that the amendment to do so be narrow. Those who support it should listen to the others but make sure their concerns are addressed.

Databases

Journal: LedgerSMB 1.3.0 -- Why it's cool

Journal by einhverfr

LedgerSMB 1.3.0 was released today after several years of development (perhaps nearly joining the ranks of Perl 6 and Duke Nukem Forever). The release offers a number of compelling features, such as separation of duties, far improved payment handling, better cash reconciliation and the like. But what makes LedgerSMB 1.3.0 cool is how we are pushing the envelope technically and attempting to provide a framework for quickly building new programs which re-use our application's functionality.

Simply put, the cool approach we are taking is in making stored procedures discoverable, much like web services. This is done by assigning semantic meaning to argument names, and then using a mapping function to pull argument names from the system catalogs, mapping these to object properties. This offers many of the benefits of web services, such as offering a looser coupling between database and application layers than is traditional, and it facilitates the development of add-ons or even other applications which re-use LedgerSMB functionality.

One key element to making this work is the principle that the database in such an environment should be the centerpiece of the computing environment rather than the bottom tier of a multi-tier architecture. Thus every application user is a database user, the database itself enforces permissions, and can act not only as a data store but also a message queue, possibly routing data to other applications (via queue tables and PostgreSQL's LISTEN/NOTIFY framework). In essence the database does everything that could be done with set functions.

Of course the database doesn't do everything. We don't hand it raw http query strings, or have it output HTML documents assembled from data inside the database. This is the job of the application layer, which is to manage the interaction with the human component. Separating this role off, then allows for more diversity in usage in the future. We are thus no longer tied to a web interface for the long-run, and could allow other client apps to be built on our software in the mean time, all sharing a common security and data logic framework.

In this regard, PostgreSQL takes on traditional middleware roles in LedgerSMB from 1.3 onward. This isn't to say it is an application server in the classical sense, but rather that it takes on many roles of application servers. We've found this approach to be quite scalable because hand-tuned SQL generally performs better (and is easier to troubleshoot) than ORM-generated SQL statements, and yet of course much business logic is not in the db server at all but rather in the application which provides the interface between the db server and the user interface, whatever that may be.

Work has already begun on 1.4 to take this approach to an even higher level, as we re-engineer the financial logic to make use of this approach.

Education

Journal: HOWTO: Run an educational system 1

Journal by jd

The topic on Woz inspired me to post something about the ideas I've been percolating for some time. These are based on personal teaching experience, teaching experience by siblings and father at University level and by my grandfather at secondary school, 6th form college and military acadamy. (There's been a lot of academics in the family.)

Anyways, I'll break this down into sections. Section 1 deals with the issues of class size and difference in ability. It is simply not possible to teach to any kind of meaningful standard a group of kids of wildly differing ability. Each subject should be streamed, such that people of similar ability are grouped together -- with one and only one exception: you cannot neglect the social aspect of education. Some people function well together, some people dysfunction well together. You really want to maintain the former of those two groups as much as possible, even if that means having a person moved up or down one stream.

Further, not everyone who learns at the same pace learns in the same way. Streams should be segmented according to student perspective, at least to some degree, to maximize the student's ability to fully process what they are learning. A different perspective will almost certainly result in a different stream. Obviously, you want students to be in the perspective that leads them to be in the fastest stream they can be in.

There should be sufficient divisions such that any given stream progresses with the least turbulence possible. Laminar flow is good. There should also be no fewer than one instructor per ten students at a secondary school level. You probably want more instructors in primary education, less at college/university, with 1:10 being the average across all three.

Section 2: What to teach. I argue that the absolute fundamental skills deal in how to learn, how to research, how to find data, how to question, how to evaluate, how to apply reasoning tools such as deduction, inference, lateral thinking, etc, in constructive and useful ways. Without these skills, education is just a bunch of disconnected facts and figures. These skills do not have to be taught directly from day 1, but they do have to be a part of how things are taught and must become second-nature before secondary education starts.

