28 July 2015

I Remember Lazarus

In the very early stages of this endeavor were discussions of alternative memories. NAND built SSDs were just becoming available, at significant premium to HDD, but I still bought a couple of Intel (X-25, 320) and then a Crucial MX-100. The most interesting alternative, at the beginning, was Unity Semiconductor and what it called CMOx. It was eventually bought by Rambus. Rambus settled its litigation with Micron (which included patent sharing), and now Micron has a NAND alternative.

It reads much like CMOx, and is happening about when the last CEO said it would.
Asked if he had enough money to last out until 2015, Eggleston stated: "Yes, Unity has adequate backing from our funders (3 VC's, Seagate, and Micron) to move the technology forward."

Do Not Fold, Mutilate, or Spindle

If you're old enough, you'll have seen that admonition on various cardstock documents. Some of the Watch's more ardent fanbois have been talking up the version 2 or version 3 being the replacement for the iPhone. Setting aside the issue of building a battery that small with sufficient watt-hours, does the ~1 square inch display of Watch mean some sort of smartphone can run on such a teeny display? If we take that as true, then doesn't that mean someone, I've no info as to who, will resurrect the flip-phone? Again, a phone that fits your shirt pocket (or Speedo key pocket), but when extended has the right distance ear to pie hole?

As telephone, that works. As movie watching platform, not so much. Interesting to see how this goes.

Here's a pre-emptive dismissal of the notion, with bullet points.

Not only that, but a while back news of flexible screens became known, which led me to wonder whether a full length screen flip-phone was possible?

Today, brings another speculative piece on just that.
During a Samsung IR event back in November of 2014, Chang Hoon Lee, VP of the Samsung Display Planning Team, said that the company was developing a foldable display product with a curvature radius down to 5 millimeters, and that the product would be ready by the end of 2015. Lately, there have been rumors that a Samsung smartphone with a foldable display could arrive as early as 2016.

Gimme my Razr back!!

27 July 2015

schizophRenia [update]

More than one (and, I suspect, growing in days to come) post via R-bloggers reference this IEEE post on computer language popularity. The R-blogger posts are laudatory, "R is becoming the Next Big Thing" and such.

But, the emperor has no clothes. I just checked CRAN, twice in a minute or so. The first time said 6911 packages, the second 6915. It's a cancer. OK, a bit strong. But, the point is: R isn't a programming language. It's a statistical command language which is also programmable with a common syntax. In particular, one needn't (and likely, shouldn't) view R through the lens of C++ or java or even PHP. The value of R lies in dirt common stat routines it implements.

More and more, one reads that the Real R Programmers are dissatisfied with performance or capabilities, and grouse. A lot. Most often, they grouse about leaving the R world for Rcpp (well, may be that's only a step) or Julia or python. Let them go.

Much of the corpus of R packages come from grad students in need of creating new work in order to satisfy thesis/dissertation requirements. (The same reason we've seen Bayes take over the field; frequentist methods cover the world, and a thesis/dissertation has to cover "new ground", so Bayes was dug up from his grave to give grad students some way to be "new". Gad.) Writing code is the avenue. The fact that it's a wholly redundant exercise is not relevant to the grad student. For working data folk, using R to do mainstream analysis is where the best bang for the buck comes from.

Once again, before posting, new information arises. This time, Dirk takes another swipe at Hadley. Poor Dirk.
Hadley is a popular figure, and rightly so as he successfully introduced many newcomers to the wonders offered by R. His approach strikes some of us old greybeards as wrong---I particularly take exception with some of his writing which frequently portrays a particular approach as both the best and only one. Real programming, I think, is often a little more nuanced and aware of tradeoffs which need to be balanced. As a book on another language once popularized: "There is more than one way to do things."

Poor Dirk. "Nuance" is just a euphemism for "ambiguous". Languages, whether human or computer, that promote ambiguity generally fail. English is the archetypal human language which affords no known structure. Of all the alphabet based languages, it is the most difficult to either learn as a second language or as one's first language in learning another alpha language. The mindset of English is chaos. And so it is with programming languages. The "more than one way to do things" language is Perl, the product of a right-wing Christian. It's a mess, and widely despised.

On the other side of the coin, one finds python, built by a European math, and eiffel, ditto. Both seek to be as close to fully orthogonal in syntax and semantics.

There should be one-- and preferably only one --obvious way to do it.

Exactly one way to do anything: in stark contrast to Perl's philosophy of there is more than one way to do it, Eiffel follows Bertrand Meyer's Principle of Uniqueness: "The language design should provide one good way to express every operation of interest; it should avoid providing two."

