Friday, November 30, 2007

The Most Dangerous Object in the Office This Month: The Photonic Disruptor

This laser is borderline illegal. With an output of 105 milliwatts, it's 21 times more powerful than your average presentation pointer. It was designed for SWAT and military use in nonlethal takedowns. The adjustable-focus green ray will do permanent retinal damage to anyone within about 60 feet, visually disorients people up to 1,150 feet away, and illuminates objects almost 2 miles out.

Uninsured Man Hopes His Symptoms Diagnosed This Week On House

HAPEVILLE, GA—After being laid off last year from his door-fitting job at the local Ford Motor Company plant, uninsured 35-year-old Chris Thaney has been watching Fox's hit medical drama House to find out why he experiences severe headaches, an inability to urinate, sharp lower-back pains, and numbness on the left side of his body.

How Yale Professors Lose Weight

A Yale economics professor and a Yale law school professor are hoping that the next diet trend to take off is their own, which involves getting dieters to sign binding contracts committing to pay significant sums of money if they fail to meet their weight-loss goals.

The economist, Dean Karlan, tested the method himself, promising to hand over $1,000 to a friend every week that he didn't drop one pound. Soon enough, he lost 10 pounds, getting down to 170 pounds without paying a cent.

Now, Mr. Karlan and Ian Ayres, the law professor who also teaches at Yale's school of management, are launching a company based on this strategy.
Mr. Ayres said he first used the system to lose some pounds, and he now has $500 a week at stake to maintain his weight. He calculates that he has put over $21,000 — or $500 a week for almost a year — at risk through this system. But it makes more sense than traditional weight loss systems, he said. "What's interesting is that Weight Watchers costs you $500 a year and gives modest results. I put $500 at risk every week, but it's cost me nothing because I've met my goals so far."

Weight Watchers declined to comment.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Success Depends on Others Failing

eward mechanisms in the brain depend on how well you think other people are doing, a new neurological study suggests. The findings, published in the Nov. 23 issue of the journal Science are the first to lend physiological proof to a longstanding theory among contemporary economists: that people are affected not only by their own achievements and income, but also by how they stack up against their neighbors.
"In a sense it goes back to Aristotle," says the paper's senior author, Armin Falk, an economist. "The fact that we are social beings is a well-known fact." But the idea that rewards are context-dependent challenges a key assumption behind most traditional of economic theories: the premise that humans are essentially self-interested, that they care about their own work, income, achievements, and purchases, and that whatever other people do is, if not irrelevant, at least not going to have a consistent or predictable effect on decision-making.
The practical implications? Many scholars believe that social comparison helps to explain why, even as much of the world gets ever richer, people today don't report being happier than people did 50 years ago. We might not be happy now if we had to give up the amenities of the last half-century computers, air conditioners, a bedroom for every child, and more — but back when no one else had them either, life was okay.

There's also a lesson here for company managers, says Falk. A wage scale should reflect job and performance differences fairly, or else firms risk alienating their staff.

Nigerian firm sues Negroponte, OLPC for patent infringement

ust months after a slew of OLPC XOs made their way into Nigeria, a Nigerian-owned company is filing suit against Nicholas Negroponte and the OLPC Association for patent infringement. Lagos Analysis and subsidiary LANCOR filed the lawsuit on November 22nd in Nigeria, claiming that the aforementioned parties willfully and illegally reverse engineered its keyboard driver source codes.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Solving Africa's Public Health Crisis

Solving Africa’s health and development problems takes more than statements of good intention, empty promises of aid — or movie stars’ adoption of African children. As César Chelala argues, many diseases affecting children and adults can be addressed with minimal resources — if they are used strategically.

Interview with Muhammad Yunus

A good read...
(CNN) -- Muhammad Yunus received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his pioneering work in microcredit, which has helped millions of people out of the poverty cycle. The first businessman ever to receive such a high honor, Yunus and the Grameen Bank he founded revolutionized conventional ways of banking, creating a system of lending money to the poor, mostly women.