Since neurologists now believe that what is learned alters the wiring of the brain, the flexibility of the brain and the adult size of the brain, it makes sense that the material taught should seek to optimize things a bit. Languages seem to boost mental capacity and the brain's capacity to be fault-tolerant. It would seem to follow that teaching multiple languages of different language families would be a Good Thing in terms of architecturing a good brain. Memorization/rote-learning seems to boost other parts of the brain. It's not clear what balance should be struck, or what other brain-enhancing skills there might be, but some start is better than no start at all.

Section 3: How to test. If it's essential to have exams (which I doubt), the exam should be longer than could be completed by anyone - however good - within the allowed time, with a gradual increase in the difficulty of the questions. Multiple guess choice should be banned. The mean and median score should be 50% and follow a normal distribution. Giving the same test to an expert system given the same level of instruction as the students should result in a failing grade, which I'd put at anything under 20% on this scale. (You are not testing their ability to be a computer. Not in this system.)

Each test should produce two scores - the raw score (showing current ability) and the score after adjusting for the anticipated score based on previous test results (which show the ability to learn and therefore what should have been learned this time - you want the third-order differential and therefore the first three tests cannot be examined this way). The adjusted score should be on the range of -1 (learned nothing new, consider moving across to a different perspective in the same stream) to 0 (learned at expected rate) to +1 (learning too fast for the stream, consider moving up). Students should not be moved downstream on a test result, only ever on a neutral evaluation of some kind.

Section 4: Fundamentals within any given craft, study or profession should be taught as deeply and thoroughly as possible. Those change the least and will apply even as the details they are intertwined with move in and out of fashion. "Concrete" skills should be taught broadly enough that there is never a serious risk of unemployability, but also deeply enough that the skills have serious market value.

Section 5: Absolutely NO homework. It's either going to be rushed, plagarized or paid-for. It's never going to be done well and it serves no useful purpose. Year-long projects are far more sensible as they achieve the repetitious use of a skill that homework tries to do but in a way that is immediately practical and immediately necessary.

Lab work should likewise not demonstrate trivial stuff, but through repetition and variation lead to the memorization of the theory and its association with practical problems of the appropriate class.

Section 6: James Oliver's advice on diet should be followed within reason - and the "within reason" bit has more to do with what food scientists and cookery scientists discover than with any complaints.

Section 7: Go bankrupt. This is where this whole scheme falls over -- to do what I'm proposing seriously would require multiplying the costs of maintaining and running a school by 25-30 with no additional income. If it had a few billion in starting capital and bought stocks in businesses likely to be boosted by a high-intensity K-PhD educational program, it is just possible you could reduce the bleeding to manageable proportions. What you can never do in this system is turn a profit, although all who are taught will make very substantial profits from such a system.

User Journal

Journal: The liberal mindset in one easy video 4

Journal by ncc74656
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zF3hbPtCttc

Title cribbed from here. A sample that I transcribed...let's call the protagonists Alice and Bob:

Bob: You said the "right-wing media" was becoming too powerful.
Alice: Yes. We need the Fairness Doctrine to return a balance to talk radio.
Bob: How does it work?
Alice: The government makes things fair.
Bob: How?
Alice: I don't know the details, but it ends with Rush Limbaugh being forced off the air.
Bob: What don't you like about him?
Alice: He uses hate speech.
Bob: Like what?
Alice: He criticizes liberals.
Bob: How is that "hate speech?"
Alice: Because I hate it.

User Journal

Journal: Why The Encryption Back Door Proposals are Bad (Technically) 2

Journal by einhverfr

Permission is hereby granted to distribute modified or unmodified copies of this content far and wide. I, the author, do request though do not require that the link to the New York Times story is preserved in any redistribution, however.

(Copyright (c) 2010, Chris Travers)

The New York Times has reported today that the Obama Administration is seeking legislation to require backdoors into encryption software that could be used for wiretapping. I believe this is deeply problematic for both technical and social reasons, but the technical reasons are probably the worst. Because this area is not well covered in the existing articles, I figure it's worth giving a quick primer here.

  Types of Encryption

The simplest form of encryption is what's called symmetric encryption. It comes in various forms, some simpler than others, but the basic process is conceptually simple. Two parties share a secret. One party takes the message and encodes that message with the shared secret, and the other party decodes it using that same shared secret. This encryption is reversible and the key is the same on both sides.