R will, in time, fail. It is an amateur language built by amateurs. To the extent it is used as a stat command language (its original purpose), it will succeed, but if the "R is a programming language" crowd get control, it will fail, because as a programming language it has far more warts than rosy cheeks.

And, of course, the RM:
The principle of orthogonal design (abbreviated POOD) was developed by database researchers David McGoveran and Christopher J. Date in the early 1990s, and first published "A New Database Design Principle" in the July 1994 issue of Database Programming and Design and reprinted several times.

Which is not say, sadly, that SQL engines enforce such. Or as Holub has said, you've got "Enough Rope to Shoot Yourself in the Foot".

Well, turns out I'm not the only one.
Revolutionary Dave:
I couldn't agree with the sentiment more, and I too [wish] the field of Statistics had more respect for solving these "mundane" (i.e. non-mathematical), but important problems.

Here's what Dave's agreeing with:
"There are definitely some academic statisticians who just don't understand why what I do is statistics, but basically I think they are all wrong . What I do is fundamentally statistics. The fact that data science exists as a field is a colossal failure of statistics. To me, that is what statistics is all about. It is gaining insight from data using modelling and visualization. Data munging and manipulation is hard and statistics has just said that's not our domain."

And this is the revelatory bit, makes my heart skip more than a single beat:
During this first job, Wickham began to reflect on better ways to store and manipulate data. "I've always been very certain that I could come up with a good way of doing things," he explained, "and that that way would actually help people." Although he didn't know it at the time, he believes it was then that he "internalized" the concept of Third Normal Form, a database design concept that would become central to his future work. Third Normal Form is essentially a manner of structuring data in a way that reduces duplication of data and ensures consistency. Wickham refers to such data as "tidy," and his tools promote and rely on it.
[my emphasis]

And, of course, Third Normal Form or its logical extension Organic Normal Form™ is just an implementation of the orthogonal principle. Great minds gather together.

26 July 2015

Sacks, Shiller, Stiglitz

A pretty famous book, for the geek crowd at least, is "Godel, Escher, Bach". So, today brings an alliterative triad. Cool.

Once again, we enter the world of incentive and motive over data. Data's been taking rather a nastry beating here, of late. But, if one recalls how we got The Great Recession, it was the primacy of motive (financial services taking all the profits and sloughing the costs of house mortgages) and incentive (returns on financial instruments look greater than on physical investment) over data (the ratio of house price to median income going nuts) then it's not a stretch to keep an eye on those two balls in the air.

And not to forget: we're on the asymptote of knowledge of the physical world. Well, at least in terms of what modes of science research might yield consumable products. Tang isn't in the offing. Nor is Mr. Fusion, as some knuckleheads would have us believe.

So, let's start with Sacks. He didn't contact me first about the title, "My Periodic Table", but the allusion, that I've used more than once in relation to what remains unknown about the physical world, is eerie. He writes about his personal asymptote.
I almost certainly will not see my polonium (84th) birthday, nor would I want any polonium around, with its intense, murderous radioactivity. But then, at the other end of my table -- my periodic table -- I have a beautifully machined piece of beryllium (element 4) to remind me of my childhood, and of how long ago my soon-to-end life began.

Shiller discusses his standard topic, housing. Regrettably, he still ignores the elephant in the room: are the current rises, regionally, out of sync with median income in those regions? One would think that a deep thinker on housing, and how the Great Recession came to be, would put such data front and center. Rises in house prices in the presence of rising median income are not dangerous. Rises, without such matched income, are what fueled the Great Recession. It remains true that The Giant Pool of Money chases low capital (wholly financial, of course) instruments. ROI is the ratio of returns to money put up. Put up little money, and get a WhatsApp $19 billion. Why build real output, when you can have a fat bank account without actually creating anything substantial? Who will make carrots in the face of such instruments?

Shiller's article asserts that short selling is the panacea for bubbles. But he never demonstrates how or why the mechanism works. Too bad.
...in 1977 Edward M. Miller pointed out in The Journal of Finance something that should have been obvious: Efficient markets require the possibility of selling short. In the stock market, for example, with short-selling, people who think the market is overpriced and headed for a fall can borrow shares and sell the borrowed shares at the current high price. If share prices do indeed fall, they can buy the shares back at a lower price and repay the loan, with a profit.