People lend a small amount of money to poor people in the village and practically take over the control of their entire life, just for a few cents or few dollars worth of money. It's not millions of dollars people are waiting for, it's few pennies that people were looking for that's not available. So I looked at that and I saw the problem is so serious, so big, but the solution suddenly appeared to me so simple. I thought if I give this 27 dollars from my pocket, the problem of this 42 people is solved. They can take this 27 dollars, pay back their moneylenders, no way they can control their lives anymore. They will be free people. Immediately I did that. I took the money from my pocket, gave it to them, and told them return the money, be free.

And it created such an enormous reaction, they were so happy. Looking at them later on, as I went the next few days, I thought if you can make so many people so happy with such a small amount of money, why shouldn't you do more of it? So I went to the bank. I thought, this was such a simple solution, he would be excited to do that. He said no. Bank cannot lend money to the poor people. I said this is such small money, you'll not miss this money. He said no, it's not the question of the amount of money, it's the principle: Bank cannot lend money to the poor peo

Monday, November 26, 2007

New York Manhole Covers, Forged Barefoot in India

NEW DELHI — Eight thousand miles from Manhattan, barefoot, shirtless, whip-thin men rippled with muscle were forging prosaic pieces of the urban jigsaw puzzle: manhole covers.

Seemingly impervious to the heat from the metal, the workers at one of West Bengal’s many foundries relied on strength and bare hands rather than machinery. Safety precautions were barely in evidence; just a few pairs of eye goggles were seen in use on a recent visit.

The scene was as spectacular as it was anachronistic: flames, sweat and liquid iron mixing in the smoke like something from the Middle Ages. That’s what attracted the interest of a photographer who often works for The New York Times — images that practically radiate heat and illustrate where New York’s manhole covers are born.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Give One. Get One

One learning child. One connected child. One laptop at a time. Since November 12th, OLPC has been offering a limited-time Give One Get One program in the United States and Canada. During Give One Get One, you can donate the revolutionary XO laptop to a child in a developing nation, and also receive one for the child in your life in recognition of your contribution. Thanks to a growing interest in the program, we are extending Give One Get One until the end of the year. Through this extension, and the increasing public interest in OLPC, we hope to give many more children the opportunity to grow, explore, learn and express themselves.

How Failure Molded Spanx's Founder

As a kid, Sara Blakely was advised to fail. The founder of Spanx, a $150 million hosiery company, says it was the best advice she ever received by

What's the best piece of business advice you ever received?

It probably came down to my father. When I was growing up, he encouraged us to fail. We'd come home from school and at dinner he'd say: 'What did you fail at today?' And if there was nothing, he'd be disappointed. It was a really interesting kind of reverse psychology. I would come home and say that I tried out for something and I was just horrible and he high-fived me.

Dr. Drug Rep

I applaud the honesty of this doctor in writing of his experiences as a paid rep. for big pharma. The tactics used by big pharma in some ways resemble those of big time "drug" lords as well-depicted in the excellent movie, "American Gangster."

On a blustery fall New England day in 2001, a friendly representative from Wyeth Pharmaceuticals came into my office in Newburyport, Mass., and made me an offer I found hard to refuse. He asked me if I’d like to give talks to other doctors about using Effexor XR for treating depression. He told me that I would go around to doctors’ offices during lunchtime and talk about some of the features of Effexor. It would be pretty easy. Wyeth would provide a set of slides and even pay for me to attend a speaker’s training session, and he quickly floated some numbers. I would be paid $500 for one-hour “Lunch and Learn” talks at local doctors’ offices, or $750 if I had to drive an hour. I would be flown to New York for a “faculty-development program,” where I would be pampered in a Midtown hotel for two nights and would be paid an additional “honorarium.”

Denial Makes the World Go Round

Nowhere do people use denial skills to greater effect than with a spouse or partner. In a series of studies, Sandra Murray of the University of Buffalo and John Holmes of the University of Waterloo in Ontario have shown that people often idealize their partners, overestimating their strengths and playing down their flaws.

This typically involves a blend of denial and touch-up work — seeing jealousy as passion, for instance, or stubbornness as a strong sense of right and wrong. But the studies have found that partners who idealize each other in this way are more likely to stay together and to report being satisfied in the relationship than those who do not.