A trivial example might include what we think of as ROT-13 (used for obfuscation) where every letter is rotated 13 places forward. So "this is a sample message" becomes "guvf vf n fnzcyr zrffntr." Of course such a cypher is easily broken, but there are very good quality symmetric cyphers available, such as AES.

The real problem with symmetric cyphers is that they require that both sides knows the same key before encrypted communication begins. If you are communicating with a lot of third parties, you would find you'd either have to publish the key (making sure everyone else could decrypt the same messages!) or find some way of getting the keys to the other parties in advance. This obviously renders this form of encryption useless for initiating secure communications with individuals one has never met.

To solve this problem, public key encryption was designed. Public key encryption uses two keys, called a public key and a private key. Knowledge of the public key is not sufficient to derive the private key through any sort of feasible process, and these keys are usually very long (AES may be 256 or even 512 bits long, but public/private key pairs are often 1024, 2048, or 4096 bits long per key), making brute force even harder (since the public key is expected to be publicly available).

The public key is then published and the private key is retained. A user can then look up a public key, encrypt a message with it, and only the holder of the private key can decrypt it. Similarly a private key holder can sign a cryptographic hash of a message and anyone with the public key can validate this "digital signature." (A cryptographic hash is another form of encryption with is one-way, and is used in document validation, tamper-proofing, and password checking.)

Public key encryption depends on the idea that ONLY the appropriate party has the private key. When you make a secure purchase on, say, Amazon.com, Amazon sends you their public key, and you and them use this to negotiate a symmetric cypher (probably using AES or RC4). In this way you know the key was properly exchanged and eavesdropping on this sale by criminals is not possible. When you enter your credit card data is not intercepted by criminals. Protection of the private key is very, very important to this process, but even knowing the private key does not enable you to eavesdrop on a conversation in process since that's done with a symmetric cypher.

SSL, PGP, IPSec Opportunistic Encryption, and related technologies all use asymmetric encryption, but the differences tend to be in how keys are published and who is vouching for them. SSL is designed so that you know who you are talking to because a third party (like Verisign) is vouching for the identity of the server.

Problems with Backdoors in Public Key Encryption

To effectively wiretap public-key-based communications, you have to have access to the private key, or you have to tap them post-decryption. Tapping post-decryption works fine in some contexts, such as what you are purchasing at Amazon.com. However, it does not properly work when trying to capture the content of encrypted emails, since these are usually encoded with the recipient's private key. Communications encrypted in this way are not generally vulnerable to interception in the middle. Moreover, communication itself could include encrypted files as attachments and such which could be handled entirely outside the flow of the program (I can encrypt a file and then attach it and my email program doesn't care if it is encrypted).

There isn't a real way to retrofit peer to peer communications programs to allow this sort of interception without compromising the core of how encryption works. A company may maintain their own certificate authority and use it to publish keys for internal company communications. A person taking a company laptop home may then use those certificates to encrypt emails. There is no way to intercept the content of these communications without requiring that the company keep copies of all private keys, thus compromising their own security. Similarly, if I email out an OpenPGP key or an OpenSSH key, these are not sufficient to wiretap the communications that would be encrypted using those keys. The only way out would be to require the makers of the software to include a facility sending the private key to some sort of escrow service which could then provide the key to law enforcement, but this compromises the basic integrity of the software, and any attempt on open source programs could be easily circumvented.

Consequently, this doesn't actually affect the sorts of technologies an organized crime ring is likely to use. Instead it makes each of us more vulnerable to government spying, and it makes key data, such as credit card data, far more accessible to criminals.

Such a law would thus benefit organized crime at the expense of the average consumer. It's an unbelievably bad idea no matter how you look at it.

User Journal

Journal: Misinformation Abounds regarding Vaccines and California Whooping Cough Epidemic 2

Journal by einhverfr

I have had a great laugh doing some research online (various sites) to try to figure out why this year's whooping cough epidemic is happening in California. It is amazing the amount of misinformation I have found. Pro-vaccine people are blaming it on anti-vaccine people (false, see below), and Anti-vaccine people are blaming it on the vaccine (also wrong). Some people are even blaming it on illegal immigration. As best as I can tell this is because the whooping cough vaccine is different from the vaccines of, say, Polio or Measles, and people try desperately hard to fit it into their agenda even when it doesn't fit. In my reading I have learned a lot about a type of vaccines I never really paid attention to. I figure it's time to set everyone straight.