How is this action, a micro-economic process, supposed to stop bubbles from occurring? He never really says. Too bad. Well, the theory is thus in a nutshell. In Mr. Market, short selling creates artificial shares in the market. Greater supply, therefore drives down the price. What Shiller doesn't discuss why house prices might be bid up in the first place. The run up to the Great Recession was fueled by mortgage companies (not banks, in the beginning) fiddling the rules in order to create mortgages far above what incomes had previously supported. That's just corruption, not smart money (or dumb money) doing a lemming run. The various derivatives, which created the demand for mortgages in the first place, were themselves created to absorb The Giant Pool of Money that wasn't interested in becoming physical investment. In other words, the last housing bubble was secondary effect of the demand for financial instruments by the Giant Pool of Money. The Giant Pool continues to grow, so we can expect that nervous money (that which doesn't want to wait for physical investment to prosper) will, yet again, demand more fiduciary instruments. Whether the new rules will prevent the shenanigans this time? Only the Shadow knows.

What is true,
The bottom line is that there is no reason to assume that the real estate market is even close to efficient. You may want to buy a house if you love it and can afford it. But remember that you cannot safely rely on "comparable sales" to judge that the price is fair. The market isn't efficient enough for that.

What Shiller ignores is that house buyers don't buy based on house price, but monthly payment. That nuance was what allowed Countrywide, and later others, to create mortgages with initial payments within budgets, but which exploded later. Why? Since the bubble began to inflate, mortgage brokers could say, "well, before your mortgage re-sets above your ability to pay, you'll sell off the house at a much higher price. You get to keep some of the capital gain, too boot." Until you couldn't any more. It's that simple.

The point of recent housing bubbles is the simple fact that such bubbles have occurred not because irrational middle-class yuppies get in over their heads, but because mortgage creators make mortgages for ever increasing values disconnected from incomes. If Congress had the gonads to codify a loan to income ratio, housing bubbles would disappear in an instant. But the financial services industry won't allow that.

Finally, Joe Stiglitz. He takes on Greece, yet again. What I'd forgotten: he's ridden in this rodeo before;
As I read the details, I had a sense of déjà vu. As chief economist of the World Bank in the late 1990s, I saw firsthand in East Asia the devastating effects of the programs imposed on the countries that had turned to the I.M.F. for help. This resulted not just from austerity but also from so-called structural reforms, where too often the I.M.F. was duped into imposing demands that favored one special interest relative to others.

So, what's the agenda? It's WWIII, but without the guns (so far). The Germans are determined to punish the little people, by keeping them in economic chains.
... the I.M.F.'s current managing director, Christine Lagarde, said that there needs to be what is euphemistically called "debt restructuring" -- that is, in one way or another, a write-off of a significant portion of the debt. The troika program is thus incoherent: The Germans say there is to be no debt write-off and that the I.M.F. must be part of the program. But the I.M.F. cannot participate in a program in which debt levels are unsustainable, and Greece's debts are unsustainable.

He provides a stark example of the mercantilism of the Germans
Consider the case of milk. Greeks enjoy their fresh milk, produced locally and delivered quickly. ... In 2014 the troika forced Greece to drop the label "fresh" on its truly fresh milk and extend allowable shelf life. Now it is demanding the removal of the five-day shelf-life rule for pasteurized milk altogether. Under these conditions, large-scale producers believe they can trounce Greece's small-scale producers.

Imagine the pettiness. Certainly, according to reports, the troika will protect the wealthy. You know, the ones who buy Mercedes and Audis.

24 July 2015

Pay Me Now and Pay Me Later

It bears repeating: given enough time and further concentration, even the 1% will need ObamaCare in order to afford decent health. In the course of musing on said subject, I coined (so far as I know) the phrase "the tyranny of average cost" to immortalize the issue. If a given widget, which has either high capital production cost, or high fixed capital cost (get it?), there result in two alternatives: shift widgets to as many users as possible, or gouge a tiny number of users. Either way covers the capital cost.

It also bears repeating: data is the result of motive and incentive, so in predicting the future one has the best chance by following the water downstream than by looking back at where it came from. And so it is.

Pharma has been under some pressure to justify the increasingly high price tag of recent drugs; many in oncology. Today's news brings some more facts to the discussion. Not everyone, including humble self, buys the notion that it takes billions of dollars of direct R&D to make a drug. But that has been the standard excuse from pharma.
The past R&D cost is really kind of a red herring," said Len Nichols, a health care economist at George Mason University, referring to research and development. "The current revenue doesn't pay for past R&D; it pays for current R&D."

It should be noted that GMU is the token right-wing seat of academe in the Capitol area. What's telling, and not mentioned, about the observation is that this is exactly the funding model used by Social Security. I guess it's premitted for big business, but not public business. (Aside: today also brings a piece on American socialism, as it actually exists; yes it does exist and you've read much of it here before.)