“The evidence suggests that if you see the other person in this idealized way, and treat them accordingly, they begin to see themselves that way, too,” Dr. Murray said. “It draws out these more positive behaviors.”

World Wide Web: Land of Free Stuff

Be sure to check out the slideshow at the end of the article from businessweek:
You want it? It's yours. From a college education to your favorite shampoo, it's all happening gratis on the Internet

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Documentary on Organ Trafficking

From Scott Carney's blog. He helped in the production ofthis National Geographic Documentary:

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Saudis defend punishment for rape victim

I wonder if the fact that the woman was Shiia in the seat of Sunnisim, Saudi Arabia, impacted the severity of the sentencing...

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - The Saudi judiciary on Tuesday defended a court verdict that sentenced a 19-year-old victim of a gang rape to six months in jail and 200 lashes because she was with an unrelated male when they were attacked.

The Shiite Muslim woman had initially been sentenced to 90 lashes after being convicted of violating Saudi Arabia's rigid Islamic law requiring segregation of the sexes.

But in considering her appeal of the verdict, the Saudi General Court increased the punishment. It also roughly doubled prison sentences for the seven men convicted of raping the woman, Saudi news media said last week.

The reports triggered an international outcry over the Saudis punishing the victim of a terrible crime.

A Health System’s ‘Miracles’ Come With Hidden Costs

The current state of Cuban ophthalmic care...very similar to that in Saudi Arabia...

HAVANA, Nov. 16 — A shiny new tour bus pulled up to the top eye hospital in Cuba on a sunny day this month and disgorged 47 working-class people from El Salvador, many of whom could barely see because they had thick cataracts in their eyes.

Among them were Francisca Antonia Guevara, 74, a homemaker from Ciudad Delgado whose world was a blur. She said she had visited an eye doctor in her home country but could not pay the $200 needed for artificial lens implants, much less pay for the surgery.

“As someone of few resources, I couldn’t afford it,” she said. “With the bad economic situation we have there, how are we going to afford this?”

Cuba’s economy is not exactly booming either, yet within two hours Ms. Guevara’s cataracts were excised and the lenses implanted, with the Cuban government paying for everything — including air transportation, housing, food and even the follow-up care.

The government has dubbed the program Operation Miracle, and for the hundreds of thousands of people from Venezuela, Central America and the Caribbean who have benefited from it since it was started in July 2004, it is aptly named.

Yet the program is no simple humanitarian effort, and it has not come without a cost.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Next Botox: A Drug for Longer Eyelashes

From the WSJ: In another century, Botox was a drug to treat eyelid spasms and other neuromuscular problems. Then Allergan, the company that sells the drug, seized on a side effect — the way it makes some wrinkles vanish temporarily — and turned the drug into a cosmetic superstar.
The same thing could happen with Allergan’s Lumigan, a glaucoma drug with a potentially lucrative side effect: It makes eyelashes longer.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Miss Landmine Angola -- beauty contest for landmine survivors

The Miss Landmine Angola 2008 competition was created by a Norwegian artist called Morten Traavik -- it's been controversial, but has some laudable objectives:

Amazing Real World Clock

This is rather mesmerizing. It is also disturbing to see that diarrheal diseases is #2 right between HIV/AIDS...

The Right Brain vs. The Left Brain Test

I am right side dominant according to the dancer...
The Right Brain vs Left Brain test

7 Habits of Highly Innovative People

Some good ideas here--I especially liked the one of trying to solve the opposite of a given problem. As suggested, I have for many years kept a notepad with me at all times to write down seemingly random ideas that have popped into my conscious. I am at my most creative in the crepuscular space between the sleep and awake states of consciousness--

Have you ever looked at super creative or innovative people, and felt they are special beings blessed with gifts? Have you felt that you are not as fortunate? I used to feel this way. I have since learned that creativity is more about psychology than intellect, and there are no secrets to being creative. Actually, there is no such thing as “being more creative”, you are already a creative being.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Last Chance for DDT

Thanks to the pragmatism of African health officials and the efforts of some in the U.S. government, the insecticide DDT is still repelling and killing mosquitoes in Africa nations, saving thousands of people from malaria and other infectious diseases each year.

ut its days may be numbered. While the Bush administration and the World Health Organization have argued articulately in favor of DDT over the past two years, so-called environmentalists and those companies selling alternatives to DDT are pushing to prevent it from being deployed.