The NPR article above is particularly laughable (really, NPR does enough good reporting they should know better) because they say whooping cough was once "wiped out." Not so, says the CDC.

Most vaccines against serious illnesses are called "live attenuated virus" vaccines. These include MMR and Polio, and and basically the idea is you give the body a weak version of the virus so it develops an immune response against a stronger version. Usually with appropriate doses, these provide permanent immunity, but there are rare cases where the virus can revert, so it is possible to get full-blown measles from the MMR vaccine, though once again this is rare. These are the vaccines which produce herd immunity.

It turns out that whooping cough vaccine is a different kind of vaccine altogether and in fact individuals are not actually vaccinated against the bacteria that cause the disease at all. Instead, the vaccine is against a toxin that is excreted by the bacteria, and that toxin, called an exotoxin, is what causes respiratory damage. The theory is that this way if you get the illness, your body will have a head start at damage control (by attacking and neutralizing the exotoxin) and so you won't get very sick. So the vaccine is a dose of denatured bacterial exotoxins, called toxoids, that your body can develop antibodies to. Other toxoid vaccines include tetanus and diphtheria. While it is possible to be allergic to an acellular toxoid vaccine like this one, it is entirely impossible to get the disease from it because there are no live (or even dead) microbes in the vaccine itself. Whooping cough, or pertussis, vaccine is usually given with diphtheria and tetanus toxoid vaccines together either as a DTaP or a Tdap depending on age of the individual, but adult vaccinations are rare.

One interesting feature about toxoid vaccines is that they don't actually provide direct immunity against the disease at all because the targets of antibody production aren't on the envelope of the microbe. Instead they work by reducing the severity (and length) of the illness. In short, they don't keep you from getting sick. They just keep you from getting extremely sick. Consequently most people reading this could still get diphtheria this winter, or whooping cough, and could even spread it, but you probably wouldn't know you were carrying a serious illness. In short these vaccines provide absolutely no herd immunity at all, though they may provide some epidemiological benefits in terms of reducing the number of individuals infected by a single person (the downside of course is that it makes diagnosis and monitoring much harder--- we simply don't have any idea, for example, how many minor cases of whooping cough or diphtheria actually occur every year. We just know they don't get sick enough to be diagnosed).

Yet the news media and many "experts" still talk about herd immunity from this vaccine. Indeed while the CDC recommends adults be vaccinated, they state clearly that herd immunity is not a direct factor and that it's not a simple choice.

And while it is not believed that whooping cough has an asymptomatic carrier state, diphtheria is shown to have one, particularly in vaccinated adults. (One possibility worth considering is that asymptomatic means just that, so even mild symptoms, such as those resembling the common cold could be a symptomatic carrier state.)

So the picture that emerges is that whooping cough vaccine prevents death and long, tiring illnesses in children, but doesn't stop the bug from circulating. So it's probably a good thing for kids to have. However, whooping cough is also very much out of control and not just this year, as the CDC admits.

Furthermore I have come to realize that a few times in the last decade I've gotten this cough which lasts a few weeks and then mostly goes away, except for periodic, very heavy coughing, and with no symptoms in between. In these cases, sometimes I have been diagnosed with asthma but the inhalers don't seem to help much (so I go back to using an herbal remedy which seems to work very well, but it is rather non-standard). This lasts a few more months, and then goes away. My current thinking is that my son probably picked up whooping cough at school and I picked it up from him. Since he was vaccinated, he only seemed to have the common cold, but I got something a bit worse.

This specific vaccine isn't about herd immunity, but rather reducing the severity of a serious childhood illness. It doesn't contain microbes, live or otherwise, and while it may reduce the spread of the illness there isn't sufficient data to know the extent of this. This particular vaccine is almost certainly worth giving to most kids. However, there is no benefit that non-vaccinated individuals get from those who are vaccinated in this case.

Whooping cough cycles come and go every few years. This is no different. While hospitalizations may be preventable with the vaccine, it's spread is probably not.