Another point ignored in the piece is Pharma's hard on for orphan drugs. FDA's acceptance of an ODD means that the company can pretty much charge whatever it wants pretty much forever. Here's a piece from a normally right-wing organ questioning orphan drugs.
Leonard Nimoy now rests in peace, dying of complications from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, a condition he shared with 10 million other U.S. citizens. Too bad drug developers and investors haven't been busy pursuing drugs for debilitating conditions affecting millions of Americans, instead of pseudo-orphan drugs.

One of the benefits of procrastination (this missive was to be posted yesterday) is that new information can be included. And so it is. Today's news relates to specifics of Pharma, the HepC fiasco now ongoing. Two points that gain confirmation here.

First, a "cure" for HepC infection that's quick, easy, and painless just encourages drug shooters to keep shooting with dirty needles, as predicted in these musings. Many (most? all?) HepC patients are drug shooters. 1992 is the cutoff date for innocent infection, from transfusion.
Zach Wayman says he first contracted hepatitis C several years ago by sharing needles with other heroin addicts. He went into rehab and was successfully treated for the virus. But he relapsed into addiction and reinfected himself, testing positive for hepatitis C again this spring.

And, of course, HepC is centered in Red States, God's country, gun country, keep the Damn Gummint out of my life country. Of course, many (most? all?) of those getting HepC treatment are Medicaid folks. Poor folks. The 47%. And Right Wing, still.
In May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a sharp increase in reported cases of hepatitis C among young adults in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. While rates of acute hepatitis C, which is very costly to treat, have risen around the country, Kentucky's rate was more than seven times the national average.

Second, so, who pays? If one follows the money, those Blue State Damn Liberals, of course. Just as they send all kinds of other money to Red states.
The cost of the new hepatitis drugs is so high that state Medicaid programs and many private insurers say that even treating a fraction of the infected population is breaking the bank.

Medicaid, funded nationally in effect, picks up the cost. Not that the Right Wingnuts would ever admit it. Of course.

The real irony, for those who like it:
Karen Ruschman, a nurse practitioner at a private gastroenterology practice here, said many young adults with hepatitis C have not been able to quit heroin because treatment programs, especially those using Suboxone, a medication that suppresses opiate cravings, are expensive and hard to get into. Addicts typically "can buy heroin cheaper than they can get into a Suboxone clinic," Ms. Ruschman said.
[my emphasis]

Perhaps we should just pay the drug dealers to develop drugs?

23 July 2015

The Future of the Apple Watch

There's been lots and lots and lots of discussion about the Watch after the quarterly. This, from an AnandTech article's comments, is the best.

It took three years to get from iPhone to iPhone4, the product that was clearly the great leap forward, the iPhone the way it wanted to be --- finally enough RAM, enough CPU and GPU, good enough screen that using it didn't feel like a compromise.
by name99

-- finally enough RAM, enough CPU and GPU, good enough screen that using it didn't feel like a compromise.
Finally??? As if there were some tech impediment??? It was just Steve's Reality Distortion Field convincing sheeple they should overpay. Until that didn't work anymore.
by Funbunny2

20 July 2015

Captain Obvious [update]

Well, now that Apple is due to report tomorrow, the "how many Watch were sold, and is Watch worth having (at any price)" stories have reached tsunami levels. Some assert that all will be well, when Apple releases the next version of the Watch OS which will allow apps to run on the Watch, rather than just being a fancy X-term for one's iPhone. I don't buy that, in any case. In order to run apps, in particular the Killer App (whatever it should turn out to be; assuming it's not just a Loch Ness Monster), the Watch will need lots more battery power to make it through most of a day. As it is, reports agree that the only way to get 16 to 18 hours of use is to... not use it much.

A Killer App will mean heavy, near constant, use. Ain't no battery can do that. Yet. If ever.

This "Business Insider" piece is the most ironic I've seen, so far.
Developers still need to come up with clever ways to make use of a smaller screen strapped to your wrist instead of mimicking what you already have on your iPhone. I'm guessing we'll have to wait a lot longer before someone comes up with a truly innovative app for the Apple Watch.

Guess what? All those widgets in GUIs? They're clones of antique, analog devices. They're called radio buttons for a reason.

From Chuck Jones:
Revenue for the category that the Watch is reported was $2.6 billion vs. my projection of $3.7 billion based on 4 million Watches at an ASP of $550. If my calculations are close to correct Apple sold about 2 million Watches in the quarter, which would be very low compared to what analysts were expecting.

And, of course, what really matters is the trend which generated those 2 million watches. It's one story if they sold 1 million in the first two weeks, and 100,000 in the first two weeks and grew strongly from there. There's a reason Tim didn't provide more "color", as the anal-ists say.