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Comment Re:Awesome job, guys! (Score 1) 66

Figuring out where you are in the FDA regulated world can be difficult, but Theranos isn't in that situation. Diagnostic manufacturers and diagnostic labs go through FDA clearance. No ambiguity there (ok, LDTs are ambiguous, but that loophole is closing).

Theranos knew this, and successfully went through FDA with a herpes diagnostic, as well as being qualified as a diagnostic lab. Given all that regulatory engagement, it boggles the mind that they didn't see this coming. Either they didn't know they were running a lab that was faking test results (which is bad), or they knew and didn't believe the FDA would find out (which is worse).

Comment material cost isn't the problem (Score 1) 82

I've bought DNA snippets for use in experiments for years (DNA is about $0.50/base from existing companies). The cost of DNA has been trivial for scientific work for a long time. The real cost is in the labor and equipment that goes into running an experiment. On a million dollar a year project, reducing the cost of DNA from $1000 a year to $10 a year doesn't really change the pace of research. That's not enough savings to hire another person to get more work done, or buy any of the equipment necessary.

Comment Re:more to it (Score 1) 292

The Aliso Canyon you're looking for is the Aliso Canyon in the city of Los Angeles (it's a city "park" that's really just a couple of old trails). It's in the neighborhood of Porter Ranch at the edge of the San Fernando Valley.

I'm sure there's a lot of extraneous media hype surrounding this, but SCGC was meeting with residents and moving people out well before the media got involved. Methane isn't really a big health hazard, but SCGC is taking this pretty seriously.

Comment more to it (Score 5, Informative) 292

This article is pretty light on details. I know some of the residents in that area, and these are things some retired engineers have passed on to me from community meetings SCGC has had with them.

This is an old (early 20th century) oil field with over 80 wells. If you've never driven around LA, you may not know that there are still operational oil fields inside the city, but think of the La Brea tar pits, and it makes sense.

All of the wells in this field were designed to pump out oil. The pipes used in the wells are larger inner diameter than typically used with methane and have thinner and more porous wall material than typically used with methane. The pipes used are perfectly fine for oil, but would not be approved for a new methane well.

SCGC uses this underground cavern emptied of oil as storage for methane for Los Angeles in lieu of constructed tanks. They can and do pump methane in and out, it's all processed and comes from somewhere else.

What they did not do is verify that this old oil field will actually hold methane before they started using it. This leak looks like the methane is going through the porous concrete pipe that makes up the well and through the surrounding rock to the surface. This is why they can't seal the leak by clogging the pipe. It seems unlikely that anything short of capping all of the wells at the bottom or pumping out the methane will stop the leaking for good. They're halfway through drilling for one well, and don't intend to start on others until they show signs of leaking. All of their sensors are at ground level, so they will have no advance notice of an imminent leak.

The local schools have been closed due to air quality issues, and a few thousand people have been temporarily moved at SCGC's expense. This leak accounts for 25% of the total expected statewide carbon emissions.

Comment Re:Bad argument (Score 3, Insightful) 344

I've worked in a large government lab that included a small cold fusion group. The cold fusion scientists at that lab were extremely careful and competent (and never made any claims about power generation). Their work essentially revolved around running nuclear reactions using something other than heat to drive the reaction. Totally non-controversial.

The management and senior scientists at the lab would routinely make fun of these people. They absolutely dealt with a completely undeserved lack of credibility because the words "cold fusion" were associated with their work. Scientists are people, we make human judgments, like it or not.

Comment Re:It's not Apple's fault (Score 1) 456

Your initial point was incorrect. Corporations do not have a moral or legal obligation to minimize tax payments. Corporations can be governed with many goals: growth, efficiency, and even social good. How you measure "shareholder value" is up to a company to decide; it's a company policy, not a law or universally accepted moral code. Most companies measure value with the stock price.

Apple is a great example of how this works, their tax avoidance did not maximize shareholder value, and was the incorrect business decision.

Apple stock is tanking right now. People did not invest in Apple because of their great tax avoidance, but because of growth opportunities. Holding that money overseas simply to avoid taxes was the worst thing to do.

You can save 40% by avoiding taxes, but your opportunity cost is a potential 1000% by failing to invest enough in growth when you have an opportunity to get a 10X return (I don't know what Apple's prior internal return on investment is, but it's probably been much higher than 10X).

The responsibility Apple had to it's shareholders was to maximize growth. By keeping international profits overseas and maintaining a very large pile of locked away cash, Apple harmed shareholders, as that money was not useful for what investors wanted Apple to do. At the least, they could have spent it on development internationally (and lose out on the US tax credit for R&D...).

Apple may have saved 40% on a fraction of their profits in tax avoidance, but the company overall has lost 20% value as investors have realized that Apple has failed to continue growing. This is an astounding loss of value during a time when their competitors' stocks are up sharply. Shareholders feel Apple has made very bad decisions and expressed that in the traditional way: selling stock (not lawsuits).