Earth

Journal: Oil Munching Microbes 1

Journal by zogger

Researchers have discovered a new microbe that is eating the gulf oil spill fairly readily, with the added bonus of not depleting the dissolved oxygen supply too much. (abstract only, article is paywalled)

Certainly a piece of good news out of that mess.

Here's an odd thought I had some years ago..what would happen if these sorts of bacteria got established deep down in the big pools of oil? As in, one day we find out we are a few months away from no oil because it is being eaten up....wouldn't that be interesting.

United States

Journal: Mortgage Jubilee 9

Journal by zogger

Due to excessive greed and stupidity in the higher levels of repackaged mortgages, you might have the opportunity to own your property a bit earlier than you might have thought. Worth a look Mortgage jubilee

If by any odd chance people don't get the jubille reference, it is an old "all debts are cancelled" deal, plus pardons and whatnot. Basically, wiping the slates clean, start over.

  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jubilee_Biblical

  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jubilee_Christian

Security

Journal: Untethering from the Utility Monopolies 14

Journal by zogger

Many more people are choosing to go "off the grid", untethering from traditional utility connections like electricity, natural gas, even municipal water and sewer, in whole or in part. Reducing demand while increasing your personal production of power can lead to energy independence, plus more security, and in a lot of cases, just plain more comfort.

Most off the grid people approach this situation from both ends, going to eliminate demand by wise construction techniques, using a lot more insulation, better windows, planned air in and out,etc. This drops the normal high level demand that most homes have and is the number 1 utility bill, for heating and cooling. Following similar steps, it is quite possible to enjoy all the niceties of modern life, without being part of the problem of massive fossil fuel use, along with eventually eliminating that monthly bill you can never pay off the traditional way of staying tethered. Another advantage is that these systems work-when the main centralized system doesn't.

They also mention in the article the concept of buyers clubs, getting together with other folks and negotiating bulk buy discounts for such things as solar PV panels, etc. The food co-op model taken to energy, which I have advocated in the past as one good way to reduce upfront costs. Another way to go there is the step by step method, just replace one circuit at a time, starting with your most critical "needs to work all the time" circuit.

Security

Journal: Water, food, shelter, security 16

Journal by zogger

note: cross posted at my site as well:

Long time readers will know my big four survivalist needs, what to get independent on, are, in order of importance:

water, food, shelter, security

Now look at this BBC article about floods in Pakistan and what they determined to be the basic needs for all these displaced people

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-10901896

"The government said the most pressing needs would be for clean drinking water, food, shelter and healthcare."

Pretty dang close!

And that is why I picked those out years and years ago, because I have "been there, done that" in emergency and "you are completely on your own" type situations. This is *my* tech expertise, threat analysis and mitigation.

People who "invest" in $1,000 TVs or the rigged crooked "stock" market, etc and such like and don't even have a good gravity water filter..eventually, this chronic dumbness is gonna bite them hard. EVERYONE will go through at least one-if not several- serious emergency situations in their lives, and it might last for a long time, weeks or months, who knows. If you ain't prepared..you are gonna lose it, bad. And you can NOT rely on government or "why don't *they* do something"?, you know this "they" guy over there someplace people always refer to when they mean anyone other then themselves. And this can be beyond some natural disaster, look at the economic situation, you could lose your job tomorrow, or the dingbats could decide we need a much larger war in the middle east and the price of crude could jump to 300 bucks a barrel..whatever, black swan events outside your control.

    Sorry, reality doesn't work that way with this "they" guy "saving you" or "doing something"!!

  Any medium to large scale emergency, there ain't a government out there, including all the rich nations, that has enough resources to do this. We don't have entire backup cities and regions just sitting around with all the infrastructure intact in warehouses or whatever, which is what it would take to come up with a huge numbers of refugees in need of aid situation, a large scale one. It is not possible, it doesn't exist, it isn't going to happen, so you will be on your own, so you need to get it in gear BEFORE any bad stuff happens, well before, that is acquire gear/supplies plus the needed skills to use that gear and supplies.

Just like with computer data, if you have no backups, and if something weird happens, you got nothing and will be in a world of hurt.

To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing. -- Elbert Hubbard

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