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Submission + - Another Healthcare Radiation Overdose Problem (

bezenek writes: The New York Times has an article about a linear accelerator-driven pinpoint radiation device (this is not a radiation-source driven device, or Gamma Knife) which radiated four people because of incorrectly placed beam-blocking plates. No one has determined how the error occurred, but it may have been avoided by more careful operators or a more carefully engineered system. The company that makes the device had warned users about the possibility of the treatment data being garbled during transfer between multiple computing devices in the treatment pipeline.

I wonder if we will decide to require certification of software engineers the way we do with engineers who design bridges and electrical systems. It will not eliminate all problems like this, but at least we will have some control over who builds these lifesaving and sometimes life-taking devices.ex

Comment Why hire real doctors? (Score 2, Insightful) 483

Why do we bother to hire real doctors to work in medical units? Aren't they going to have trouble figuring out whether or not someone was shot? Shouldn't we train military people to operate on wounded soldiers?

Sheesh! This is yet another case of the average person thinking technical people spend years learning what they know and somehow they are not valuable experts the way other specialists are.


Comment Re:Use your local ham radio club (Score 4, Informative) 499

A quick clarification: The top of the AM dial (around 1500) is 1500kHz, or 1.5MHz. This is not close to the 2400MHz, or 2.4GHz at which WiFi operates.

The ability to identify the origin of the interference using an AM radio relies on the fact that the interference is produced from a source (often an electrical spark or arc) which generates RF noise on the entire spectrum. The spark plugs in car engines are a notorious cause of this sort of interference. If the spark plug wiring in a car is not shielded properly, you will hear a whining sound on an AM radio which changes pitch as the engine RPM changes.

AM radios happen to be easy to find and are very good at "hearing" the noise produced by an arc. If the noise is something like a microwave oven, which produces RF energy only at about 2.4GHz, then the AM radio will not help you find the problem.

I hope this helps to clarify the issues.


p.s. As an interesting experiment. If you have WiFi and a microwave oven in your house/apartment, start downloading a large file. Look at the download rate (300kB/sec. or whatever). Then, start the microwave and look at the download rate. Mine drops to about 10-20kB/sec., because the microwave interferes with the WiFi signal.

Comment Re:Use your local ham radio club (Score 5, Interesting) 499

First try what is suggested by BabaChazz in his comment above and is what most Hams would do to start. Listen for the noise on an AM radio. You do not want FM, as one of the characteristics of FM is to block this noise.

Take your (preferably hand-held) radio and tune it somewhere on the dial where there is no station. Then, you can try moving it around your computer to hear all of the RF interference your motherboard, etc. are giving off. If you cannot hear this noise, something is wrong with the radio--be sure it is set to AM. :-)

Leave the radio on, and you might hear the noise start at the time your WiFi drops. If you do not, the interference is not covering the AM frequencies (an arc will cover everything), and it is probably time to call in a Ham.
It is likely you will hear it.

If you hear it, you can walk around inside and outside your house listening for where the noise gets stronger. Often this will be tracked down to a phone pole or something else.

Once you find it, contact the appropriate person (electric distribution supplier, city, etc.) Convincing someone to fix a problem like this is not always easy.


Comment Maybe They Can Help Correct Strabismus (Score 1) 386

I know nothing about this other than my own inability to focus on different points without the aid of a stereoptic viewer. Many people can do this, but I cannot.

It would seem that anything which hinders the development of the ability to focus both eyes on a single point could be designed to help train one's eyes to do this.

Hopefully, if this has not already been researched, this issue being in the news will catch the interest of a PhD student with the proper background to look into it.


Comment Cosmic Rays Tend to Flip Multiple Bits (Score 1) 277

Cosmic ray events tend to affect multiple neighboring transistors. For this reason, they tend to affect multiple bits. However, by laying out memory cells so immediate neighbors are from different locations, the ability of single-bit-correction-double-bit-detection (SECDED) methods to detect most events is usually preserved.

The main concern is for structures with no error correction, such as the gates in the processor pipeline. Several research ideas have been put forward. See here (PDF) for a good overview of the issues.



Submission + - Law Schools Inflate Grades (

bezenek writes: From the NY Times article:

[Loyola Law School Los Angeles] is retroactively inflating its grades, tacking on 0.333 to every grade recorded in the last few years. The goal is to make its students look more attractive in a competitive job market. ... Students and faculty say they are merely trying to stay competitive with their peer schools, which have more merciful grading curves... [M]any Loyola students are ineligible for coveted clerkships that have strict G.P.A. cutoffs.

The article includes a list of other schools who have changed their grading schemes, including New York University, Georgetown, Golden Gate University,Tulane, UCLA, UC Hastings College of the Law, and Vanderbilt University. Other law schools are eliminating grades for a pass/fail system. These include Harvard, Stanford, UC Berkeley, and Yale.

Comment How many different service lines? (Score 5, Insightful) 584

Dr. Gawande suggests the "13,600 different service lines [doctors] deliver" is an issue in health care costs. I put forth these comments:

* How many services are listed in the manual which guides the number of hours an auto mechanic is allowed to charge for a repair, e.g., replace spark plugs: 0.75 hours. How many items are in this book?

* How many different services does a software engineer deliver over a year's time?

I suggest the problem is related to control over charges. Car mechanics have a job with similar complexity to what doctors face. Software engineers often face a problem much more complex. (How many "surgeries" require several weeks to solve a single-line bug?)

The control of health care "service" in the US is in the hands of the AMA and the bureaucracies created around hospitals and other facilities. If they were willing to reduce their profit margins (assuming we can eliminate the defaults they see because of uninsured/under-insured patients), we could see significant reductions in general health-care costs.

This is just a thought...


Comment Re:Soviet space program (Score 3, Informative) 143

This sounds pretty much like the US space program.

This is not flamebait.

The first attempt at launching a US satellite blew up shortly after launch. See:

The Explorer program which followed, started with the successful launch of Explorer 1, the first satellite placed by the United States.

The Explorer program has launched about 100 satellites, but 8 of the first 17 failed.

Everyone seems to forget that it took a while to make these launches consistent as we saw (mostly) with the Gemini and Apollo missions.


Comment Re:Soviet space program (Score 3, Insightful) 143

I guess they're just following the Soviet era tried and tested rocket development program. Start by blowing up rockets, and continue until they stop blowing up. Then strap some pilots on top.

This sounds pretty much like the US space program.

It is unfortunate people still have to learn from their mistakes when this has already been done at least twice (CCCP and the US). A person might figure they could afford to hire a couple of engineers who already went through this trial and error.


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