If Apple had invested that money in R&D, would their watch be more marketable, or could they have sent it through FDA trials (like many people thought they would), or maybe they would have beat Microsoft to the "Surface" market, or not be playing catch-up in the automated car market...

It's really hard to guess at the time what the right answer is. That's why guys like Jobs are so valued. In retrospect, we know with certainty that Apple's decisions were bad. With a falling stock price and stalled growth, tax avoidance by sequestering money is a negative thing.

Comment Re:More competitors is a good thing (Score 1) 162

You're making a lot of statements that are simply not true, much as we wish they were. Simply wanting this all to be true isn't enough. This is not a political fight or an argument to be won, the physics and economics actually has to be worked out properly, or this will just be another alternative engine fad that comes and goes.

More than half the cost of fueling a gas car is tax. We're still pretty far away from parity, never mind electric cars being cheaper. Right now electric cars are financially supported by the state, while gas cars pay for the roads (more than $1billion/year just in state gas tax in California goes to road maintenance, and that's not enough). When electric cars are robust enough to start paying for road maintenance at the same rate/mile as gas, then we'll be able to make fair comparisons.

The way MPGe is calculated is also not helpful for encouraging real progress. Upstream energy costs are not accounted for, and there is massive dependence on the price of oil, gas and coal in the cost/kWh of electricity. If we're just going to shove the problem of fossil fuel burning off on someone else (i.e. a power plant), we're not actually solving any environmental, economic, or political problems, we're just sticking our head in the ground and imagining that everything is better.

Comment medical information is regulated (Score 1) 96

Ok, this is very simple, and something all the developers here need to know.

If you're reporting medical information in the US, you need all of the processes you use to generate that health information to go through the FDA before you ADVERTISE you can do it (yes, your website is an advertisement). Fitness is fine any time, go crazy with that. Medical information, only after FDA approval. If you think you may be doing something health related, go find a regulatory consultant and find out what you need to do before you get a shut down letter from the FDA!

For Enlis to write up a document essentially kicking 23andme for adhering to the law, after witnessing what happened to 23andme (and now Theranos) is the height of stupidity. 23andme was shut down, and it's executives were headed toward fraud indictments when the heroic efforts of their regulatory team saved them. That's what's coming for Enlis after this article.

It may be a year or two before the FDA gets to them, but this will be a black mark that will be extraordinarily hard for them to escape. They have just screwed themselves and their investors. The FDA-23andme saga has provided the biotech space with crystal clear instructions on what is necessary to report medical info from genetic data, and Enlis just danced right over those regulations. Very, very, stupid for them to post this article.

Comment Re:why the controversy? (Score 1) 203

Yeah, ok, see that one's pretty hard for me to believe. I don't even believe they've tested for that yet.

They're getting a bunch of non-linear mixing and don't know what's coming out or where, or they're getting heating somewhere unusual,l or something like that. One way or another, there are photons coming off that thing as a result of powering up that magnetron.

Comment why the controversy? (Score 1) 203

First, I am a physicist.

Second, why is this controversial? Light (including microwaves) has momentum, and we absolutely use it to move things around. We have been using optical tweezers in labs for a long time. Without including pressure from photons, we wouldn't understand stars.

If you told me that a magnetron and horn antenna produced absolutely no impulse at all, I wouldn't believe you.

This is VERY interesting. How do you maximize thrust? But it's not shaking the foundations of physics.

Comment as a scientist... (Score 1) 248

I'm a scientist, I've benefited greatly from government grants for basic research. I've also worked in the government administering basic and applied research grants. There's a lot of truth to what he's saying.

The economic return of much (not all!) of basic research is near zero.

For those of you who keep pointing out the internet, you need to read this guy's thesis and look at the timeline of internet commercialization. Basic research investment did not lead directly to internet profitability. It took decades of further tinkering with business models before that happened.

Again, a lot of what we do in science does not result in anything resembling a return on investment. Nor should return on investment be the justification for basic research. Defending this idea that science = economic progress is absurd. This is not what science is.

Why do we do science? For commercial gain alone? As a scientist, I find that idea insulting. We "do" science not to invent profitable gadgets, but to advance human knowledge and understanding of the universe. It's the job of economists to study the optimum distribution of resources, and they are scientifically correct to point out the "waste" of basic science. Also, fuck the economists.

IF science has resulted in a lower than expected return on investment in the last couple decades (it has), it is not because we're funding too much science. Scientific advances have failed to lead to expected commercialization because we have not sufficiently supported development and commercialization efforts. There's nothing sinister here. It's just that certain fields have sucked up dominating amounts of tech investment over the last several decades (ahem, internet), and left not quite enough attention for everyone else. Now that the folks who profited from that are turning to other fields, we can all expect to see many more scientifically advanced products.

Comment not so significant... (Score 2) 76

The top 15 pharmaceutical companies and the top 10 medical device companies all spend significantly more than $1b per year on R&D. Google is high profile because it's NOT in pharma or medical devices, but adding $1b per year to the overall industrial expenditure on R&D in these areas is not disruptive. It makes an interesting story to imagine that Google is coming in and stealing all the academics away, but that's not reality.

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