President Bush launched the President's Malaria Initiative (PMI) in 2005 with the explicit aim of using all the best methods for preventing the disease. As a result, last year DDT was procured with taxpayer funds for use indoors in tiny amounts in Zambia. The tactic, known as indoor residual spraying, or IRS, is cheap and highly effective, repelling and killing mosquitoes before they can bite and transmit disease while avoiding widespread, outdoor spraying. (The PMI has not procured this insecticide for any other nation, but has funded alternatives to DDT, such as deltamethrin, in Uganda, Angola, Tanzania and Rwanda.)

But developing nations are skittish. Their populations have been scared by environmentalists into thinking DDT causes cancer and birth defects; and their farmers have been frightened by EU officials and segments of the Western chemical industry into believing their crop exports will be boycotted. As a result, many African leaders have delayed re-introduction of DDT, perhaps indefinitely.
Meanwhile, vast swathes of the anti-malaria community, including the malaria teams within national donor agencies, are quietly opposed to DDT. Agencies include insecticide spraying in their literature, but then run No-Spray programs. Aid agencies -- including UNICEF and the World Bank -- have steered clear of DDT, choosing instead to support anti-malaria experiments such as mosquito bed nets for the past decade. The managements of the donor agencies offer spurious explanations as to why DDT and indoor spraying in general shouldn't be used.

The favorite excuse is that DDT campaigns are unsustainable because they require more infrastructure to be delivered than simply handing out bed nets. Yet the evidence is that the distribution of bed nets, without significant educational support on their proper use, is not as effective as hoped. Some of the recent bed-net success stories in Kenya highlight this fact.

With the notable exception of the PMI, and occasionally the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, no agencies seem to want to sustain a spray program. Yet Mozambique, which has very poor health infrastructure, has managed to sustain a well-run indoor residual spraying program for more than seven years by partnering with neighboring South Africa and Swaziland. As a result of this initiative, the country's malaria burden has dramatically decreased. Rates have dropped by 88% among children in the key target areas. Instead of excuses, regional leaders made malaria control sustainable.

Such success stories about spraying are rarely reported. What is reported is any bad news about DDT. And anti-DDT bias in the academic literature is accelerating. A recent article in The Lancet Infectious Diseases Journal alleges that superior methods for malaria-control exist, yet the authors do not provide a single reference for this claim. The authors also claim that DDT represents a public-health hazard by citing two studies -- studies that, according to a 1995 WHO technical report, do not provide "convincing evidence of adverse effects of DDT exposure as a result of indoor residual spraying."

In fact, after 60 years of use there is still no solid evidence of any human harm from DDT. Yet the article in The Lancet, like so many before it, will be used by those in the field to dissuade Africans from using the insecticide.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Hello, India? I Need Help With My Math

Wow outsourcing is really going global!

Adrianne Yamaki, a 32-year-old management consultant in New York, travels constantly and logs 80-hour workweeks. So to eke out more time for herself, she routinely farms out the administrative chores of her life — making travel arrangements, hair appointments and restaurant reservations and buying theater tickets — to a personal assistant service, in India.

Kenneth Tham, a high school sophomore in Arcadia, Calif., strives to improve his grades and scores on standardized tests. Most afternoons, he is tutored remotely by an instructor speaking to him on a voice-over-Internet headset while he sits at his personal computer going over lessons on the screen. The tutor is in India.

The Bangalore butler is the latest development in offshore outsourcing.

Ebay: The Place for Microfinance

I have mentioned and on this blog as excellent sites to get involved in microfinace loans, now there is a new one--backed by ebay:

On the online auction giant's new MicroPlace site, investors can lend as little as $50 to would-be small business owners around the globe
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